[A cyber-version of my homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time]
Bible Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/091413.cfm
Repentance ~ A Verb of Life
In our society today there is an intense obsession for placing blame. From politics to health care, from our relationships and even the practicing of faith the desire to point fingers of blame dictate behavior, policy and life itself. While it is important to understand the causes of issues and problems that understanding is not helped or developed when our conclusions are infected with this pervasive virus of the soul. To embrace the fervor for blame, while popular, is not an embrace from God. To foster blame is to foster judgment and condemnation. To find blame is powerfully contrasted in our Bible readings this 24the Sunday of Ordinary Time. Our readings share another verb but it is a verb of life, the choice of repentance.
It is unfortunate that when the word repentance is shared many people will quickly sense a strong resistance and aversion to the concept. Repentance has a conflicted and, at times, unpleasant reputation. Straight away let us establish what repentance is not. Repentance is not the harsh penances practiced (often with great pride) by individuals and groups throughout the church throughout the ages. Self-inflicted beatings, cruel depravations of self and others of care, food and solace is, again not repentance. Nor is repentance just about sin. Say the word and many (Christians and unbelievers) will automatically focus upon a vast array of sins of which repentance may be needed. Strangely, though the focus often stays on the sins or the sinner. That is not repentance. Nor is repentance the avoidance of what some may judge to be sin (food, music, people) or the practice of perceptions of holiness, (spiritual postures and practices and appearances). Then what is repentance?
To understand real, healthy repentance we do well to go to the roots of the word. The word repentance is from Old French and Latin. Repentance is a verb of life it is simply is an intensive action of regret and being sorry. It is a realization of a wrong course of life or action and a real (intensive) change of heart and direction. God would call us all to be a people of repentance, a people of life. Our Bible readings help us understand what that means. We are also profoundly blessed on this September 15th (our Vigil Mass for tomorrow) to be celebrating the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross; for it is at the Cross we discover the majestic truth, the joy and power, we find the Place, the Practice and The Person of repentance.
The Place of Repentance is discovered as we journey on our way of the Cross. Through the course of our life we each will face times of failure, not just in doing that which is harmful but in not doing what brings us life. It is in our places of struggle, heartache or woundedness that we can (if we resist the temptation to just blame) chose to enter into the path of repentance. It may be a profound realization that we are headed in a wrong direction and we must quickly get off the off ramp and turn around, or it may be a simple adjustment of attitude and vision. It is a paradox of faith that the power of life bringing repentance is found at a place known for death, the place of the Cross. Yet countless believers, starting with the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus discovered that even when circumstances have us confined the place of repentance, the Cross is a place of freedom, healing and life. For the Prodigal Son the Place of Repentance, started at the pig sty of personal poverty and worth. But it encompassed a journey of intense, practiced steps…home.
The Place of Repentance teaches us, daily, the Practice of Repentance. There is profound power and joy that comes when one not only say but BE sorry. Perhaps those seeds of sorrow for sin or failure may seem very small but when planted in faith and nurtured in humble love they can grow to lives of great beauty and strength. This practice, as we have seen, isn’t just about saying set prayers. It isn’t about the condemnation of self. It is about the turning away from destructive practices, words, longings, to those that bring life, discovery and hope. A good measure of the strength of our repentance is the growth of peace, the realization of God’s love and the sense of the joy of Heaven shared by the angels when a sinner repents. The practice of real repentance will bring a growing dawning of the Light of God’s mercy as we turn our backs on whatever practices or places of darkness we may have known. It is as we journey the places of repentance, growing in a faith-filled true practice, that we come to discover that real repentance is about a Person. The Prodigal in our Gospel had a long and arduous journey home, although his weak faith may have brought fears it was deep inside he longed to return home to his father.
Real Repentance brings us to the Cross, it is there that our practices are freed from those things that cripple and deter us in our journey. It is at the Cross we are freed to start practicing our lives for which we are created. And, it is at the Cross we discover we are destined to know the Person, Jesus Christ and the loving embrace of God. Repentance is most clearly about a person discovering the forgiveness, mercy and love God has for us. The Prodigal son was fearful and humbly planned on living in his father’s estate as a servant. Little did he realize for how long his father had been waiting, searching the horizon for his son’s return. From the place of repentance and the faithful practices we then encounter and discover, as did the thief on the cross the embracing words of mercy of the Savior…”Today, you will be with in Paradise”. We would do well to leave our focus upon sins and sinners and focus on the scene as Jesus brought the fallen, yet repentant thief into the loving embrace of our Heavenly Father.
God calls us to be a people of repentance. He calls to turn away from blaming, fear, hate and judgement. He calls us away from sin. He calls us each to realize we are all prodigals and that our Heavenly Father longs for us. He calls us to a life of Heavenly joy as we share in our deeds and words the practices of real repentance. He calls us to both know and share the mercy-filled embrace of the Savior as He brings us to our Heavenly Father. True repentance is, simply realizing God, in love is calling us.