If we need any proof that actions speak a lot louder than words, then we don’t have to look any further than today’s first reading: “God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way.” God sent Jonah to preach God’s judgment against the people of Nineveh. And as a result of Jonah’s preaching, the king and all his subjects declared a fast of repentance. And seeing their response, God forgave the people and spared their city. The Ninevites didn’t simply say they were sorry; they took action to show their intention to change.
This gives us some insights into the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It shows us the value of doing penance. It shows that the Sacrament isn’t complete until we have done penance; until we have shown God that we do intend to change our lives for the better. Now it isn’t that God doubts our contrition. Rather, it’s that true contrition shows itself as we try to make amends and as we seek to avoid those situations that may lead us to sin.
Now, does this mean that we have to work hard to be forgiven? Well, yes and no. A better way to say it is that we need to respond when the Holy Spirit calls us to change. At its heart, conviction of sin and the desire for God’s forgiveness is the Holy Spirit’s work. But that conviction is more like an invitation than a wave of a magic wand. We still need to own up to our sin, confess it to God, and show him that we want to change.
So yes, it’s up to us to confess our sins and to do penance. It’s up to us to change our actions so that they correspond to our words. But it’s also up to God to change our hearts and to pour out grace to help us make these changes. The good news is that God loves to do this. He wants to bring about a complete renovation in all of us. He wants to give us the grace to begin a new life. All he asks is that we repent in word and in deed.