This Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1:14–20) invites us to hear the first words out of Jesus’ mouth as he begins his public ministry: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” One of the reasons that we find this passage difficult to take to heart is because of a lack of understanding of what it means to repent. Here’s how I understand it.
Among the many dramatic scenes in the movie Apollo 13, one has always struck me as a good example of what it means to repent—to change, to undergo conversion. It’s the scene where the crew needs to make a course correction in order to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere properly. If they come in too shallow, they’ll bounce off the earth’s atmosphere and back out into space. If they come in too steep, they’ll burn up. Typically, these course corrections are done using the ship’s guidance platform; however, the ship is already damaged, and the crew can’t afford to use up its remaining power by turning on the guidance computer. Instead, Commander Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) guides the course correction manually by keeping a view of the earth centered through his window and thus maintaining the proper altitude. After a tense 39 seconds, the maneuver succeeds, and the crew’s return to earth ensues.
Repentance is all about course correction. If we make half-hearted or timid changes, we may bounce in an unintended direction; but if we make changes that are too drastic, we may crash and burn. With patience and good counsel, though, we can make a successful course correction and re-enter life at the proper angle. Like the Apollo 13 crew, we need to “maintain altitude” by keeping our eye on one fixed point—the mind of Jesus Christ. Fortunately for us, St. Ignatius came up with a foolproof technique for making a “manual” course correction each and every day. It is referred to as the Daily Examen. In his book A Simple, Life Changing Prayer, Jim Manney outlines the Examen in five simple steps, all of which can be completed in 15 to 20 minutes:
- Ask God for light. I want to look at my day with God’s eyes, not merely my own.
- Give thanks. The day I have just lived is a gift from God. I am grateful for it.
- Review the day. Guided by the Holy Spirit, I carefully look back on the day just completed.
- Face your shortcomings. I face up to what is wrong, in my life and in me.
- Look toward the day to come. I discern where I will need God’s help tomorrow.
Repentance is not about beating ourselves up over how lousy we’ve been. It’s about the desire to be a better person before God, in whose loving and merciful presence we stand. Repentance is a daily exercise designed to keep us on course toward union with God.
—Adapted from Under the Influence of Jesus