“[W]hen a Catholic comes from Confession, he does truly, by definition, step out again into that dawn of his own beginning and look with new eyes across the world…. He believes that in that dim corner, and in that brief ritual, God has really remade him in His own image. He is now a new experiment of the Creator. He is as much a new experiment as he was when he was really only five years old. He stands, as I said, in the white light at the worthy beginning of the life of a man. The accumulations of time can no longer terrify. He may be grey and gouty; but he is only five minutes old.” (Autobiography, 229–30)
Christianity faith is the religion of beginning again. It happens in the great and grand mystery of water that kills what is dead to make way for a life no one could foresee except by God's gracious favor. In baptismal water, we are made new. Not simply reformed but made new. From that baptismal water, a new person arises, created in Christ Jesus for good works pleasing to God. We brought nothing into that baptismal water but our sin and its death and these our Lord took upon Himself to clothe us with His own righteousness and make us live in Him the life death cannot steal.
As we make our way through Lent we cannot but focus on the shape of the season and its focus upon repentance and restoration. We live not yet the fullness of the new life He has promised but within the flawed and failed structures of a sinful world. Our hearts are still weak and we are still tempted to evil. But God does not leave us to our own devices -- not even when we fall. He has given us the Word that speaks forgiveness to the guilty and gives to the penitent the freshness of what thought, word, and deed had made stale.
We are a people who live in the promise of new life, even when our eyes cannot see it and it seems part of us longs for the old ways from which God has rescued us. Even more, it is the religion of the resurrection, of new life that is reborn, rescued, and brought to completion by God. It may seem to us in starts and stops, bits and pieces, but it is from God's perspective the seamless act of making us become what He has declared us to be. None of us dare say we are finished or complete -- either for righteousness this side of glory or as a people so lost and stained that there is no hope for us, for our rescue, renewal, and restoration. For we serve the one who rose from the grave and who daily rescues us from the precipice of death by the sweet voice of absolution.
During Lent we come as the penitent, acknowledging that we are dust but confident that hope lives even in dust by God's will and design. So we can never despair as a people without hope, never grieve as a people who do not know the resurrection, and never give up as a people beyond the grasp of God's grace. Lent is a penitential season but hidden in repentance is hope. Never lose this hope even though you cannot forget your sin. For God restores all things through repentance and forgiveness. David of old is saint and sinner whose life proves grace is not weak nor does it shrink in the face of sin and its betrayal of hope. We serve the God who makes all things new and that is Lent's message. When we struggle to remember this, the Spirit, planted in us by baptism, leads us to remember this and rejoice in it. And that same Spirit teaches our soiled hands to holy work, even as we are washed clean again and given that most precious of gifts, another chance to be new.