Our Scripture readings for this Sunday call us to reflect on our need to repent of our sins. The prophet Jonah preached repentance to the pagan city of Nineveh, and much to his surprise the people heeded his message. In our Gospel account Jesus said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel!” Unfortunately, Jesus did not meet with the same kind of response as Jonah.
A lot of people find repentance a disturbing one. To repent means we must change the way we see things, and more challenging, it means we must change our actions accordingly. A change of heart, a change of life. This can be very painful. However, just as a tree needs pruning so as to bear more fruit, our lives need pruning in order to be in line with living the Gospel.
There is a story from the days when Christianity had just arrived in Rome. It concerns a young Roman soldier by the name of Livinius who fell in love with a girl who was a Christian. However, she would have nothing to do with him because he was not a Christian. One night he followed her to a secret meeting of the little group of Christians, where unknown to anyone, he listened to the service.
As he listened to the preaching of Peter, something happened to him. A new and blessed vision of what life could be like opened up before him. But he knew right away that if he wished to follow that teaching, he would have to make a bonfire of his old thoughts, habits, goals and character. Then he would have to open himself to a life that was altogether different. We don’t know if he loved the girl enough to make such a dramatic change in his life.
That is a powerful example of conversion, turning away from things that are manifestly evil. But it is only one type of conversion. There is also a conversion to doing good. Here the change is not as dramatic. It may be a change from a life of selfishness and self-centeredness to a more loving and caring way of living. No matter the type of conversion it is always painful to move from old, comfortable ways to new ones.
We should see repentance as something positive. By admitting that all is not well in our lives we open ourselves up to growing, and discovering new and wonderful things about us that we did not see before. In a word, it means a new life.
Unlike regret, repentance opens the way to rebirth. Understood in this way, repentance is exciting, and always leads to joy and inner peace. It means that we have not only heard the Gospel, but have embraced it!
- Father Dennis, January 24, 2021