Saturday, December 7, 2013
A couple of weeks ago, I heard or read somewhere the phrase: no mercy without repentance. I recall these words as I prayed over John the Baptists’ words in today’s Gospel. I tried to find the source of the phrase I heard a couple of weeks ago – as I may have heard it on Catholic radio or read it in a Catholic blog post. A series of Google searches later I found a wonderful article by Monsignor Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington titled A Reflection on the Modern Error of Preaching Mercy without Repentance. His premise is that too often the idea of God’s mercy without personal repentance is taught in the classroom and preached from the ambo. In other words, there is too much emphasis on how God loves us, is rich in mercy, is kind and forgiving – all of which is true – without an equal emphasis on the reality that all these attributes of God are accessed when we repent for the words, thoughts and actions that separate us from God. As Msgr. Pope puts it: “God’s offer of mercy and healing love stands (forever), and are offered to everyone. But these magnificent gifts must be accessed through repentance…we must come to understand the seriousness of our condition, turn to God, call upon his mercy, and begin to receive the glorious medicine he offers: the medicine of his Word, of the Sacraments, of prayer, and walking in fellowship with the Church, which he established as his ongoing presence and voice in the world.” Finally, Monsignor Pope challenges those who preach and teach to proclaim repentance that unlocks the forgiveness and mercy of God. Admittedly, I find myself at risk of doing this – so eager to share the Good News of God’s love and mercy that I don’t equally emphasize the need for repentance. And certainly, the secular Christmas season there is the risk that we get caught up in the joy of the season that we forget that we must move closer to God, as much as his moves closer to us by becoming man. Yes, we much keep our focus on our goal of peace now and eternally, which is envisioned in the First Reading: Wolf and Lamb; Leopard and kid; Calf and Lion; Cow and Bear; Baby by the Cobra’s Den; and Child by the Adder’s lair. And as we sung in today’s Psalm: Justice shall flourish, and fullness of peace for ever. But to obtain this peace, we must repent. We must acknowledge our sins, as we just confessed: that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do - through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. We must also resolve to not sin again and avoid whatever causes us to sin. This is the act of contrition we will hopefully make this Advent in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whether tomorrow/tonight at our Parish Penance Service or at another time and place. John the Baptist, in today’s Gospel, challenges us to go even further: to “Produce good fruit as evidence of our repentance.” That is, if we are truly penitent, if we have a proper sense of what we did to offend and separate ourselves from God, if we are truly sorrowful and commit to sin no more, then our lives will show it. We will be transformed and others will know it. This is what Paul points to in the Second Reading – if his audience is able to reconcile and be in harmony with each other, then they will be transformed, they will be unified and it will show by what they do together – glorifying God with one voice. For us, let’s take the Ten Commandments, which is always a good guide in making an examination of our sins. How about the third commandment to keep holy the Sabbath. If you find that you are skipping Mass on Sunday or otherwise not making Sunday an exceptional or extra-ordinary day in your week – then repent and produce much fruit. Acknowledge this sin, commit to change, and make it obvious to your family, co-workers, and friends that Sunday is a holy and special day by what you do AND don’t do on Sundays. Or how about the fourth commandment: honor your mother and father. I remind my boys of this often – but it also applies to me and how I treat my parents, right? How do we speak to and care for our parents – regardless of their age or role in our life. If we do not give them honor, then repent and produce much fruit. Acknowledge this sin, commit to change, and make it obvious to others by your words and actions of the great love you have for your parents. I will leave the other commandments to you. This week: 1) repent; and 2) produce much good fruit as you prepare for the Lord.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 6:51 AM