In the gospel this Second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist appears for the first time in the scene calling everyone to “repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.” In times past we have understood this verse as merely a turning away from our personal sins most of which (forgive my observation as a three year old confessor) are sexual. This is evidenced perhaps by our endless preoccupation of the morality of sexual behavior in sermons, pastoral letters and exhortations from the pulpit as if the whole of Christian morality revolves solely there. I am not in anyway against such pronouncements, for indeed the problem related to it has reached a proportion that would make the much dreaded encyclical Humanae Vitae of 25 years ago seem prophetic in our now overly promiscuous society.
One thing however, bothers me. It’s the fact that when the church speaks of justice, social concerns and national issues which involves a greater impact on Christian morality, people seem to take it lightly or ignore it altogether except by a few. But when it speaks of the former, emotions flare and controversies surround the issue as if its the only thing the church have ever spoken of which everybody is expected to react upon and take seriously. There are however more serious matters which we neglect or ignore which are part of the teachings of the church - a teaching whose oversight will lead us to an even greater sin. This is where the call of John for repentance must be looked upon and responded to with greater intensity.
I refer especially to the call of Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente (an apostolic letter addressed by the pope to prepare the church for the Jubillee of the Year 2000) that “among the sins which require a greater commitment to repentance and conversion should certainly be counted those which have been detrimental to the unity willed by God for his people (TMA 34).” Here the pope is calling our attention to look into our actions, biases thoughts and beliefs whether in the past or in the present, that is detrimental to unity and was and is the cause of disunity among us. Ecclesial communion the pope asserts “has been painfully wounded, a fact for which at times, men of both sides were to be blamed.”
In the mind of the pope this disunity and lack of cohesiveness is of utmost importance to be merely overlooked especially as we commemorate the coming of Christ. He came to put an end to all to strife and divisions, to reconcile us to the Father and to one another, that we will become one family again under one common Father. The coming of the reign of God inaugurated in His incarnation on Christmas day, is often described in the old as well as in the new testament as a new era where men and women live in harmony, where all will be gathered in the banquet, where lions play with babes, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, man or woman. That is why the pope insists that discord and disunity in the church is a scandal we are called to correct, a scandal we must repent from if we are to rightfully prepare for his coming. In a more positive term this repentance must make as whole - a community of believers united in sentiment, purpose and work.
In the end I would like to propose for our reflection the following questions so that what we have discussed so far would become more practical and to the point. This way we could make our preparation for the coming of our Lord, the new era more workable in our daily endeavors, even in our little acts.
Could I cohesively work with people in the group, in the office, in our homes in our churches or do I vehemently insist on my individuality, in having things my way apart from and regardless of the actions of the people around me? In other words, could I work as a team who sometimes have to sacrifice my own opinions, desires and wants for the sake of unity in the family or in the community?
As a member of a religious organization in my parish, how do I view the charisms of the different organizations of my parish? Do I have that mentality which considers the methods of my group, its culture, its way, as the only way, the only valid method, the only authentic culture? Do I look at the activities of other groups with envy, with scorn or do I not rather look at with admiration the intensity of the other group’s devotion to reach God regardless of methods and ways? Do I respect their beliefs and practices even if it contravenes my own cherished beliefs and practices?
Am I ready to sublimate my group’s stand and my own, for the sake of the larger community which is the parish? Or do I continue to insists on my own even if it ignores and is detrimental to our parish endeavors?
The call to repentance is not merely a superficial call to individual holiness, to individual liberty, to individual happiness. The repentance called by John is in view of, in preparation for the Kingdom - the community which will be reestablished by the new era of Christ’s coming. As we prepare of Christ’s coming this Christmas and as we chart our course to a new era in our parish may these simple thoughts attune us to the repentance that is most desired by Christ.