In her memoirs, 85 year old Filipina Sister Maria Carmela tells a thought-provoking story of her missionary experience in Africa. She narrates that in her religious community, during night prayer or Compline, the sisters used to ask each other for pardon in reparations for any hurts that they may have inflicted on others during the day. But the African sisters who hosted her never made reparations or said they were sorry for the hurt they obviously caused others during the day. She eventually asked one of the African sisters why they never said “I am sorry” to others during the night prayer as all their fellow religious sisters around the world used to do. She received the reply, “’I am sorry’ just does not exist in our vocabulary. We show we are sorry in another way.” It was then that Sr. Carmela noticed that they never said, “I am sorry” only because they preferred to show their repentance and make reparations by deeds, rather than by words. She then recalled how when a fellow sister hurt her, she would later find her shoes shined, her clothes washed or a glass of cold water placed on her table during meals. For the African sisters, it was not enough to say, “I am sorry”; they showed they were sorry by the things that they did, by their loving deeds.
In Sunday’s Gospel passage, John the Baptist says, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He calls his audience to urgent repentance not just because the present world is coming to an end but because they are now part of a new reality – the kingdom of heaven. This new reality, a communion between God and His people, calls for a new type of being and acting such that words alone are not enough. Like everyone else, many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to the Jordan River to “acknowledge their sins.” Though they wanted to receive John’s baptism of repentance, many of the Pharisees and Sadducees had no intention of showing the fruits of true repentance by their subsequent actions. The Pharisees filled with the self-righteousness and the Sadducees who saw this present life as the only life that existed could not perceive the urgent call to a new life that the kingdom of heaven demanded.
This attitude of the Pharisees and Sadducees caused the Baptist to call them “Brood of vipers” and to sternly exhort them to “Produce good fruit as evidence of their repentance.” Mere verbal acknowledgement of sin is not enough; they must show their repentance by the things that they do if they hoped to be part of the new reality of God’s kingdom. If all they do is acknowledge their sins without showing it in loving deeds, like the tree without good fruits, they too will be “cut down and thrown into the fire” and will have no part in the kingdom of heaven. Sadly, many of them chose to retain and nurture their venoms until they vented their anger on Jesus Christ too.
The Roman community is divided between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. St. Paul reminds the Christians that true Christians must be agents of unity because of the new reality of the kingdom of heaven to which they now belong. Because they are now children of the kingdom, forgiven by God and living in peace with God (Rom 5:1), Christians show that they have truly repented when they “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed them, for the glory of God.” They should reflect to others this unconditional acceptance that they had received from Jesus Christ. The Christians’ hospitality to others and their living in peace with all are the only acceptable proofs of true repentance.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are now children of the eternal kingdom. We have been forgiven by God in Christ Jesus. Forgiveness for sin is always accompanied by the specific grace to move us to show we are truly sorry by freely and lovingly performing charitable deeds. We must concur with God’s forgiveness not only by our words of sorrow but by our actions of love for God and neighbor. As members of God’s kingdom, it is never enough to merely say to God, “I am sorry” or “Forgive me.” He surely forgives us but also pours His grace into our hearts, whispering, “Show me that you are sorry.” He does this when we pray the Confiteor at the beginning of Mass. In this prayer, God forgives us for our venial sins, gives us grace to show true repentance for these sins and then whispers to our hearts, “Show me that you are sorry.”
In the sacraments of confession, we acknowledge and confess our sins to Jesus in the person of the priest. We receive forgiveness and divine guarantee of forgiveness from the lips of the priest, the specific grace to show true repentance in what we do, as well as the divine exhortation, “Show me that you are sorry.” God is not satisfied with our merely confessing or acknowledging our sins. How different and more life-giving our Masses and Confessions will be if we receive these sacraments always thinking of one concrete way in which we can show God that we are truly sorry for our sins. It may be a concrete way of avoiding such sins in the future, or something done or endured out of love for God and neighbor, or a new attitude to life. Or it may just be refusing to give up in the struggle with sin out of love for God.
What do we get when we move from merely saying to God, “I am sorry” to actually showing Him that we are truly sorry for our sins? One sure reward is that we find great peace and we become instruments of peace to others in the world. The Prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming of the messiah as a descendant of David. The messiah will bring a peace that would extend to the animal kingdom and to all the cosmos. “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain.” Is this type of peace possible or is the Prophet dreaming?
Truly this peace is possible because Jesus is with us here and now in the Eucharist we celebrate and “the Spirit of the Lord rests upon Him.” By this Spirit, we are forgiven, reconciled with God, and given access to this peace of Christ. By this Spirit, we are brought into His kingdom even now and moved to bear good fruits in loving deeds to show our true repentance. The peace that extends to all creation is the peace that comes from God to creation through truly repentant hearts. Peace in our world depends on how authentic our repentance is. We become those graced channels of peace to our world only when we realize that we now belong to the new reality of God’s kingdom and choose to move beyond merely saying to God, “God, I am sorry” to actually showing that we are sorry by the lives that we live today.
Glory to Jesus!!!! Honor to Mary!!!!