Repentance

"I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

I will admit that it is hard for me not to be cynical about the President's sincerity and repentance. When I hear that the previous day he rebuked a member of his cabinet who dared ask how he could have done such a thing. After all he is a politician, and he seems to be motivated by what will work politically rather than what is right. So when I hear that his advisors are telling him to apologize and express regret and he gets up and does it, I admit I am cynical that he is really repentant, that he has had a metanoia.

Metanoia, the word in Scripture used for repentance and much bandied about by people who have had a few theology courses, literally means to "turn around" or "to have a change of mind."

To truly repent then demands a real change of mind, in Christian belief it means to take on the mind of Christ, who humbled himself and took the role of a servant. The turning around happens when I am no longer moved by the same goals that moved me in the past.

I have felt sorry about many things that I have done in my life, but I probably have only repented of a few. Repentance requires some stake pulling. In the early church it was such a radical act that there was an order of penitents who left their family, job and basically went off to do penance for their sins for a period of time or the rest of their lives. Repentance demands a radical break; life does not go on the same as it did previously.

The joy in heaven spoken of in the Gospel is understandable; sin destroys us; if we make something else our goal in life other than God we are on a path of destruction. That is something that God does not want.

I once advised a young man that sought counsel from me to stay at home and spend more time nurturing his marriage and children; instead he filled his time with his career pursuit and church. A few years later, his marriage was over and a year after that he was fired from his well paying job. I remember sitting with him after his marriage broke up, he was still in denial about his problems. Interestingly although he was heavily involved in church ministry, he blamed God for the breakup of his marriage (his wife was also heavily involved in church ministry.)

My advice to the President (if he wanted it and is serious about repenting) would be to resign, move out in the country somewhere and spend time with his wife, try to rediscover what brought them together in the first place and explore how he could deepen his relationship with God to fill all of the void that must be there for him to jeopardize his marriage and career. Ultimately that relationship is all that matters.

In the stories of forgiveness in the Gospels, God is the one who welcomes back the sinner, because ultimately every sin is idol worship (in that I have made something else God.) The people who are forgiven by Jesus are always sent on their way.

"Go and sin no more." "Pick up you mat, your sins are forgiven!" The forgiven are empowered to move in a new direction.

We are called to love everyone, whether they ask to be forgiven or not. Jesus told his disciples to love their enemies, (so whether someone asks forgiveness has nothing to do with our attitude toward them). It's nice when people say they are sorry and ask to be forgiven, it makes them less of an enemy and a little easier to love.

The response to forgiveness is not forgetfulness. In fact St. Paul's version of morality is a constant plea to "Remember." People who invite sex offenders who have repented and asked forgiveness into their homes and allow them to baby-sit their children are idiots, not good Christians. They neither love the forgiven sinner nor accept them; instead they set them up!

I have found the main obstacle that most people have to forgiving loved ones is precisely based on the foolish premise that if I forgive you I have to act like you never did anything, if that were true their would be nothing to forgive. There is a man I know who visits a prisoner every weekend. The prisoner he visits is there for murder, the murder of the man's son. The man has forgiven his son's murderer, visits him, brings his son's murderers cookies but would never argue that he should be released from prison.

"Repent and believe the good news!" This was the early Christian message; we all need to hear it over and over again as we daily head out in the wrong directions. The good news is that Jesus has saved us from our sins and can empower us to live a life freed from slavery those sins.

Loving one another does not equate to a permissive attitude or one that makes excuses for behavior. As Kant argued if I respect someone I think of him or her as capable of committing rational acts. We do not always feel children know what they are doing and quite frankly that is why we make decisions for them, but what about the people who make decisions over us?

So if the President has repented let's join the banquet to celebrate with God and the angels and afterwards we should be neighborly and help him pack his bags so he can get on with the business of repentance and leave the decision making to someone else.

#2

Freedom

"At a time when you did not know God, you became slaves to things that by nature are not gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and destitute elemental powers?"

A consistent feature of St. Paul's imagery of someone who is a Christian versus someone who is not is his characterization of a non-believer as a slave and a Christian as a free person. The Christian is someone who has given up being a slave to something that is not worthy of being a master. He wrote the above to the Galatians warning them not to go back to being slaves.

It always helps to step back and look at whom or what am I serving in this life? Do others or their actions control me?

St. Paul warns us not to fall back into that pit again.

I recently came into contact with a group that seeks liberation from an influence that they feel they escaped, unfortunately for them they also put God into the mix, the results of their liberation is not pretty. They are obsessed with their former "master" as a result.

Paul corrected himself as he was writing to the Galatians, saying that we are "known" by God rather than come to "know" God. Knowing God may be an impossibility, but allowing God to know us leads to us having self-knowledge.

God created us for freedom and serving God keeps us from being controlled by lesser things. #3

Is God out to get you?

As a child growing up in New Hampshire, I often spent my Saturday afternoons rushing off the local church to go to confession. I had the strange belief that God had set numerous booby traps along the way to try to get me before I reached the confessional, so these trips were always filled with suspense.

Once while riding my bike the short distance and my mind heavy with adolescent sins, I forgot to look both ways and came inches from being road kill. Another time while walking a car came close to hitting me again because of my own preoccupation.

I'm not sure where or why I got it all backwards about God; perhaps it was original sin or some kind of misplaced awe of God's majesty. But it took me along time to figure out that God was the good guy, the very guy that made the whole confession thing possible.

"This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge and truth."

It took me a long time to believe that God really loved me, even longer than it took to believe that he loved everyone else.

Today meditate on this passage from the first letter of Timothy. Do you believe that God wants all that is good for you? Do you believe that he wants that for all the other beings on this earth?

How much we believe it certainly affects what we think about others and ourselves.

#4

Where is your faith?

"He awakened, rebuked the wind and the waves, and subsided and there was calm."

The disciples were certain that the horrible storm was the end of them. They were sure that the boat they were in would capsize and they would all drown. The experienced fishermen found they were powerless. They have to wake Jesus up with their pleas. Jesus, who obviously didn't appreciate being awakened in from a sound sleep, rebukes the storm and then turns and does the same to them.

"Where is your faith?" Jesus asks.

I try to imagine what it would be like to be in that situation by conjuring up all of the storms that I have ever been in my life and the times I have felt powerless. Now, what would it be like to have someone in the midst of all that stand up rebuke the weather and for everything to suddenly become calm?

The gospel says that the apostles were struck with awe at what had just taken place. Who wouldn't have been?

Jesus' question of their faith is interesting, for it seems that they saw their situation and awoke Jesus meriting some level of faith in him. Yet this same Jesus would later say that; "I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father." It seems Jesus expected them to do something about the storm to give evidence of their faith.

I wonder how many violent storms have been averted because of faith? Probably more than most of us are aware of. I wonder how strong our faith is when we are confronted with the storms in our live that seem to have the power to destroy us?

God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth, something they lost in the fall, but something that Jesus has restored. Do we follow the fallen or the raised?

#5

Believe it or Not!

There is a scene in the gospel where Jesus is teaching the crowds about the necessity of prayer. In the midst of his discourse a woman cries out; "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed." Jesus' reply to this is interesting, he corrects the woman saying; "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it."

This was not a rebuke of Mary the mother of Jesus, who's birth we celebrate today, rather it points out that true blessedness does not come from physical contact with Jesus but rather from the intimacy of living out the Gospel that Jesus preached.

Mary received a message of an angel that she would be the mother of Jesus in a rather remarkable way, in fact the message seemed rather impossible to her and she voiced her concern saying, "How can this be, since I do not know man?"

The angel's response is that indeed it is impossible for humans but nothing is impossible for God. Mary accepts this with; "May it be done to me according to you word."

Her blessedness lies in the fact that she accepted the word of God in a way that made that word incarnate (enfleshed) in the person of Jesus.

How can we do the same?

If one reads over the gospel passages with a keen eye and sees the demands that are made upon believers, I believe one will be left with the same reaction that Mary had to the angel's message, "How can this be?" Love you enemy? Do well to those who abuse you? Forgive seventy times seven? Turn the other cheek? All of these seem to be humanly impossible.

What does Jesus say in response to this, "What is impossible for humans beings is possible for God."

Too often we make the mistake of trying to live out the Gospel rather than accepting it. What I mean is that we read how we are suppose to act and than humanly try our best to do so, rather than realizing that the message is humanly impossible. We need to accept the fact of the impossibility of the message and our need for God to make up for what is lacking in our lives and then allow God to work through us.

Jesus said if his disciples had faith the size of a mustard seed they would be amazed at what they would accomplish. In fact he said; "Nothing will be impossible for you."

#6

LABOR-BLESSING OR A CURSE?

"Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat."

Shortly after God spoke these words to Adam and Eve, the couple began the first commute as they made their way out of the Garden of Eden. I'm sure that all other commutes pale in comparison. They were leaving a place where God had blessed everything they did and entering an existence where that was no longer the case.

But what about you and I, are we still under the curse of Adam and Eve? Christian theology teaches that we are all born with this taint in our nature, but it also teaches that Baptism removes the stain of Original Sin, that our relationship with Jesus changes the way that we live in this world.

Remember that when God chose the Israelites and they came under his blessing that he fed them with manna in the desert. Imagine the bread falling from the heavens in contrast to the curse brought on humanity by the sin of Adam and Eve. No sweat fell in bringing forth the manna that God gave them freely.

In the gospel Jesus sends out the disciples in a similar way, saying; "I sent you out to reap what you had not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work." In Jesus the curse of Original sin is removed and the blessings on all of creation are renewed.

There is a dignity in the work that we do, because it is ultimately the work of God that we are sharing in. It is a vocation, a calling from God to fulfill our purpose in life. Each of us has a mission, we have been sent here to fulfill. If we live out our calling, nothing can destroy the work that we will accomplish.

That does not mean that our work will not be difficult, but it does mean that it is blessed. Jesus' mission led him to a death on a cross, but his resurrection was the end result and a sign of God's blessing on Jesus' work.

Tomorrow when you return to work, you might ask yourself; "Do I feel like I'm being driven from the Garden of Eden today or do I feel like I'm being sent on a very important mission?"

Today, thank God for the work you have been given to do on this earth, and ask God's blessing upon it!

#7

IF THE LORD DOES NOT BUILD

"Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it."

I have prayed this psalm many times in my adult life and yet every time I read or hear it I am confronted with the fact that I often forget it's simple message. All of our work is in vain if it is not God's will.

When I attended St. Meinrad College, a Benedictine school in southern Indiana, they were in the midst of building a new library and monastery. The cost of this project was in the millions of dollars.

Every day one of the monks during prayer would in a very southern drawl make the following simple prayer, "that the Lord might build the house." He dragged out the word "Lord" and "house" and his prayer became very popular on campus.

Students would pass the construction site and doing their impersonation of the Brother would point at the project and repeat the petition and usually add some snide remark about the Lord having a lot of helpers today.

But of course that is the point, we are all co-creators with God, but unless he is our partner in a task it will come to nothing.

Which brings me to the question, is God a part of my work? It is a simple question to ask, but I have found that the intensity and focus that I bring to my work is usually in proportion to the amount of passion that I feel that what I am doing is really important.

Another aspect of this is the traditional prayer of asking God to bless our work, and perhaps that is another indication of how much of ourselves do we put into out work.

The Jesuits have a practice of placing AMDG (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam-To the Greater Glory of God) at the top of every page of their work. That simple ejaculation serves not only as a prayer of praise, but also as a reminder that what I put down on this paper is in some way contributing to the greater glory of God's creation.

Do I have that kind of pride in the work that I do? Whether my work is service of people, stocking shelves in a grocery store, or some creative enterprise; anything worth doing is worth doing well and in need of God's blessing.


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