The Parish Priest gave him a serious answer. “I will tell you no idle tales. Does not St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy warn us to leave fiction and stand firm in the truth? When I might sow good seed in your hearts, shall I waste the opportunity and scatter tares? Nay, if you are ready to hear a virtuous discourse I am ready to begin. But let me warn you I am no Norseman to tell you runes all alliteration like ‘rum, ram, ruff,’ nor will I speak in rhyme, for I hold it as great folly as the other. My tale shall be in sober prose—and remember that I am no great scholar and my speech is ever subject to the correction of one who is wiser than I.” We all desired him to say whatever he thought, since we felt it would be well to end with a homily, that we might enter Canterbury in grave religious mood. So the Host bade him begin and we composed ourselves to listen.
Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.—Jer. vi.
1. Our sweet Lord, God of Heaven, in His desire that no man should perish, but that we should all come to knowledge of Him and attain to life everlasting, admonished us by the mouth of His prophet Jeremiah and warned us saying, “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths” (that means for the wisdom of men of old days), “where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Many are the spiritual paths that lead men to knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and His glory, but among them is one which faileth not to lead aright all men and women to the heavenly Jerusalem, even though they had before gone astray. This way is named Penitence, and whoso walketh in it, even though he have sinned many times and sore, still may hope for God’s grace and forgiveness.
2. What then is Penitence? St. Ambrose says, “Penitence is the lamentation that a man makes for his sins that are past and his resolution to sin no more.” Note here that there are two parts to Penitence. Penitence is not merely the lamentation of sins that are past, for that, though necessary for full salvation, is of little avail if a man fall at once to the same or similar sins. Man must lament his past sins; but he must also resolve not to sin again, for, though we have the comfortable assurance of the Gospel that Christ through His great mercy can save the sinner who falls many times into sin, yet for him who sins not, but by Penitence keeps in the path of righteousness, salvation is more certain. Of all that should persuade us to Penitence, fear of the horrible pains of Hell is the strongest motive.