Repent and Pray

(Homily for Fifteenth Ordinary Sunday, Year B)

Bottom line: Now is the time to repent and pray. We do not know what kind of trials will come, but they will come. The Virgin Mary offers a simple remedy, the same as we hear in the Gospel: repent and pray.

Thank you for your wonderful, warm welcome this past week. I am very happy to be your new pastor.

In my homily last Sunday I mentioned a girl who reported an apparition of the Virgin Mary. The girl is a teenager and she told me about it with such simplicity that she seemed very credible. She said that, at first, she was scared - the appearances occurred at night in her bedroom. She ran to her mom who reassured her, "Don't be afraid." When I asked her what happened, the girl said that Holy Mary gave her personal advice, but also said something that could apply to all of us. Mary spoke about "difficult times" ahead, some kind of "trials." The girl didn't mention anything more specific, but with the news in our world - and our own country - it is not hard to imagine we could be facing difficult days.

In recent years there have been reports of appearances by Our Lady - and they often speak about coming trials. If you want to know more how these appearances relate to our overall faith, I recommend Mark Shea's book, ""Mary, Mother of the Son." At the end of the book (actually a trilogy of three books) Mark summarizes major Church-approved Marian apparitions. In all of these appearances, a common theme stands out: the call to prayer and repentance.

For example, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Mary appeared to three children in Portugal. She told them to pray, especially for the conversion of Russia. This was the summer of 1917, just months before the Communists took over that country. Here is an exact quote: "If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecution of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated." Those predictions came true. Only in recent decades have we learned the full horror of the Communist regimes in Russia, China and other countries. And even though communism has fallen, its error (the reduction of human existence to a struggle for material goods) continues - perhaps in a more insidious, soul-destroying form.

As we begin the twenty-first century, we hear reports of the Virgin appearing in various places - Bosnia, Japan, Colombia, Africa and other areas - including the United States. Some reports are credible, others not. Some are personal or individual, like to that girl in my former parish, but also with a message for the rest of us:* We may be on the brink of difficult, even terrible, times. Thanks be to God, we do have a remedy: prayer and repentance. It is a simple remedy, but unfortunately not many want to take it.

We see a similar situation in today's Gospel. Jesus sent out his Apostles, in pairs, to preach repentance. Repentance is a sorrow for sins - a recognition that my sins have hurt me, other people and God. Repentance opens up the floodgate's of God's grace. When people listened and repented, the Apostles then could drive out demons and cure illnesses by anointing with oil. (In our glass ambry you see the three oils - one of them is for the anointing of the sick.) When we repent and pray, wonderful things can happen in our families, our parish and our world.

This is urgent. To underscore the urgency, Jesus sent the Twelve with no food, no money, no backpack. The time is short. Make a decision now. Tomorrow is too late. Now is the time to repent and pray. We do not know what kind of trials will come, but they will come.

Sometimes people ask why we have so many trials and difficulties. Why doesn't God just make things smooth for us? If you think about it, the answer is evident. God allows trials and difficulties for our greater good - to bring us back to Himself. You and I have to make a choice in this life - either for God or to separate from Him. This is fundamental - the basic reason for our existence.

When we get the basics right, other things fall into their place. This applies in our lives, our families and our world. If we put God first, if we treat others with dignity, then things start to go well. If we don't, things start to turn sour. Pope Benedict makes that point in his new encyclical - "Caritas in Veritate," (Love in Truth). The reason our world economy has gone bad is because we have forgotten the basics. The same is true in our individual lives. You and I may not be able to do much about the global economy, but each one of us has control of our lives: Do I want to put God first or turn away from him? Do I want to treat others with dignity or brush them aside?

God allows trials and difficulties to come so that we will turn back to him and treat others properly. That was the message the Virgen Mary gave to the children at Fatima (and other visionaries): Repent and pray. We hear that same message in today's Gospel: Repent and pray.


*All Marian apparitions belong to what the Church calls "private revelation," that is, even after they are "approved" they are not binding on the faithful. A Catholic can reject any Marian apparition and remain a Catholic in good standing. Having acknowledged that, if someone of her status is visiting us, I for one want to know what she has to say. Some people dream about an extra-terrestrial landing on our planet, but would not the Mother of Jesus have a much more important message? Mark Shea explains it this way:

"There are two kinds of revelation. The first called 'public' or 'universal' revelation, is the deposit of faith entrusted to the apostles by Christ and handed down to the Church in the form of Scripture and Tradition. This kind of revelation ended with the death of the apostles, is protected by the charism of infallibility, so the Church will not lose track of it, and must be believed by all the faithful. As the Church herself makes abundantly clear, 'No new public revelation is expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.' (Catechism, #66)

"However, in addition to this there is what the Church calls 'private revelation." Marian apparitions are a species of private, not public, revelation. Private revelation is an intimate form of communication. It doesn't reveal new things to the Church. Rather it helps make public revelation 'present' to us today and helps guide us in living out that public revelation." (Mary, Mother of the Son, Volume III, pp. 111-112)

General Intercessions for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From Archives (15th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Building on Strength Week 2: Teaching Authority of Church
2012: The Source
2009: Repent and Pray
2006: No Money in Their Belts
2003: No Money in Their Belts (same title, different homily)
2000: About the "Right to Choose"

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