December 9, 2007

Advent II (A)

Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. – Mt. 3: 10

John reminds us that it is not enough to simply confess our sins & be baptized. To properly prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord into our lives, one must be ready & willing to change. I never cease to be impressed by the ability of humans to rationalize & deceive themselves, & we are skilled in not looking at our comforting delusions. But the voice crying in the wilderness is determined to make us look. We will never be open to something infinitely better than our avoiding mental strategies until we acknowledge & let go of them. Repentance is the path.

Repentance begins by entering the desert. Sometimes we must be forced into the desert by acute failure or humiliation, but however we come to it, it means solitude & serious inner work. Unflinching honesty is a core component of repentance. The Gospels often attack the mind set of loving ceremony & show but neglecting the hard work of inner change.

The proof that there has been a change of heart will be a change of behavior. This may not happen instantly, but over time. We didn’t establish our egocentric habits of thinking & acting over night, so we cannot expect to modify them quickly. There is always the possibility of discouragement & relapse.

We may be intimidated by the prospect of hard work & perseverance & flinch at the thought of repentance. In so doing, we fall victim to the lie that denies to us one of the most enriching experiences that life can offer: the blessed awareness of the creative tension that exists between the persons we are & the persons God intends us to become.

The heart is the pump of the body, the physical muscle that keeps blood flowing & the body alive. Biblically, the heart becomes a metaphor for the spiritual center of the person where one is both open to God & ready to act on the openness. It keeps the spiritual life flowing & the person alive to the Spirit. A “hard heart” implies that one is not in conscious contact with God & so does not act on that awareness. There is no flow. Our spiritual center is lifeless.

This means that there is a difference between simply existing & being truly alive. Nothing of value ever comes cheap, & that applies particularly to life’s biggest lessons. Perhaps one of the most important lessons we’ll ever learn is that God’s will is best for us even when it seems to contradict our own. Some of the things that happen to us which seemed so terrible at the time in retrospect can be seen as one of the best things that happened to us. They taught us something we desperately needed to know but could not learn on our own. Disillusionment & failure are always unpleasant, but they help us to be more real as human beings.

That is precisely what repentance helps us to do: become more real. It helps us to become grounded in the Ultimate Love, & to live our lives out of that grounding. The promise of repentance is to move beyond half-heartedness & delusion, the promise that will lead us to our heart so that we can become truly human. AMEN!