The repentance Jesus preached throughout His earthly ministry — the kind of repentance Christians are called to remain focused on throughout Lent — is as drastic a divergence from the status quo as Jesus’s total departure from death on Easter Sunday.
Such a complete and fundamental turning-around can only come with the full realization that God is really in charge.
“The Bible speaks frequently of this kind of radical change,” said Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos, who led the Jefferson City diocese from 1997-2018. “It points to a complete change not only in our thinking but in the way we live our lives.”
Bishop Gaydos offered Mass on Ash Wednesday in the chapel of St. Joseph’s Bluffs in Jefferson City, where he had stayed for two weeks in the rehabilitation wing after having knee-replacement surgery in February.
In his homily, he pointed out that the root word for repentance is “pentance.”
“It means ‘thinking in’ about what you’re doing, thinking about what kind of situation you’re in, thinking again about Who’s really in charge of our lives,” he said. “We are drawn into this ‘thinking in’ through the beautiful traditional works of Lent — giving alms, fasting and praying.”
But to be effective, those works cannot be performed to gain anyone’s approval but God’s.
“It’s not about our public image,” said Bishop Gaydos. “Authentic repentance is about substantial behavior, rooted in a radical change of heart, putting Jesus always at the center of our lives.”
The only overt public symbol the Church prescribes during Lent is a thumbful of ashes traced in the shape of a cross on a believer’s forehead as the season gets under way.
“It recalls our origins from dust and the inevitability of our returning there,” said Bishop Gaydos. “With that symbol, we’re going to be admonished and energized to think again and set things right with God.”
That, he insisted, is the only meaningful way to prepare for the ultimate Christian high holy day: the celebration of Jesus’s dying and rising from the dead.
“I’m very happy to begin this beautiful season of Lent with all of you,” said Bishop Gaydos. “May God make it very holy for all of us.”
He warmly greeted the St. Joseph’s Bluffs residents who were present in the chapel and those who were watching on closed-circuit TV in their rooms.
“I remember all of you who were here with me, because you’re all in my heart,” he told them. “And I’m praying for the healing, strengthening love of Jesus to be with you every day.”
Assisting the bishop at the altar was Deacon Alan Simms of St. Stanislaus parish in Wardsville, who regularly visits the residents of St. Joseph’s Bluffs.
Opened in 1950 and staffed for 55 years by Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, the former St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged is now owned and operated by Lutheran Senior Services.
Bishop Gaydos offered a Mass of gratitude and farewell for the sisters on Feb. 27, 2005, in that same chapel.
Chaplain Jim Mueller, current chaplain St. Joseph’s Bluffs and nearby Heisinger Bluffs, invited him to offer Mass on Ash Wednesday this year.