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Self-Examination and Mercy

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I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (Acts 20:21)


Penitence is a profound aspect of Celtic spirituality. Now, I am not talking about self-flagellation, or groveling. Penitence isn’t about humiliation, but about recognizing one’s limitations due to our human sinfulness. It isn’t about over-intellectualizing our sinfulness. It is about honestly acknowledging our limitations and shortcomings. It is about recognizing that we are in need of God’s love, support, and forgiveness. It takes more than the rational, but requires the honesty that comes from the heart.

Ian Bradley, in his book on “Following the Celtic Way” points out, the “very personal conviction of the human state of sin and alienation and a deep and heart-felt sense of contrition, remorse and humility leading to a constant state of self-examination and repentance and throwing oneself on the mercy of God.” While he likes the run-on sentence, his point is made. When we practice penitence, we recognize our need for God, and we long for “the mercy of God.” It may not be fun, but it is fulfilling.

Begin by offering a heartfelt Prayer of Confession. As we reflect on our wrongdoings and offer them to God, we begin to feel honest regret for what we have done. Then, we are left with the inner pain that comes with guilt. In the midst of guilt and its pain, we hunger for God’s mercy. We long for mercy as a parched person in the desert longs for an oasis.

In the next few days, when you are able to find a moment of alone time, begin with your Prayer of Confession. Make it a time of self-examination, like Bradley describes. Don’t immediately jump to repentance. Allow the pain and discomfort to burn the impurities of sin away. In that moment, you will experience the longing for mercy. Longing is an expression of faith. You fulfill that faith in trusting God’s healing mercy. The Celts are right, it is a Divine discipline that brings spiritual life anew.