On October 16, 2002, Pope John Paul II observed the 24th anniversary of his papal election with a dramatic gesture. He issued an apostolic letter in which he proposed five new mysteries to the Rosary. I am sure many of you have prayed the Luminous Mysteries. The central mystery (third of five) is what we heard in today’s Gospel: Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion.
The paramount importance of that proclamation can be seen from the fact it contains the first words of Jesus recorded in Mark’s Gospel:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mk 1:15)
I don’t know about you, but I need to hear that call on a daily basis. I try to make an examination of conscience each evening – to thank God for the blessings of the day and to ask pardon for my often lukewarm response.
While the Gospel does give us a “blessed assurance” of salvation, it allows no room for presumption.* Presumption means to take things for granted, to assume all is fine when it really is not.
A local Christian congregation gave an extreme example of this attitude. The pastor’s wife was murdered and everyone felt great sympathy for the man. However, when the police investigated, all the evidence pointed toward her husband. They arrested the pastor who was tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. A reporter interviewed members of the congregation. Of course, they were devastated, but some of them said, “As far as his salvation, it does not matter. That was assured the day he accepted Christ.”
One hopes the trial and imprisonment would bring remorse and repentance, but suppose the man got away with it. After an appropriate time of mourning, he marries the other woman, continues his pastorate and eventually retires, basking in the admiration of his congregation and the community. With no sincere repentance, is that man’s salvation assured?
Shakespeare got it right. Repentance requires more than words. In the play Hamlet Claudius had killed his brother in order to marry his sister-in-law and himself become King of Denmark. At one point he attempts to pray, but realizes he must first ask forgiveness. However, words are not enough:
My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? 'Forgive me my foul murder'?
That cannot be; since I am still possess'd
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
No one can repent and still cling to ill-gotten gains. Like many people today, King Claudius remained paralyzed, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”
Jesus began his ministry with a serious wake-up call. “The time is fulfilled.” It’s not enough to have repented yesterday or to plan on doing so tomorrow. When we say the Hail Mary, we mention the only moments that matter: now and the hour of our death. And those two moments are closer to each other than we think.
*When asked if she were in the state of Grace, St. Joan of Arc gave an answer which showed assurance, but avoided presumption: "If I be not in a state of Grace, I pray God place me in it; if I be in it, I pray God keep me so."
From the Archives:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Animal Rights & Human Rights; Reflection on Cloning, 30th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade)
Financial Report (July 1 - December 31, 2002)
Simple Catholicism (New! Thanks to my niece Sara Bloom)
Pictures from Peru
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