3rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
The King Cakes are baked. The beads and doubloons are collected and ready to throw. The parades are parading already. Mardi Gras is in full-swing. Exactly one month from today we will be smudged with ash and reminded that we come from dust and to dust we will return. Then, 40 days of Lent. Forty days of fasting, prayer, and alms-giving. We know the drill: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is Jesus' cry to the people. It's his cry to us. How do we hear his cry? We could hear it as an oft-repeated churchy cliché. We could hear it as a piece of history, a slogan long-past its expiration date. It could be a warning, a prophecy, a threat, or all of the above. How do you hear it? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I hear it as an invitation, as a sort of seductive suggestion, one that entices me back onto the straight and narrow, back to the glorious adventure of growing in holiness. Mardi Gras takes us into the world to remind us that we are flesh and blood – eating, drinking, dancing. Jesus' cry for repentance brings to mind again the truth that we are more than flesh and blood; the truth that we are made for heaven. Never forget: the Kingdom of God is at hand.
As followers of Christ, we live with a certain weirdness. Several weirdnesses, in fact. But the most difficult to grasp is the weirdness of what it means to live as if we were already in heaven. The big theological phrase for this notion is living eschatologically, living in this world during this time as if the Kingdom of God is complete, as if we have already reached our supernatural end in Christ. Of course, we haven't reach that end – not while body and soul are still united – but when we strive for holiness we are doing so towards that end, towards the perfection that will see us complete in Christ. Jesus announces that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Is at hand. Meaning right here and now within reach, close enough to grasp and hold if only we will. Your cell phone is at hand. Your car keys are at hand. The missalettes in the pews are at hand. There they all are. . .ready to be grasped and held. So is the Kingdom of Heaven. If the kingdom is so close, why don't we reach and grasp? Part of the answer is: sin. . .sin clouds the eyes and ears, preventing us for seeing and hearing the Word spoken to us by Christ. Thus, the Lord prefaces his announcement of the Kingdom with the invitation, “Repent.” Turn away from sin and see and hear how close the Kingdom really is.
Now, I know all this talk of repentance from sin sounds terribly old-fashioned, so pre-VC2 and all that. The thought of it might be enough to give you the willies, or maybe even keep you away from OLR Masses in the future. But please understand a simple truth: in the spiritual life of the Christian there is literally nothing easier to do than repent. Why do I say that? Easy. B/c God wants us to return to Him when we stray. He wants us to grow in holiness and thrive as His sons and daughters. He wants this so much that He gives us everything we need to recognize sin, to confess, to repent, and to come home again. He leaves nothing out. All we have to bring to the table is our desire for holiness (which is also a gift from Him) and our will to repent, our choice to turn away from sin and receive His mercy. This simple act brings into sharper focus the Kingdom as it is unfolding before us. With gratitude and humility added to the mix we have the perfect formula for continuing along the straight and narrow path. So, repent. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It's right there in front of your eyes!
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