WHEN HE WAS AT THE POINT OF DEATH, Abba Sisoes, one of the most venerated Desert Fathers, said to the fathers surrounding him, "Look, the angels are coming to fetch me, and I am begging them to let me do a little penance." The old man said to him, "You have no need to do penance, Father." But the old man said to them, "Truly, I do not think I have even made a beginning yet."(1)
It's always the holiest ones, the most God-fearing ones, who have this fear. I wonder sometimes, whether this sense of urgency, this eagerness to repent, is dead in us today. I fear that it is our very unholiness which makes us indifferent to our desperate need for radical repentance.
In an interesting analogy, St. John Climacus points out the problem:
While a wound is still fresh and warm it is easy to heal, but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable. But with God all things are possible...(2)
When I ignore my short temper, my wandering eyes, my blabbing mouth, am I shocked that my "fresh wounds" are now infected and that I am an angry, lustful, babbler?
(1) The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Sigma
(2) John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent (The Classics of Western Spirituality)