In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say the words, “But I tell you, if you do not repent …” What exactly is repentance? Why is it so important to God? Does it have a practical side or is it all just spiritual?
An aspect of repentance is remorse for something we’ve done wrong. It also involves an apology or making amends to the one we have wronged. However, repentance is deeper than that. One scripture commentator writes that,
“Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed.
This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).
At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace.
Here’s the practical side ..
It means breaking the chains of sin and living a life of freedom and joy and happiness that Christ came to give us. “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.”
The people of the covenant are expected to bear fruit. This fruit is manifested when the person is thriving and living a life described by St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man and woman fully alive.”
A Men’s Gospel Reflection Group was reflecting on Jesus’ words this past Friday. One man called in and shared a little of his testimony. He had been born and raised Catholic, did the whole Catholic school thing. Over the past few decades he didn’t just drift away. He left intentionally. He used a dry opportunity to eviscerate the Catholic Church. Through a series of graced moments and by means of a few anointed friends, he has returned. His life is different. He’s thriving – at work, financially, in his marriage, in his relationship with his children. He said, I was going to name this Men’s Gospel Reflection Group, I’d call it “The fig tree.”
Where is the fruit in your life? The issue is not whether you’re bearing fruit. Each of us is bearing fruit whether you know it or not. This question is what kind of fruit are you producing?
That’s fruit? Pardon me if I don’t go into the produce section of that market. Let’s look at another basket. I’ll provide the list. Then, as I go into details, think about just one that you might focus on in the next week.
- Communing with God. Don’t start with the questions, “Are you praying?” Start with “How long each day are you praying?” Husband and wife must constantly make decisions of love for each other. Priorities have to be set in which the marriage relationship comes first; otherwise the marriage falters, dries up, and often dies. Our relationship with God cannot be taken for granted any more than a marriage relationship can. The covenant must be renewed day after day after day with decisions for the covenant of marriage. This is the kind of constant decision making that is essential if we are to live in our covenant relationship with God.
- Confession. Go at least 4 times each year. Go once during the summer, winter, spring and fall. Or go during the liturgical seasons of Advent (Fall), Lent (Spring), “Ordinary Time 1” (Beginning of Summer) and “Ordinary Time 2” (End of Summer).
- Community with believers. This is basically the 3rd Commandment. The primary way you join in community with the believers is at Mass. Every week.
- Culpability to a confidant. This can be the group mentioned above. It can also be a spiritual guide, spiritual director, life coach or mentor. Meeting with them once each month would be a good general guideline.
- Cultivation by companions “Loosening the soul around the tree” Unfortunately, in today’s society, Mass once each week will not be enough. There are too many forces (what classically were known as “the world, the flesh and the devil”) pushing against you. They will try to wear you down or take you down the wrong path. You need some additional small community with whom you meet regularly who can advise you, encourage you, inform you and hold you accountable.
- Composting by experience. What are you “feeding’ your mind? What are you reading? What kinds of entertainment are you consuming?
- Cutting away of unnecessary stuff. We need to regularly “prune” stuff from our life. A Jesuit friend of mine once suggested that I go through my clothes closet, my bookshelf, my “playthings,” etc… If I haven’t touched a particular object over the past two years, I probably don’t need it. Get rid of it. Throw it away. Sell it. Give it away. Give it to charity. Do this once each year.
The Catholic Church is in the midst of a cathartic moment. You are the rescue team. You need to be at your best. Humbling yourself before the Lord, and engaging in a regular type of repentance will keep you are our best and ring in the Holy Spirit to shape your life positively, help strengthen your relationship with Christ, and help protect you against those spiritual forces that are aligned against you.