11/3/13, Repentance

THIRTY FIRST SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

November 3, 2013

   

WORDS OF INTRODUCTION:   


      Three weeks ago, the theme of the Mass had to do with “Gratitude”.  Two weeks ago, the theme presented in the scriptures was “Persistence”.  Last week’s theme was “Humility”.  Today’s theme has to do with “Repentance”.

     I offer these words from the book of Ezekiel for you to ponder after the bell rings;


I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities...  I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts, and giving you natural hearts...  I will put my Spirit within you.  You shall be my people, and I will be your God...


REFLECTION:


    Today’s Gospel reading is a delightful story about how a simple encounter with Christ brought repentance to the soul of a tax collector who had perched himself in a Sycamore tree and was waiting for Jesus to pass by.

    The gospels are full of such stories.  A woman who had been suffering with a hemorrhage for twelve years reaches out through the crowd,  “If I just touch the hem of his garment....” 

     A Roman soldier, a Centurion whose servant is near death, says to Jesus, “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.  Only say the word...”  

     A blind man, Bartimaeus, cries out from the crowd, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”   Jesus heals him.

     A leper approaches Jesus saying, “If you will, you can make me clean...”

     Hoping for a miracle, a paralytic lying on a stretcher is lowered through the ceiling into a room where Jesus is.  

      Jesus doesn’t have an appointment book.  He takes people as they come, healing them all and forgiving their sins.  That was his mission then, and that is his mission today.  Jesus comes to find what was lost, to cleanse our sins, and heal our ills


     Our Church has several sacraments that directly address the subject of repentance:  Baptism, is one of them. 

     John the Baptist was a strange, grasshopper-eating fellow who wore clothes made out of camel hair and who drew quite a bit of attention by standing in the water of the Jordan River calling people to repentance and baptizing them as they acknowledged their sins.  Pharisees came down to the river to check him out and see what all the commotion was about.  John called them “a brood of vipers” and told them to repent their misdeeds.  He exclaimed that someone was coming after him whose sandals he was not worthy to carry who would baptize the people, not as he did in water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  You will remember that Jesus appeared at the bank of the river.  John baptized him, and the heavens opened up.  The Holy Spirit came in the form of a dove, and a voice said, “This is my beloved Son.”  It was a powerful affirmation by God and a prelude to the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus.     

     Some of us may have been baptized as infants and may not even remember the event.  However, I was an adult convert, and I was baptized when I was 18 years old.


     It had all actually begun many years earlier then that.  It was Christmas eve.  I was just a child and was sitting by the fireplace contemplating a midnight visit of Santa.  Suddenly it all went bad -- so, so, bad.   I called the whole Santa thing into question.  My mother, who was baking cookies in the kitchen, confirmed the bad news.  “Don’t tell your brothers”, she said.  

     “What about the Easter Bunny?” I asked.

     She nodded.

     “And the Tooth Fairy too?”

      Another nod.

     “...and God?”

      Silence.

      So quickly, it was all gone. I didn’t believe in anything anymore. I was a six-year-old Atheist.  During the next twelve years, I searched for answers.  I asked people to explain why they believed in God.  None of their answers were satisfying to me.

     When I was thirteen or fourteen, of my own volition, I made an appointment with a minister at the local Presbyterian church.  I told him about my “faith issues”.  He then knelt down on the floor in front of me and prayed for me.  How embarrassing!  As I entered my first year of college, I grilled all of my friends about their belief, or lack of belief, in God.  Their answers, again, unsatisfactory.  I did make the observation that the people who didn’t believe in God, the atheists, which included me, were equally unconvincing.  So, then, I couldn’t even say I was an Atheist anymore.  I had become an Agnostic.  When I asked one of my Catholic friends to explain her beliefs, she handed me a Baltimore Catechism.  

     One day, when I was 18, I knelt down on the floor of my apartment.  I thought I should show appropriate respect when addressing God, whether I believed in him or not.  I said something to this effect:  “Lord, if you actually are there, I’d really like to know.  If it matters at all to you that I do know you, I need your help.”  I didn’t want to lay down any conditions for God.  So, I made it a point to explain to him that it wasn’t necessary for him to conform to the Scientific Method, nor did he actually have to prove anything to me.  But, I had gone as far as I could by myself.  If he was there, and it mattered to him that I knew about it, I need to be convinced somehow.

    Several days later I picked up that catechism and began to read.  It was actually quite simplistic.  Nevertheless, I continued.  “Hmmmm... I suppose this might be remotely possible...‘   Surprisingly, I felt a little bit of inexplicable joy inside of me.  Through the next couple of weeks, I continued to read.  ‘I suppose the existence of God is just as possible as it is impossible,’  I thought.  I noticed that little bit of “inexplicable joy” seemed to increase day by day.  By the time I got through the catechism, I could hardly contain all joy I felt, and I became convinced that God really did exist because he had actually answered me, and he didn’t prove anything to me by facts or evidence -- certainly not by the scientific method.  He didn’t scare the bejeebers out of me by knocking me off of my horse or by blinding me like what happened to St. Paul. 

     Instead, I had been given a lovely gift of grace, a kindly, tender conversion.  And God did it so sweetly, so respectfully, and so patiently as the days passed by.  I will never forget that experience.  With my former doubts and skepticism gone, I then sought instruction, and was baptized and received into the Catholic Church in Corvallis.  For me, my baptism was a mark of my conversion by God and an initiation into my new life of belief.


     Repentance is also the main business of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  This sacrament is designed to heal the wounds of sin that are committed after Baptism.  Here proper repentance is characterized by sincere sorrow and regret -- contrition -- for the sins one has committed.  But, it is more than that. There are several other elements:

     Repentance is a call to conversion from self-love, self-trust, and self-assertion to obedient trust and to commitment to God, or in the case of the 12-step program, to one’s Higher Power. Most of us are quite ignorant of the deceptive hold our egos -- our false selves -- have on us.  A thoughtful and prayerful examination of conscience helps us see through our own excuses and delusions.

     Repentance is a change of mind and heart that involves a conscious turning away from wrong actions, attitudes and thoughts, and turning toward doing that which is good. It involves change.

     Repentance typically includes an admission of guilt, confession to a Priest for Catholics, or, in the 12-Step Program, one must confess his/her faults to at least one other person.  Both cases involve a promise or a resolve not to repeat the offense.

     Repentance involves an earnest attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong or the omission where possible, without inflicting additional injury upon others. This is called penance in the Catholic church or, in the 12-Step Program they call it making amends.

    Repentance also involves an assurance of forgiveness.  This is manifested outwardly in the Catholic church with the rite of absolution.  The penitent may (or may not) also experience a profound, life-changing inner experience, an encounter with God or Christ.

     Here at Lumen Christi, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available privately to anyone wishing to receive it by appointment.  One simply needs to make arrangements with our Priest, Sandi.  At certain times, General Absolution is also offered during Mass.


      Repentance, and the grace of God  are not in any way limited to the Confessional, or to the 12-Step program.

      No matter where we are, no matter how desperate the situation, how conflicted we are, if the storm is raging, and the boat is taking on water, we need to turn to God.  If you have been hurting for a long time, remember woman with the hemorrhage.  Reach out, like she did, for the hem of his garment.  Remember the leper and the Centurion, remember Bartimaeus, the blind man, remember the poor, the sick, the desperate people in the crowds who called out to Jesus and were healed, and given sight, and forgiven their sins.  Remember the short man, Zacchaeus, who climbed up the Sycamore tree in Jericho to just catch sight of Jesus; how delighted he was when Jesus invited himself to stay at his house; how Zaccheaus repented his sins and vowed to make restitution to those he’d defrauded and, even more, he promised to give half of his belongings to the poor.  Remember Jesus words to him,  “Today salvation has come to this house...  The Promised One has come to search out and save what was lost.” 

      

     If anyone came up to me today and asked me the reasons for my faith in God, I would tell them that when I needed God’s help, and when I called out to him, he answered me.


by Marcia Lee