3rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
The Kingdom of God is at hand! Time is running out! The world is passing away! Therefore, repent and believe the Gospel! We – the Church – have been hearing this prophetic message repeated over and over again for the last 2,000 years. The urgency of the message isn't tamed by the passage of time or by our weariness in hearing it. It was true when Jesus said it. It's true now. And it will still be true when the Lord comes again. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Time is running out. And the world as we know it is passing away. For some of us this truth seems self-evident. We've seen the world change. We've experienced the passage of time. We got the scars, wrinkles, stretch marks, and creaky joints to prove it. For others this truth comes across as a scare tactic, as a way for preachers and prophets to frighten folks into believing. Well, in this case, the truth is scary. You and I will die. We will all one day die. Eternal life awaits us. Whether we enter an eternal life of redemption or an eternal life of condemnation is our choice. The time and place to make that choice is here and now. The Kingdom of God is at hand! Time is running out! The world is passing away!
Therefore, repent and believe the Gospel! What does this mean in practical terms? Imagine: you're driving a car over an empty plain. On your cell phone is your best friend who's flying a drone above you. He's telling you about obstacles ahead, warning you about wildlife and the topographical features of the plain. As you are cruising along at 90mph he warns you that there's a cliff ahead. He can't tell exactly how far it is, but he can see it clearly. He warns you to turn around. You ignore him b/c the drive is just too exciting! Your friend starts to yell at you, screaming at you to turn around. But. . .you can't see the cliff, so your friend must be panicking for no good reason. Between the time your friends warns you about the cliff and the moment you drive over the cliff you have ample time to turn around. The cliff is real. It's there. The fact that you choose not to believe it's there doesn't make it disappear. So, you can turn around and save your life. Or, you can fall to a fiery death, believing the cliff is a figment of your imagination. The Kingdom of God is at hand! Time is running out! And the world is passing away! Paul, Jonah, our Lord – they are all drone pilots warning us that the cliff is real. Turn around before it's too late.
What does “turning around” entail? We use the verb “to repent” to describe the act of changing course, of stopping and moving in the opposite direction. Along with changing course and heading in the right direction, repentance includes a sense of regret or remorse for past sins, a strong conviction that one's life is disordered, out of alignment with God's will. Moral theologians tell us that “sin makes us stupid.” Granted, they use more theologically sophisticated language but that's the gist. Sin makes us stupid. Consistently choosing to do evil and call it good is the quickest way to become a fool. This folly becomes a way of life, a way of thinking and acting in the world. At some point – sooner rather than later – you can become so foolish that choosing the Good becomes almost impossible. You are in fact consistently, repeatedly choosing an eternal life of condemnation, an eternal life w/o God. That's the definition of hell. If sin makes us stupid, then repentance is the first step in returning to wisdom. Confess your sins, get your penance, make your Act of Contrition, and receive absolution. Our drone pilots are screaming at us to turn around. . .before it's too late.
Jesus says, “Turn around and believe the Gospel.” What is it to believe the Gospel? Belief here is more than just saying to yourself, “Yeah, ya know, that Gospel stuff sounds OK.” It's more than the occasional public show of religiosity – carrying a rosary in your pocket or attending Mass on Easter and Christmas or saying, “I identify as a Catholic.” The Church says that belief is giving assent to the truths of the faith. Saying Yes to the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That's the intellect at work. But the whole person must believe. That means your will has to move you to show that you believe – in word and deed, we must publicly demonstrate that we believe the Gospel. It's not enough to love Jesus in your heart. You must love him with your speech and your behavior, bearing witness to the world that you belong to him. Jesus says to the fishermen, Simon and Andrew, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” That's how we believe. We fish the world for the lost, the unloved; those thrown out; for the disordered, the imprisoned, and the sick. And we do so for the greater glory of God, that all those who are heading for the cliff might hear us screaming: “Turn around! Time is running out! Repent and believe the Gospel!”