2nd Sunday Advent – Dec 4, 2022
Tom, a professional painter, often would thin his paint, so it would go further. So when the Church decided to do some outdoor painting projects, Tom was able to put in the lowest bid, and get the job. As always, he thinned his paint, way, way down, with turpentine.
One day, while he was up on the scaffolding – with the job almost finished — he heard a loud clap of thunder, and the sky opened.
Unexpectedly, a severe downpour started and washed all the thinned paint off the church and even knocked Tom off his scaffolding and onto the lawn, among the puddles of thinned and worthless paint.
Tom knew this was a warning from God, so he got on his knees and cried: “Oh, Lord! Forgive me! Tell me what I need to do to make it better!”
And from the thunder, the mighty voice of God replied: “REPAINT! REPAINT! AND THIN NO MORE!” (www.frtommylane.com)
Yes, although Tom might not have been expecting that reply, it’s similar to the message we hear in our gospel for today, where John the Baptist exhorts us to, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Like the bowl of fruit in our liturgical display, repentance ought to be noticeable. In other words, just stopping our bad or sinful behavior isn’t enough. Just saying ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t enough. Just having good intentions to reform our attitudes, behaviors, or pre-conceptions isn’t enough. Just committing to repentance half of the time isn’t going to cut it either.
No, if we’re truly contrite — if we’re truly sorry —if we’ve truly repented—- then John the Baptist tells us that our authenticity will be revealed by our actions afterward. They’ll show a marked difference in our perspective, character, mindset, and disposition. Such a marked change isn’t all our own doing, though. It’s really God’s doing.
It results from opening our entire selves to the pervasive and powerful grace and presence of the Holy Spirit, whom we received in baptism— and who inspires our commitment —strengthens our resolve in times of temptation— and who’s willing to give us the counsel we need at the right time to avoid situations and circumstances that may cause us to stumble and fall once again.
The way to get ourselves into the habit of opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit is by taking some time to pray at the beginning of the day, and also during times of temptation throughout the day, and always at the end of our day, with a general examination of conscience. During those times, we can pray for the particular help that we feel, we’re lacking. We can pray for protection from sinning again, at times when we know, we’re most prone to such temptations. We can invite the Holy Spirit to be in our every breath– in and out of our bodies— to be present in every thought we think, and to guide our every action, as we seek to serve the Lord more faithfully each day. We can’t rush this kind of prayer to the Holy Spirit. We have to give the Holy Spirit whatever time it takes for us to feel God’s abiding presence in our lives and to never let that presence dim through the day.
As we do that, we’ll discover that our prayer has become more vibrant, our trust in God’s power to assist us has become stronger, and our ability to be utterly transformed by our repentance has become even more marked and noticeable. Indeed, such transformation can even lead others to repentance and to wanting to be a part of the church.
“Repentance that bears fruit” is also fostered by a frequent celebration of the sacraments, most notably Eucharist and Reconciliation. Notice I didn’t say ‘reception’ of the sacraments. ‘Receiving a sacrament’ is different from ‘celebrating a sacrament,’ because ‘to celebrate’ means to put our full effort and energy into it —body, mind, heart, and soul.
It means to joyfully participate, to the best of our abilities, in the rites and rituals, the music and the song, and the time that encompass the sacrament. ‘To celebrate’ a sacrament means making ourselves vulnerable during the proclamation and the preaching of the Word to the voice of God, who speaks to us personally and who lets us know where we still need to grow in our Christian walk. It means longing for the Word of God to come to us, and to find ways to apply that Word to our contemporary situation. ‘To celebrate’ a sacrament means allowing sacred space and time to take over, so that we’re transported by the grace of God, to the actual events that are being described or to the foot of the cross where all love and mercy originate. We can tell if we’ve celebrated a sacrament because we will be changed by it! We’re not the same people who entered the church. Not only that….celebrating a sacrament takes a lot out of us. It empties ourselves more and thus, allows God to enter that new empty space inside of us.
‘Receiving a sacrament,’ while better than not receiving a sacrament at all, means just going half-heartedly through the motions. It means not being fully present to God during the rituals and rites. It means constantly checking our watches to see how much time has passed. It means failing to recognize our communion with other believers present at the same service. ‘Receiving the sacraments’ is often the state of mind we’re in, when we have unconfessed sin that impedes the joy that we ought to have in our hearts, by virtue of our being redeemed by the Precious Blood of Christ, and consequently, knowing God’s love for us as an overflowing fountain of mercy that never ends. Often, when we just ‘receive the sacraments,’ we don’t notice any difference inside us when we leave the church. That may even cause us to give up on church all together. The way out of this state of mind is to repent of our sins and to make a commitment to being fully present to God when we come to church for a sacramental encounter.
St. John the Baptist highlights another obstacle to bearing the full fruit of repentance: a state of presumption — an attitude that we can rely on our past merits or achievements or those of our ancestors to coast our way through life, right into the Kingdom of God, with relative ease and no sacrifice on our part. Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees in today’s gospel were guilty of presumption. It didn’t help that they disliked the other group immensely, either. Over the years, the Pharisees, who followed Old Testament laws and oral traditions became too legalistic and hypocritical in their following of the law, and thereby, forgot its true intent. The Sadducees, on the other hand, only accepted the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, and often relied on their genetic, priestly lineage for status and political power.
The sin of presumption wasn’t just dangerous to the Pharisees and Sadducees, though. It’s dangerous to all of us, as well, because it devalues and underestimates our responsibility for the sinful acts we commit and shirks our responsibility and ownership of them, by refusing to call out our sin, by name. Such presumption reveals an unwillingness as well, to draw closer to the Lord and to accept that we’re sinners, who are in need of a Savior.
In short, failing to bear the fruit of repentance, in these and other ways, suggests that we’re not ready or willing to sing ‘Hallelujah’ for the Lord’s great mercy toward us. To others, it makes us appear that we don’t really need a Messiah, a Holy Redeemer, someone who will be on our side, when the chips are down. Failing to bear the fruit of repentance leads to our Christmas celebration being less joyful, more strained, and uninviting to our family and friends. The good news is that we have this season of Advent to change all that! We have this blessed season to reflect on our sins, to repent of them, to receive the grace of God’s forgiveness, and to start anew along the path that leads to love, peace, happiness and joy! — to the path that leads to Hallelujah!
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