Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; I John 2:1-5; Psalm 4; Luke 24:35-48
Before the Feast of the Resurrection we had the season of the Great Lent, the longest penitential season in the Church year, and here, just two weeks after Easter, we are being called to repentance once again – don’t we get a break?! No, actually we don’t. For a Christian repentance is not just an event, it is an attitude, an orientation, a way of life. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter says, “Therefore, reform your lives! Turn to God, that your sins may be wiped away!” That turning to God should be for us a constant action, like in the old Shaker hymn, “To turn, to turn shall be our delight, till by turning, turning we come round right.” Repentance is the key to the Kingdom of heaven, and repentance keeps the door open for us.
Repentance is also more than sorrow and contrition for our sins and amendment of our lives, it involves our whole attitude to God, ourselves and other people. It includes humility, meekness and true respect for the freedom of others. We have a tendency, or at least I do, and I don’t think I am unique, to go through life as a universe unto ourselves, assuming that we are in the right, that other people are actors on our stage and that if they just did what we said everything would be fine. We may never articulate this to ourselves so blatantly, but if we are honest, I think it is there, a little, in all of us. Repentance must include letting go of this attitude, and letting other people be just themselves. We need to value them as they are, who they are in themselves, not just how they relate to us, or effect our lives. This is unconditional love – the love we are called to in Christ. When Jesus came to the disciples after his Resurrection, they were frightened, and didn’t think that he was real, until he showed them the wounds in his hands and feet. We need to make other people real to us, and a good way to do this is to look at their wounds, the ways in which life has hurt and scarred them in body, mind, heart and spirit. We can understand that they, just like us, are frightened by life, and we can offer mercy and compassion rather than condemnation. Needing to be right is just about the essential opposite of repentance, of metanoia, of turning round right. Sometimes, fewer times than I like to admit, but sometimes, we are right, and if it is a matter of our faith, of the Truth of Christ, then we need to stand strong, but not rigidly, we can bend without breaking, we can respect others without giving in. St. John writes, “The way we can be sure of our knowledge of him is to keep his commandments. The one who claims, “I have known him,” without keeping his commandments, is a liar; in such a one there is no truth. But whoever keeps his word truly has the love of God made perfect in them.” The commandment Christ has given us is to love; to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
There was an incredibly stupid movie, in the 70’s, I think, called “Love Story”, and the tagline of this movie became very popular, to the point of nausea – “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Being fairly recently married, Taoiseach and I both responded to this with, “Love means saying you’re sorry, even if it wasn’t your fault.” We can be right and still repent of the quarrel, of losing our temper, of disrespecting the thoughts, ideas, and person of another. We can repent of whatever we had done to bring the issue to a quarrel, of being rigid and inflexible, of wanting not only to be right, but to impose our rightness on someone else.
Repentance, meekness, humility, love, patience, kindness, compassion, all require us to be flexible, moldable, teachable, by God, and by other people – not to the point of losing ourselves, but being willing to be the person God needs us to be, not necessarily the person we may want to be. It is even more wrong to insist on our being right to God, than to another human being.
Another benefit of living repentantly is being able to judge more clearly when to make a stand and fight. So much of what we worry about, lose sleep over, try to control, squabble about with our loved ones, is, in the long run, in the light of eternity, just not important. I can remember, again in the 70’s, and also the 60’s, the major battles in families and in the public forum over the length of boy’s hair and the shortness of girl’s skirts. And after all what did it matter? What possible difference did it make, all that bitterness and anger? And here we are in the 21st century and pretty much anything goes, and hardly anybody cares. What matters, and where we do need to make a stand is anything that gets in the way of theosis, our own, or someone else’s. And that rarely has anything to do with hair, or clothes – it does have to do with thoughts, words and deeds – with attitudes, actions and habits – with respect, compassion and forgiveness, and most of all, unconditional love, given and received. Living in repentance helps us to keep our attention on God, and God’s Kingdom, not on ourselves or on all the distracting busyness of modern life, like Mary of Bethany at the feet of Christ we need to choose the one needful thing, and cling to it with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
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