06 December 2009

Advent and Repentance

Second Sunday of Advent (C) – 6 December 2009

Readings: Bar 5:1-9; Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Phil 1:4-6, 8-11; Lk 3:1-6

In the Gospel this Sunday, Luke presents to us John and his message of preparing the way of the Lord. How do we prepare the way of the Lord? The Gospel says John preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk 3,3).

Repentance is the great call of Advent.

1. Repentance means coming home to the Father.

In the Old Testament, the concept of repentance is represented by two Hebrew verbs: shuv (to return) and nicham (to feel sorrow). In the New Testament, Jesus taught about repentance in the parable of the prodigal son. The highlight of the story is when the wayward son, felt sorrow for his sins, owned up to his mistakes, and returned home to his waiting father.

The logic of repentance and forgiveness is not “repent and be forgiven” but rather “you are forgiven, and therefore now free to repent”.*

So, if you’re looking for gifts to give this Christmas, why not decide first on the best gift for yourself this Advent: the Father’s gift of the sacrament of reconciliation. Come home this Christmas.

2. Repentance means leaving sin behind.

Prov 28,13 says: “He who conceals his sins prospers not, but he who confesses and forsakes them obtains mercy.” There is a rather earthy instruction on this text from the Talmud: “He that confesses his sin and still clings to it is likened to a man that holds in his hand a defiling object; though he bathes in all the waters of the world he is not cleansed; but the moment he casts the defiling object from him a single bath will cleanse him.”

During a recent debate of presidentiables on TV, a young man asked the candidates: “What vice or luxury could you not live without?” (or words to that effect). On a similar vein, let us ask ourselves: “Are there sins that I find difficult to leave behind?” Think about some sins which tend to be a regular fixture in your confessions, and reflect whether you are making enough effort to resist them.

In the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus told the woman: "Neither do I condemn you. Now go, and sin no more" (John 8,11). When we repent, we have to strive to leave behind our sins totally, so we can embrace grace fully.

3. Repentance means having a change of heart.

The translation of repentance in New Testament Greek is metanoia , i.e., an afterthought, a change of mind and heart. It means acquiring a new way of seeing, a new way of being.

At the start of the Gospel passage this Sunday, we are presented with a gallery of the most powerful men of the time: Tiberius Caesar and Pontius Pilate; the tetrarchs Herod, Philip and Lysanias; the high priests Annas & Caiaphas. Then Luke presents to us the prophet John, the “voice crying in the wilderness”, a rather unlikely figure of power.

Commentators say the contrast was intended as a lesson on the pettiness of what many of us regard as great and powerful, compared to the cosmic significance of John’s message of salvation. A change of perspective is required to fully understand the Good News.

Repentance leads us to appreciate the things that really matter, to recognize and set our true priorities, and to discover and take new and better paths in our journey through life.

4. A Prophet in our midst today

I would like to conclude this reflection by pointing out one modern-day John the Baptist. He may not be preaching directly a baptism of repentance, but he does preach about the good news of education for all and the greatness of the human spirit. I am referring to Efren G. Peñaflorida Jr., a 27 year-old teacher from Cavite, who was recently named "CNN Hero of the Year" in 2009 for his outstanding advocacy to educate Filipino out-of-school youth through "pushcart classes".

Efren grew up in an urban slum near an open dump site in Cavite City. As a child, he was shy and introverted, and would fall victim to bullying at school and in the neighborhood. As a young teen, he thought of joining a gang for protection, but eventually realized that was not the life for him. He founded the Dynamic Teen Company (DTC) at the age of 16, together with his high school classmates and friends. Their aim was to divert students’ attention away from street gangs, and towards community service and personal development. Among the brilliant ideas they came up with was the classroom-canteen-clinic-rolled-into-one kariton.

CNN's recognition came with a cash prize of $125,000. Efren gave 90% of it to the DTC, the 10% he donated to the church, leaving nothing for himself. With the media exposure, their good works are now inspiring people from all walks of life and all over the world to triumph over adversities, change for the better and make a difference to others, especially those in need.

When asked to comment about his recent success, he replied: “I just represent all the selfless and hardworking Filipinos”. Here is one who knows how to prepare the way of the Lord.

For Efren and the DTC, for the children they are helping, for those who support them, and for all of you who wish to celebrate a meaningful Advent, I would like to offer St. Paul's prayer in Phil 1,9-10 (in the Second Reading):

“May your love increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”

*from http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2006/06/ten-propositions-on-preaching.html

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