"If You Do Not Repent..."

(Third Sunday of Lent, Year C)

When told about the outrage in Jerusalem (Lk 13:1), Jesus responded in an unexpected manner. He did not offer condolences to the widows. He did not condemn Pilate for his cruelty and sacrilege. Nor did he blame the men for their futile act of resistance. Seeing a more immediate danger, Jesus said,

"If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did."

In almost the same breath, Jesus mentions the tower which collapsed killing eighteen people. He draws the same lesson - Repent, if you wish to avoid something worse.

After Seattle's earthquake, some preachers speculated it was a punishment for Mardi Gras' atrocities. Others ridiculed the idea God would make such use of natural disasters. Both viewpoints are simplistic. While one cannot be so precise about God's purposes, yet, if we have the slightest glimmer who He is, we can reason he uses the movement of every photon - not to mention tectonic plates - to bring about his hidden plan. But what is it?

The answer to that question Jesus makes clear: the salvation of souls. God permits earthquakes, diseases and cruel rulers so men will repent and turn back to him. I say this with some trepidation because I know some will lay at my feet every stillborn child, every car accident, every atrocity past and present. I do not grasp why such horrible things must occur. I am only restating Jesus' blunt words that repentance, salvation is what ultimately is at stake.

Cardinal Newman said all the hurricanes, earthquakes, plagues and other natural disasters together are not as harmful as the smallest venial sin. Newman had taken on the mind of Christ and like Jesus saw things from the perspective of eternity. Altho Newman loved books, especially the classics, he knew a million libraries are worth less than a banana peel in comparison to one human soul. Where that soul spends eternity depends on how it responds to Jesus, "Repent or you will perish."

During Lent one way we express repentance is receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. A young priest of the the Seattle archdiocese, Fr. Patrick Freitag, told a story which illustrates the need for confession:

He had been hiking five days with a group of friends. They averaged ten miles a day. Upon finishing, a group of friends came to meet them. They were happy to see each other, but when they got within a few feet, one of their friends stopped. Then the whole group halted. "Oh," she said, "You guys stink." They had been together and gotten used to the smell, but before the others would embrace them, they had to get cleaned up.

Now the sacrament of penance is like that--a washing away of our sins so we can return to the complete communion of the Church. Our problem is that we have gotten so used to each other's smell, we need someone honest enough to say (and please do not take offense) "You stink."

One small example how we have gotten used to each other's bad odor: swearing. I know many consider it the smallest of sins or not even a sin at all. But is that not because it has become so common - even among women? I remember being a restaurant with two priest friends. The table next to us were some women talking loudly, every third syllable a cuss word. We did not say anything but when our breakfast arrived, made the sign of the cross and said grace. They stopped.

Not only do people cuss without thinking; we even use God's or Jesus' name in vain as if were an exclamation of surprise. The Bible warns against this practice. In the first reading we hear God revealing his very name to Moses. The Hebrew for "I AM WHO AM" was so sacred no Jewish person would dream of uttering it. Maybe we should re-read that text and then examine our attitude toward swearing. Is it not a stench we need to be purified of?

Some people among us are preparing for cleansing sacrament of baptism. Others of us need a "second baptism," what we call the Sacrament of Reconciliation or confession. It begins by taking seriously Jesus words, "Unless you repent..."

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Spanish Version

From Archives (Year C homilies for Third Sunday of Lent):

The Stakes Are High (2013)
Purpose of the Church (2010)
What is His Name? (2007)
Primary Purpose of the Church (2004)
If You Do Not Repent (2001)
You Stink! (1998)

Homilies for Year A Readings for RCIA Scrutinies:

Thirst (2011)
Why So Dissatisfied? (2008)
The Scent of Water (2005)
What She Desired (2002)
The One You Want (1999)

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (Earthquake, Courage Anniversary, Letter on NFP & Breastfeeding)

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