Bottom line: When we repent, we enter the kingdom of God. Personal responsibility leads to solidarity.
Jesus gives a clear call today: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Before applying Jesus words to our lives, I would like to refer to a discussion going on in our country. Since the tragic murder of six people in Tucson, we have heard a lot about individual and group responsibility. The Bible speaks about both: You and I have responsibility for our decisions and actions. At the same time, what we do and say does affect other people. We have a solidarity with each other.
Regarding solidarity, the question arises: I know that I am responsible for myself, but in what way am I responsible for the other person? When someone is going on a wrong course, what responsibility do I have? We might have a family member who is doing things destructive to himself - and who could do harm to others. We often run into people who seem to be traveling down a bad path. What can we do to help them?
An episode from the life of St. Francis sheds light on this question: One day a friar approached Francis, "Brother Francis," he said, "a verse from the Bible is troubling me. Ezekiel says that if someone is sinning and I do not rebuke him that his sin will fall on my head. I will be to blame. But I see people sinning all the time. I don't feel right going around correcting other people."
St. Francis remained silent for a time. Then he said, "Dear brother, try to live God's will every day. If you do, you will not need to say anything. Your life will rebuke the sinner."
In those few words St. Francis brings together individual responsibility and solidarity. It's what Jesus says in today's Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." When we repent we become part of the kingdom of God.
The word, "repent," is so important that it is actually the first word Jesus speaks when he begins his public ministry. He calls each one to repentance, to a change of heart, to take on a new way of thinking, a new way of living. Repent.
In our nation we have a lot of repenting to do. Yesterday marked the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision called, "Roe v. Wade." It took legal protection from unborn children. Since that time, millions (millions!) of girls and young women have undergone procedures that intentionally destroyed their own offspring. We do not judge them. Who knows what pressures led them to such a decision.*
The issue here is not to judge other people, but to ask St. Francis' question. What way do I need to change - to live my life differently? Where do I need to repent? If I give myself more completely to the Lord, if I live with more integrity, it would ultimately have an effect on others. I am not personally reponsible for the bad decisions of others, but my life - for better or worse - does affect others.
In his book Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly uses a word that we often misunderstand: "holiness." He devotes about a dozen paragraphs to explaining what holiness means today. "Holiness," he says, "is surrendering to the will of God and the same time, it is grasping each moment and making it all it can be."
I saw holiness in action when I was chaplain of a group called Courage. Courage helps people who struggle with same-sex attraction, but who want to live the teaching of Jesus. Some Courage members have come out of a life style that was far from happy. In truth it involved great misery. With the help of confession, sound friendships and daily prayer that included devotion to the Blessed Mary, they gradually achieved chastity. Rather than being controlled by passions, they gained a degree of self-mastery. Of course, chastity involves a daily struggle, but they know that, when all is said and done, they face a radical choice: holiness or hell. You and I may not see it so clearly, but we face that same choice: holiness or hell. Jesus' word apply to us: Repent.
The men in that Courage group had a quiet, but profound effect on others: married couples, young people - and priests. If you and I strive for integrity, if we ask God to help us attain genuinre holiness, we will influence others; we will make this a better world.
To sum up: When we repent, we enter the kingdom of God. Personal responsibility leads to solidarity. To reject one's personal responsibility, results in isolation. That is, sin separates us not only from God, but from each other. Repentance, holiness, brings us together. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Amen.
*A recent television program (on MTV) followed a young woman who chose to end the life of her unborn child. The people at the clinic told her not to think of "it" as a child, but as a bunch of cells. The girl herself knew better. In a later scene she tells her boyfriend that he didn't understand what she had been through. He asks why since it was just a bunch of cells. She points to a baby and says, "that bunch of cells could have become this."
She had been tricked. Of course, a fetus is a "bunch of cells," but so is a baby and so are you and I. The problem comes when one inserts the word, "just...merely...only...simply." At that point, a person has left science and begun to engage in philosophy - or "spin."
From Archives (Third Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
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