The words of Jesus are very pointed and sharp. “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” Very politically incorrect words for today’s world; words that are not concerned about someone’s feelings. Instead, they are concerned about our eternal salvation.
At the heart of our “making it to the next level,” as athletes like to say, is this business of repentance. A spiritual word that calls for a certain type of response that finds its origin at the very core of our being. If repentance doesn’t reach the inmost part of our souls, then it’s something other than repentance, like half-baked repentance, or going through the motions.
I remember one encounter when I was over on the west side at Christ the King Parish. It was about 8 or 9 years ago. The person entered the confessional, a very nice person, it was face to face, and instead of saying “Father, forgive me for I have sinned,” this person said “Father, I can’t think of any sins that I want to confess. I just came in to tell you that.” “Well, thank you for coming in, but if you look deep enough, you might be able to find something.” Nothing was ever found that day.
I bet some of you just had the very brief thought that I was going to tell you someone’s confession. Only if I wanted to be excommunicated from the Church would that happen, being the result of breaking the seal of confession. All the armies of World War II could never get me to break the sacred and holy seal. I would go to jail, and I would die the worst death before I would ever do such a thing.
I can tell you that story because no confession took place in our polite conversation. Interestingly, I don’t remember any confessions out of all the ones I’ve ever heard. Even just a week or two ago, I don’t remember what was said, and I thank God for that incredible grace of forgetfulness. But I do remember the only one where there was no confession. So make sure you go to confession when you sit down with the priest, so you don’t make it into his homily 8 years down the road.
“If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” These are words of everlasting life. Jesus doesn’t send threats our way. Our Lord’s intention is not to lay down the law, or else. That’s for governments and ideologues to do. Jesus is a gentle Shepherd who lovingly challenges his sheep.
The question for us is, “What is repentance?” It’s a question for every day of our lives, but especially a question for the season of Lent in preparation for Easter. It’s a question for this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
For those who are humble enough to consider this virtue and willing to cooperate with repentance, it is first the willingness and desire to set things right before God. That itself is a grace, the desire to be in perfect communion with God. We all fall short; even the person who stopped by the confessional at Christ the King to let me know how good they were. Repentance is the honest, humble recognition that we are creatures who fall short of God’s perfection daily, even in the slightest ways. Of the 1000’s of men and women in the Communion of Saints, there is not one of them, outside of Mary, the Mother of God, who did not fall short of God’s perfection every day of their lives.
The desire for repentance, the desire for wanting to be perfect before God, even if only briefly, is a divine gift realized through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you have that desire, you have a beautiful gift. It sets the table for the search for living a holy life. There are times when most of us get caught up in the world so much that we lose sight of the fact that God calls us to a holy life.
Personally, my greater fear is not for those who have been away from the practice of their Christian faith for years and years, and have not desired the gift of God’s repentance in the Sacrament. My greater fear is for anyone who calls themselves Catholic, come to Church most or all Sundays, but fights and battles and disagrees and is so critical about the teachings of Christ that are preserved, protected, and taught by his Church. Especially when it’s a public person who publicly misrepresents the truth of our faith in any area, telling Mother Church She is wrong on the moral issues of our day. It’s a grave sin that will almost never be confessed because of pride. In the last verse of Paul’s reading today, “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” Standing up for Christ we avoid the spiritual abyss of ignorance.
The desire for repentance opens the door for action that benefits our souls, along with benefitting those we serve. The action is an examination of conscience. To shift our focus from what everyone around us is doing wrong, and to look at ourselves only, being honest about our spiritual pitfalls.
The best acts of repentance, and the most sincere moments of confession, were the worst confessions in name and number. Meaning, there was a long list, or very grave short list of God being offended. Those are the confessions where God’s mercy is so richly abundant. It doesn’t do us much good to say we took a bite out of the apple when we ate the whole thing, core and all! Not a seed was left! Confessions that examine the conscience so deep as to bring forth the entire apple are by far the most grace-filled moments of repentance. It’s the premiere action of the word repentance.
So, Jesus’ word today; “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did, the Galileans and those killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them.” These are holy words of invitation, spoken in our Lord’s manner of loving honesty.
Repentance is desire and action. The desire to stand right before our Creator, and the action of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to ensure our standing is not crooked.