Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10; Rom. 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12
Repentance with JOY!

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 4 December 2016

We are in the 2nd Week of Advent, and we all know that the Advent season is a time of preparation of the coming of Christ at Christmas.  As St John the Baptist reminds his followers, and thus all of us in today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, very clearly, that this “preparation” challenges us to “repent” of our sins, so that Jesus can come into our lives more fully.

"St. Germanos of Constantinople, in one of his works on repentance, writes that a certain Christian who was overcome by the demon of fornication, fell into this sin every day, and every day confessed it again with tears, saying: 'Lord, have mercy on me and take this temptation from me, because I am overcome by sensual pleasure and there is no person in whose face I am capable of seeing your pure image and of taking joy in your most sweet countenance.' He went out of the church and again fell into sin. However he did not despair but, repentant, ran straight back to church. And this went on for many years - it must have been more than ten. And God, in his love for man, patiently awaited and sought his repentance." 

"So one day, having sinned yet again, he ran back into church, fell on the ground and, sighing from the depth of his heart, lamented and wailed, compelling God in his mercy and love to take pity on him and help him, so that he could be set free from the mire of his sin. The devil, however, seeing that he was being defeated through his repentance, become insolent and, making himself visible, appeared before the door of the church and, turning away his gaze, cried out:

"'Damn and blast it! Why do you pursue me so, Jesus, Son of God? Your infinite compassion defeats me. Why do you accept back this impure fornicator who lies to you and spurns you every day? Why don't you reduce him to a cinder with a thunderbolt instead of showering forbearance and waiting for him to return?  You are not just, therefore, but you judge unjustly and overlook man's sins whenever it suits you. As for me, you cast me down from heaven and didn't take pity on me at all, just because I showed a little pride. And yet, how is it that just because he howls before you, this liar and fornicator, you have compassion on him and heed him so you can show him mercy? Why are you called just then? For I see that you accept people and in your great love for them you overlook what is just.' And saying all this with much bitterness, he puffed out flames from his nostrils."
"At once a voice from the holy altar was heard saying: 'You evil and destructive dragon, you who are not satisfied with swallowing up the whole world, but rush to seize this man also, who has fallen on my infinite mercy. Can you show me enough of his sins which would be equal to the blood I shed for the salvation of sinners? My sacrifice and death atoned for his sins. When he comes to you with his sins why do you receive him with glee, hoping to gain him, and not turn him away?

And I, who am merciful and good, and commanded my apostle Peter to forgive his brother seventy times seven a day, or four hundred and ninety times, that is without measure, why should I not forgive him? Yes, I will forgive him and because he hastens to me I will not turn him away until I have won him; because I was crucified for the sake of sinners and I laid out my hands on the cross in order that whoever desires to be saved might find refuge in me. In my Mercy I do not turn anyone away, even if that person comes to me countless times a day and then leaves me again; for I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.'"

"And all the while the devil stood trembling, unable to move from the spot. Then the voice was heard again saying: 'Listen, you deceiver and enemy of truth, as to what you accuse me of: since I am indeed just, as I find man so shall I judge him. And since this man humbles himself before me in repentance, confessing his sins and pleading for mercy, I will take his soul now and I will give him a crown like that of a saint; for he endured for so many years trusting in my goodness and did not despair of his salvation. As for you, O tormentor, see how much honour his soul will be granted.'" 

"And then the brother, prostrate on the floor of the church before the icon of Christ the Saviour and lamenting and wailing, gave up his spirit. And immediately a company of angels appeared and took up his soul with much glory and rejoicing and brought it to a place of rest. Then the wrath of God fell upon Satan like a tongue of flame."

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the sinner in the spiritual story that we just heard, let us call him Jake, testifies for us that “repentance” is knowing and believing that Our Lord will always be Merciful and will forgive us regardless of the times we have failed Him in our sinful ways.  Indeed, “repentance” is meant to be a time of “Joy” because the “repentance” that St John the Baptist proclaims will truly prepare our hearts to receive Jesus more fully into our lives.  And to experience Jesus in a more personal and intimate way is really to experience a “Joy” in our hearts that we can be sure that money cannot buy, friendship cannot give and indeed even our families cannot fulfil. 

Why is this so?  This is simply because to experience Jesus in a personal way is a precious divine gift, that we cannot create with our emotions . . . we simply have to wait patiently for the gift, but in the “waiting” we need to prepare our hearts; we need to desire that Jesus comes into our lives and truly transform us . . .

In other words, we indeed need to begin with loving in ways that Jesus has shown us.  And, if we are able to live in such Christ-like ways, then it is our hope that with our purer, more compassionate and more generous hearts, we can be more pre-disposed to sensing and welcoming Jesus who wants to live within our hearts. 

The contrary is obvious: if our hearts continue to be locked in the darkness of our sinful, self-centredness and unforgiving ways, then regardless of how many gifts or how expensive our gifts that we plan to buy for our loved ones, our hurting, restless and divided hearts will not be able to house the Infant Jesus, the Messiah who wants to bring His Divine Peace and the Joy of Christmas into our hearts and homes. 

And so, the first step of our preparations for the Coming of Christ at Christmas, during the Advent season as St John the Baptist proclaimed in today’s Gospel, is our need for “Repentance”; our need to turn away from sin, and turn towards God.  By this our Gospel today is reminding us of our need to be reconciled primarily with God. 

For this I am happy to announce that as from next weekend our Cathedral will begin having “Confessions” 30 minutes before our weekend Masses.  In being reconciled with God, we will receive the wisdom and the divine strength through God’s graces to work at the strained and even humanly speaking irreparable relationships of our lives. 

In saying this, I am aware that certain relationships are so deeply wounded that those involved in the traumatic pain and crisis cannot conceive of any possibility of reconciliation.  While I am aware of such emotional realities, let us not limit what God can do in our lives.  Let us open the windows of our hearts and allow the “fresh air” of God’s Consoling and Compassionate Love to free and heal us during this Advent season. 

Let us allow the special graces of the Advent season to give us the new insights to see our lives differently from what we are so used to seeing, thinking and behaving.  Let us, like Jake in our spiritual story, allow God’s infinite Compassionate and forgiving Love to give us the true hope of once again experiencing the wholeness of relationships, the peace in our homes, the joy of having Jesus at the centre of our daily living and challenges.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let me conclude by reminding ourselves that what we are reflecting on is not abstract theories or superficial spiritualities.  What is essential in our need for “repentance” is to know and believe more wholeheartedly that Jesus, our Messiah is real; His Merciful Love forgives Jake’s compulsive sin of fornication, Our Lord too desires to forgive and reconcile us with Him in very special and personal ways at Christmas.  I know of a Jesuit who have come from a broken family, but through the years of formation have become an exemplary priest and Jesuit. 

This is no different for the many lay persons, who I know personally, who before their conversion of hearts, were very angry, arrogant and abusive people.  However, when they allow God to enter their lives and transform them into God-loving persons, they become very selfless in their service and generous in their support of those who are in need.  These are the kind of special graces that God wants to give to you and to me, during this Advent season.  

Do we desire to have such special graces during this Advent season?  The decision has to be a personal one as no one can force us to love God, or let God love us by for example, moving us to respond generously to the archdiocesan appeal for funds, by our archbishop, to reverse the trend of the 65% Catholics who have stopped coming for weekend Masses and to build a vibrant, evangelistic and missionary Church.  And, I am sorry to say, that if we do not choose to take this seriously, by searching our consciences, then we may not be serious about our need for repentance during this Advent season.

(Ref: Extracted from: www.visionofjesuschrist.com; “A Truly Inspiring Story of Repentance; posted by Agioi Anargyroi)

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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