Repent and Believe

(Homily for Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

Bottom line: Becoming a disciple requires more than a one-time conversion experience. Because people can grow cold, we need to hear again Jesus' words: Repent and believe.

Once at an Archdiocesan gathering, a speaker asked all those educated in Catholic schools to stand. As you might imagine, the majority stood. Nothing against public schools and C.C.D. (I went to public schools for my first twelve years) - and of course we can only feel gratitude for the gifts that adult converts bring. At the same time, most of our lay leaders have emerged from Catholic schools.

There is a reason for this. As we see in today's Gospel, becoming a disciple requires more than a one-time conversion experience. After calling people to conversion, Jesus invited them to follow him, to walk with him. That involved conversation, working together, relaxing together and, above all, praying together. A Catholic school is a place where those things can happen. Along with their teachers and other adults, the students have common experiences of study, projects, field trips, recreation and prayer - as well as abundant opportunities for mutual forgiveness and forbearance. All of this can contribute to becoming a Christian disciple.

Now, becoming a disciple does not happen automatically. Not only does each student have their own free will, but a group of people can lose their vision, grow cold and wind up conforming, imitating the dominant culture. That's why we need to hear Jesus' words: Repent and believe. Repent means to examine one's life: Where have I strayed from Christ, become disordered? Believe means to stop simply repeating words and phrases - and to think about what those words mean. For example, in the Profession of Faith, we say: I believe in God, the Father almighty. What does it mean that God is my Father - and that he is all powerful?** A disciple doesn't just repeat those words. He thinks about what they signify.

This is important because otherwise we have a tendency to fall into the values and beliefs of the culture. Let me use an example from this past week. We just inaugurated a new president. For sure all of us are praying for President Obama. I don't know about you but I am praying that he has the right solutions for our economic problems, that his administration will improve our overall health care system - and above all, find new ways for nations to solve conflicts peacefully. Those are important things and they will effect every one of us, especially our children. But, at the same time, I hope that nobody here thinks that the economy, health care and world peace are the most important things. Compared to the salvation of a single soul, they are small potatoes.* Someday the United States will be gone - and all the other countries too. But you and I will just be starting our existence.

That is why St. Paul says that those who are weeping should act as not weeping - and those who are rejoicing should act as not rejoicing. "For the world in its present form is passing away." What matters is where you and I will spend eternity. The decision one makes at this moment has eternal consequences. No one expressed this urgency better than the English writer, C.S. Lewis. I would like to conclude with a quote from him:

"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption which you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long, we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors."

Now is the right moment. Repent and believe.

This Sunday, as part of the call to repentance, I invite you to join the Bishops Postcard Campaign to Fight FOCA.***


*For that reason we should be deeply concerned if an administration sanctions grave (mortal) sin, e.g. abortion, homosexual acts or torture. (Regarding torture, see Catechism 2297-98.)

**In his powerful novel Valley of Bones, Michael Gruber has some intriguing dialogue on the spiritual war and God's omnipotence:

"So, Emmylou, we got any angels in there, any heavy hitters, or are we on our own?"

"Yes, everyone thinks it's a battle between good and evil, but the fact is there never was a battle. That's what omnipotence means. The devil is an employee."

***For full information on the Fight FOCA Postcard Campaign, please click here.

General Intercessions for Third Ordinary Sunday (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Third Sunday, Year B, 2012: Time to Place Your Bet
2009: Repent and Believe
2006: Time Is Running Out
2003: The Third Luminous Mystery
2000: The Last Sunrise
1997: My Call to Priesthood

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin: Reflections on 2009 March for Life

(Translating euphemisms: “reproductive freedom” - “a woman’s right to choose” - “Final Solution” - “special treatment” - “enhanced interrogation” - “our peculiar institution”)


Results of Postcard Campaign in Holy Family Parish

Preaching Schedule

SMV Bulletin

Pictures from Peru

(January 2012)

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