Sunday, July 15, 2012

Homily 15th Sun O.T. Year B – Preaching Repentance

confessional Sometimes before my regular homily, if the readings lead to it, I like to give a brief apologetics note to help you explain your faith.  Today I have a couple.  First is about the new vestment I am wearing today.  It is beautiful and was expensive but the sacrifice was worth it.  We wear beautiful vestments, have beautiful music, and use beautiful vessels and books to emphasize the fact that this is not just any type of gathering.  This is the Mass, which is the intersection of heaven on earth.  Beautiful things in the liturgy help raise our hearts to this reality and besides, God deserves the very best we have to offer in worship.

Second, our Gospel today presents one of the sources for our faith in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.  The last line read: “The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk 6:13). This anticipates James 5:14 “Beloved: Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  I hope this helps you to remain confident that your Catholic faith is well-rooted in Sacred Scripture.

Now for my regular homily… Throughout my Diaconate and a few times during my Priesthood, I have had the chance to celebrate many Baptisms. I keep a record of this in my own personal register so that I can look back on it years from now and see all of the people God touched through me. One of my favorite parts of the ritual of Baptism is when the priest says the Ephphetha prayer. Ephphetha is Aramaic for the command “Be opened!” At this prayer, the priest traces a little sign of the cross with his thumb on the child’s ears and mouth saying, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth, to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” This prayer is a rich sign of the Holy Spirit animating the hearing and speech of the child so that he may receive and proclaim the Gospel.

Although this prayer is technically optional, I never skip it because it gives powerful testimony to the fact that each one of us, the entire Church, not just her ordained ministers, is called to preach the message of Jesus Christ and prepare for his coming. When Jesus sent out his Twelve Apostles, two-by-two to just the surrounding Galilean towns to preach a message of repentance, he did this as a sort of pastoral assignment to prepare them for his later command after his Resurrection: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). As the first bishops of the Church, the ever-widening scope of their preaching and celebration of the sacraments empowered the early Christian faithful to proclaim the same message of repentance throughout every area of their lives, many even to the point of martyrdom.

What does it mean to “preach repentance”? What did the apostles say during their preaching assignment? If we are all called by that Ephphetha prayer in our Baptism to preach the same message of repentance, what can we learn from how the Apostles did it? Some of the little details in the Gospel give us a clue. When Jesus commands his Twelve Apostles to take only a staff, a pair of sandals, and one tunic, and no food, no sack, and no money he echoes God’s command to the twelve tribes of Israel the night before their exodus from Egypt. The Israelites likewise were sent out with no bread and only one set of clothes, wearing sandals and carrying a staff.[1] Mark wants us to see the Church’s mission as a new exodus. As the Israelites were led from slavery in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, so the Church leads all mankind from slavery in sin to the promised land of heaven. Therein lies the message of repentance. The message we are called to proclaim by the words and example of our day to day lives is one that helps people learn right from wrong, to know what sin is and the role it plays in our lives, to encourage people to return to God by repentance and confession, and to trust in His continued help toward persevering in holiness.

Although priests are empowered for this preaching in a special way by their Ordination, this is a call to all of us, a call rooted in our Baptism, no matter what our state in life might be. The prophet Amos, in our first reading, insisted that he was no professional. “I was no prophet,” he said, “nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” The apostles weren’t rabbis, they were simple fishermen. But Jesus gave them a share of his own authority to empower their mission, a power they passed on through sacramental grace to the early Christian Churches.

You don’t have to be ordained or have an advanced degree in theology to preach repentance. All you have to do is live out of the gratitude you have for the repentance you have already expressed and the forgiveness you have already received. One way of living out of this gratitude is simply continuing to make regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and encouraging others to share in the Joy you have received by going themselves. This can be a profound witness, especially to your family. I encourage all Catholics to go to Confession once a month – that way you can become better formed in the value of repentance: the more regular examination of conscience before your confession makes you a more astute observer of the role of sin in your life; the more regular reception of the grace of the sacrament allows that grace to flow through your life in a more continual way; and the more regular council from the priest helps you to better avoid the sins you confess.

Low confession lines are not for a lack of sin, but lack of a sense of sin. Many people in our society today do not even know what sin is, they strain to identify one thing they’ve ever done wrong. Paramount in the preaching of repentance is helping each other to grow in our awareness of sin – not so that we can form some scrupulous obsession with it, but precisely so we can avoid it and not let the evil one squirm his way into our lives.

But most importantly, God wants to bring good out of evil; He wants our increased awareness of sin to lead to an increased awareness of His Mercy and Forgiveness! This is a gift that spills over from God’s Divine Life and Love. His Mercy and Forgiveness is an ever-flowing, overflowing cup, running over and into our hearts through the sacraments. It is a shame that this gift is so rarely received, especially by our children who tend to only receive it when their class goes to Confession a couple times a year at school. If not for ourselves, lets at least help our children and grandchildren receive this gift by taking them to a monthly confession.

Fr. Chuck and I hear confessions every Saturday from 3pm to 4pm or until Mass starts at 5pm, if need be. And we have been generous in finding time to hear confessions outside of the official schedule. Never think you are putting either of us out by asking to hear your confession. We want to be instruments of God’s Mercy and Forgiveness for you – it is why we were ordained.

Outside of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you can also preach repentance by teaching your children or grandchildren right from wrong, even if it means being less popular with them or their friends. You could also challenge a coworker to use ethical business practices or you could offer support to a friend who has turned away from God due to the pain of sins committed in his or her “past life.” Readily accepting apologies, extending forgiveness, and refusing to hold grudges are also powerful ways to preach repentance.

The Good News of Repentance can change the world from one of sin and death to one of Forgiveness and Mercy if you and I rely on God and work together in preaching it. I will sit in that confessional for you, for as long as it takes. I will sit down with you any time I can if you need help understanding this message. I will preach as clearly and as faithfully as I can. But at the end of the day, it is your vocation to convert the world to this message, you have a wider reach than I do, a larger sphere of influence, a more varied presence in the world, and a more diverse voice. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature!” By Repentance, Forgiveness, and Mercy prepare the world for Christ’s Coming!


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