“Repent for the kingdom of God is close at hand.”
The message of the gospel this Sunday gives us the proper perspective from which all renewal comes. The kingdom of heaven, the new era, the new church which we dream about is brought to fulfillment through repentance, and only through repentance.
What does repentance consist of?
First, repentance can only happen if there is a conscious acknowledgment on our part that something is wrong with us. Something is wrong with me. This is a very important step in the stairway to perfection.
For this to happen it would be best to have a nightly review of our life to examine our actions and reactions during the day, to search out for flaws so that we could correct them, and to search out for the good so that could thank God for them. We call this an examination of conscience. Few people have this habit, that is why few people have actually improved, much less renewed their lives.
Sometimes people come to confession and say “Father, I have no sin.” Frankly, I am irked by this statement that sometimes I am tempted to say, “then why are you here? Disturbo!” Actually, when we say “I have no sin,” we are in reality saying “I am not conscious of my sins,” which is another fact. To really grow in our spiritual life means to see more clearly the things about ourselves and become more conscious of our sinfulness. For example talking nasty things about people is not that bad for many, but if we have grown sensitive and our consciousness of sin widens, then we begin to see the injustice committed of which we have been part.
As a Church we are also called by God to repentance - to acknowledge our sinfulness, to admit our culpability. We have to have a collective examination of conscience, an examination of our programs, our priorities, what we have done, what we have failed to do, those times when we have been reserved in our condemnation of an error because of some selfish interest. It is only through this acknowledgment that repentance comes. Because if we keep on saying, “Oh we’re all right, we’re just fine, we’ve been doing good,” then we will miss the opportunity of renewing ourselves.
In any renewal whether personal or collective we always start with the statement “something is wrong.”
Second, repentance does not only end in acknowledging our sinfulness and failures. Repentance is not witch hunting nor does it limit itself to breast beating. It must move to acknowledge that something can be done to improve the situation at hand. Something has to be done and could be done. We must remember that for as long as we are in this world, all possibilities are open to us for improvement and we could do it if we want to, if we put our heart on it.
We call this conversion, the essential fruit of repentance. This is were decisive action comes in. This is were the willingness to suffer the pain of change is accepted. This is were God is acknowledged as the power greater than ourselves who would ultimately bring us to renewal and growth as individuals and as a church. This is what makes the repentant sinner totally new everyday.
I believe our launching of our parish programs was divinely guided when we decided to set it on an Advent. It is the time of great expectation, of new things to come. And I also believe that this will happen if we heed the call of Advent for repentance and conversion.