I’ve heard those two words recently, and spoken them myself. I’ve watched people who seem to be incapable of speaking them, confident that they have nothing to apologize for. When leaders adopt such hardness of heart shadows infect the hearts of their people.
One thing is unassailable: saying “I’m sorry” is far easier than demonstrating true repentance, where sorrow is fulfilled in a transformed life. It’s a matter of virtue, of personal depth, of clarity of vision. And even if we have eyes to see the difference, it requires fortitude and grace to embrace it in the reality of daily life.
At Church of the Cross, on the first Sunday of Lent, the liturgy included a version of a hymn, “The Solemn Season Calls Us Now,” that dates back to the Paris Breviary of 1740. The author, Charles Coffin (1676-1749) was rector of the University of Paris and wrote numerous poems and hymns in Latin. I know nothing more of Coffin, except to say that he understood, and that his words, so many centuries later, helped usher me into the reality of Lent and part of my calling in life.
The solemn season calls us now
A holy fast to keep;
And see within the temple how
Both priest and people weep.
Thy breast to beat, thy clothes to rend,
God asketh not from thee;
Thy stubborn soul he bids thee bend
In true humility.
But come not thou with tears alone,
Or outward form of prayer;
But let it in thy heart be known
That penitence is there.
Oh let us, then, with heartfelt grief,
Draw near unto our God,
And pray to him to grant relief,
And stay the uplifted rod.
O righteous Judge, if thou wilt deign
To grant us all we need,
We pray for time to turn again,
And grace to turn indeed.
Blest Three in One, with grief sincere,
To thee we humbly pray,
That fruits of mercy may appear
To bless this fasting-day.