Is 11:1-10; Rom 15:4-9; Mt 3:1-12
We have all been there before. We fall into sin, we sincerely confess our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation, we resolve never to sin anymore, we receive divine forgiveness and guarantee of forgiveness through the words of absolution from the priest, and then we find ourselves falling into the same sin again, sometimes even worse than the previous time.
We may even end up thinking that we are not truly sorry for our sins in the first place. We may even doubt that we have been forgiven in the past. We may wonder if the sacrament of Reconciliation really has any effect on our lives. We may even think that God is tired of forgiving us and that we are just hopeless cases. Finally, we give up striving for a deeper repentance.
There are two things that St. John the Baptist tells us about repentance that we must keep in mind all the time if we are going to persevere in repentance.
Firstly, we repent always because of the proximity of the kingdom of heaven, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We do not repent primarily because we feel bad for our sins or because we want to avoid the disastrous consequences of a sinful life. The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of divine grace wherein God makes available to us all the graces that we need for true repentance, “God is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).
It is this divine grace that makes us dissatisfied with our sins, gives us true contrition, and moves us to pursue authentic repentance from the heart and not just settle for mere external behavior modification. This grace also sustains us in the journey of deeper repentance and transforms us slowly into truly free children of God. It is only by the grace of God that we can actually repent from our sins, stop doing evil, and learn how to do good.
Secondly, we must avoid all forms of presumption. There is one form of presumption wherein we trust so much in our own abilities and firm resolve to repent from sin that we do not have any trust in the mercy of God or His grace. We thus depend on our guilty feeling and effort alone. Then there is the form of presumption that assumes grace and forgiveness are guaranteed without any effort at all to actually cease doing evil and learn to do good. We think that our sinfulness is not bad enough to warrant the wrath of God. Because we think that we can break from sin anytime that we want to in the future, we indulge in sin now and postpone repentance.
St. John rebuked the Pharisees and scribes because of their presumption, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” They were trying to excuse themselves from true repentance based on their privileged relationship with God through Abraham, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.” The Baptist reminds them that merely confessing their sins and claiming a relationship with God does not suffice for true repentance. True repentance must be evident by new and transformed action, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” (Mt 3:1-12). Confession is not enough without true repentance.
We cannot persevere in repentance if we do not realize the abundance and availability of grace as well as the need to avoid all forms of presumption. For us to persevere in repentance, we must have both a sense of the availability of divine grace as well as the need to correspond to that grace by making constant and concrete efforts in repentance.
So, if we find ourselves in the frustrating and discouraging sin-confess-sin cycle, we can examine ourselves by honestly answering the following questions:
- What is my attitude towards the grace of God in my life? How fervently do I seek this grace in prayer and in the sacraments? How grateful am I for the grace of God in my life? How seriously do I seek to grow in this grace through the practice of the virtues in my life, especially charity and humility? How do I strive to follow the promptings of divine grace more faithfully? How do I take my relationship with God for granted? How much dependence do I have on God’s grace in all aspects of my life? How faithfully do I pray to Mary, Mother of divine grace, to obtain graces for me and to help me correspond with these graces?
- How do I find myself trusting in my own reasoning, feelings, and resolutions alone in the struggle with sin? How do I tend to take pride in my past victories over temptations as if I achieved them by my own strength? How do I tend to get discouraged in the battle with sin and temptation? How do I find myself looking down on others and feeling superior to them in the spiritual life? How do I find myself pretending as if I do not have sins or that my sins are not a big deal?
- What are the concrete efforts that I am making to overcome sin in my life? Am I seriously avoiding occasions of sin? Am I aware of the areas of deadly compromise with sin? Do I seriously examine my conscience daily and repent in concrete ways? How faithfully do I follow the resolutions that I make in prayer regarding dealing with a recurring sin? How carefully do I guide my thoughts in daily life? Do I seriously form my conscience based on the truth of God’s words or do I follow my feelings and worldly opinions?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the kingdom of heaven, that kingdom of grace, is also a kingdom of peace. It is a kingdom of peace because the Messiah makes present to us in this kingdom a participation in His own faithfulness, “Justice shall be the band around His waist and faithfulness a belt upon His hips” (Is 11:5). We have true peace only when our striving for repentance moves us to see in Jesus the source and model of our faithfulness to God, “Justice shall flourish in His days and profound peace till the moon be no more” (Ps 72). We will never stop repenting when we have Jesus as the standard of our moral lives and the only source of this life.
These are the days of Jesus Christ, the King of peace and the Author of all grace. He makes present to us in each Eucharist the graces of His heavenly kingdom, graces that we need for authentic repentance through sharing in His faithfulness. His peace will be ours only when we receive these graces, depend on them completely, and avoid all forms of presumption on our part.
Glory to Jesus! Honor to Mary!