Rom 15:7-8, 12-13, 17.
Today we are presented with the figure of John the Baptist dressed in camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and who feeds on locusts and honey. He is an image of mortification and self-denial. In the season of Advent we are invited to mortification and penance, and to be cleansed of sins so that we may meet the Savior with pure hearts. The first word that comes out of the Baptist’s mouth is “REPENT”; the reason is “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And how are we to do it? “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
Let us clarify our concept of repentance by reviewing the parable of the Prodigal Son in Lk 15. “v. 18 I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired workers.’ 20. So he got up and went to his father.” Watch the elements of repentance. 1) conviction of sin: “I have sinned against heaven and against you.” This is the first requisite of repentance. There was a man who had relations with the house help while the wife was in out-of-town assignment. The maid became proud of it and in a quarrel with her landlady blurted out that the husband loves her more than the wife, because the wife cannot give him children. When the wife confronted the husband he denied it. The wife discovered other evidences but the husband kept denying. Finally the wife discovered the diary of the maid and showed it to her husband. Only then did the husband say: “I’m sorry.” Is this repentance? NO! He said “I’m sorry,” not because he offended God, but because he was caught. To repent means that I acknowledge that I have offended God, that I have sinned, not because I was caught. Jn 16:8 says: “When he (the Spirit of Truth) comes, he will convict the world of sin.” When I do not have conviction of sin, then I do not have the Holy Spirit. 2) Repentance: “I no longer deserve to be called your son,” because I have offended, “treat me as you treat one of your hired workers.” This is repentance: I have sinned, I deserve punishment, and I am ready for what I deserve. 3) Conversion: “So he got up and went to his father.” Conversion means turning away from sin and taking steps to return home to the Father to live a new life.
What caused the prodigal son to be convicted of sin? It was hunger and feeling dirty among the swine. God uses external discomfort and physical pain to bring us to our senses. And the Father’s attitude, what does it tell us? “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Lk 15:7). Furthermore, God restores me to the status of son: “Quickly, bring the finest robe (of grace) and put it on him; put a ring (seal) on his finger and sandals on his feet” (capacity to walk the stairway to heaven).
True repentance should lead us to confession. It cannot be denied that many of us still miss the true meaning of confession. I heard someone say, “I have not gone to confession for five years because I have no serious sin to confess.” Well, the fact that you have not confessed in one Lenten season, you already have serious sin to confess. Confession should not remain an obligation; it should become a devotion. St. Teresa of Avila, during the last two years of her life, went to confession every day. The higher she climbed in holiness, the clearer was her consciousness of God’s holiness as against her lowliness as creature. Confession is a “bath for the soul;” if I take a shower every day to keep my body clean, should not my soul have a regular shower? If I eat three times a day to keep healthy, should not by soul be nourished daily to remain healthy?
If I go to the tribunal and narrate all my crimes, what happens to me? I get indicted, convicted. The more crimes I tell, the greater my penalty. But if I go to the confessional and narrate all my sins, I will be acquitted. Surely, I do not want to be indicted nor convicted before Christ the King. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is only for this existence; after this earthly life there is no chance for repentance. Therefore, let me be acquitted now while still on earth, and be clean of any stain or any weight of sin before I end this existence. “Seek the Lord, that you may live” (Amos 5:6). “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked man his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving” (Is 55:6-7). “I have brushed away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like a mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Is 44:22). It is I who wipe away your offenses; your sins I remember no more” (Is 43:25). “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony heart and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees” (Ez 36:25-27). “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine… For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior… Because you are precious in my eyes and glorious, and because I love you… Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43:1, 3-5).
Let us look deeper. At the tribunal, I get indictment and conviction. The human court throws me into prison and holds me in my past sins. It cuts me off from the future and I have no chance to improve the self to become a better person. Similarly, when I do not forgive my spouse and decide for a separation, I cut off the future of my family. I condemn all of us to be imprisoned in our past sins and we all suffer the consequences. A son of sixteen became addicted to drugs and stole the jewelries of his mother and sold them to pay for his drugs. The father in his anger banishes him: “Wala akong anak na magnanakaw.” This father keeps his son in his past sins and cuts off the future. What will become of him since he has no experience in life? This is the result of human unforgiveness.
Let me go to the confessional and tell all my sins. I get acquitted. I come out relieved and strong, facing the future with hope. Why? Because I hear the Lord say, “Get up, try again, I will help you.” Isaiah is insistent on this. “Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, and uphold you with my right hand of justice” (Is 41:10). “For I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you’… I will help you, says the Lord, your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel” (Is 41:13-14). The sacramental grace of confession empowers me to begin a better future. It does not condemn me to my past sins, but promises a bright future in the life of grace. I can move on and work it out to become a better (and holier) person. The Lord keeps his promise: “I will be with you” and “I will help you.”
God readily forgives me, do I forgive my enemies, those who offended me? We pray many times, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” and yet unforgiveness happens to be the most frequent case in our life. At Christmas we celebrate God’s love and forgiveness coming down to us –the Infant Jesus. Advent is the time to seek God’s forgiveness and give out forgiveness to those who offended us. By forgiving others, we become more like our forgiving God and Father. Then our Christmas will be complete. -0-