Category Archives: Advent
Sin, repentance and discipline are three things that rarely come up in our day to day conversations. We tend to consider them as “forbidden topics.” How dare you mention sin, are you suffering from Catholic guilt? What on earth are you thinking talking about repentance? We are nice people. We do not lie. We help people. We are perfect. Do not mention discipline. Come on, we are living in a free world. It is within our liberty to do whatever we want. Ok?
These are familiar expressions. We buy into them. They are trendy. They connect us to a group. But what we often do not realise is that they disconnect us from the core of our being. We become superficial. Living in denial of our true selves, the reality of our brokenness and our need for healing. Thus, we dress up to fit into our delusional perfection. And we begin to play the blame game, shifting the bug to others in a bid to defend “our little, precious, perfect selves.”
No doubt, this dysfunctionality is one of the many consequences of sin. It is what we experience when we turn our backs on God, reject His Fatherhood, disobey His laws and dethrone Him from our private and public life. For at the very core of all His commands is His desire for our health and wellbeing – Shalom. So, when we sin, we reject Him and His offer of good health. And as Benedict XVI said, “Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God.”
In other words, sin causes untold suffering at a personal level. It also affects our relationships with others. We are witnesses to this phenomenon or we might have heard stories of many good and intimate relationships that have been torn apart because of sin. A good friend suddenly becomes selfish, too proud to listen to his friend, angry and bitter, too self-absorbed to think of the other. They fall apart. The other would not let go. He retaliates and the situation escalates.
From one sin, comes a chain of many other sins and a cycle of hurt, suffering and mayhem. And society still expects us not to mention sin. For how long will we continue to be in denial of the reality of sin? Look at creation. Sin has also affected our relationship with it. Many of us are not at peace with other creatures. For a long time, I suffered from a Cynophobia. I suffered because I refused to forgive dogs for attacking me when I was a child. I have lived with that memory.
I allowed that memory to steal away my joy whenever I sighted a dog. I could not relate freely with dogs. I could not see the beauty of dogs because I was too busy thinking about the hurt, they have done me. This is my story. But what is your story. What is hindering you from relating freely with other creatures? What is depriving you of the joy of being with others? Perhaps, there is some forgiving that needs to be done. Think, name and claim what you are afraid of.
This takes us to repentance. “We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are,” said Max Depree, an American businessman and writer. His words invite to do what John the Baptist is on about in the Gospel. “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand” (Matthew 3:2). According to Francis Moloney, “Repentance is a response to God’s action by a change of heart and mind about what is most important, and a consequent change of lifestyle.”
We change our hearts by changing our desire. For me, I had desired no dogs on earth. But that was not God’s desire for the earth. He created dogs, and according to the Book of Genesis 1, “He saw that dogs were good.” So, if God saw that dogs were good, I have to change my desire. First, I have to desire God. I have to turn towards him, seek Him and know Him since I cannot know and appreciate His creation without Him. And when I changed my heart, I was healed.
There is a Jewish proverb that captures this so well. “God is light, and all good things are His shadows. When we chase God, that is desire Him, we find not only Him, but also His shadows: forgiveness, healing, joy, love etc. But when we chase His shadows without chasing Him, we find nothing, because shadows always trail light.” Isaiah in the first reading attests to this fact when he said, “The fear of the Lord is his breath.” And because of this, “The wolves live with the lamb…” Notice the cosmic peace that reigns when we turn to God and breathe in His life.
Our mind also needs changing. We cannot afford to let it keep wandering and playing memories of past hurt. We have a choice to either replace the memory of what others have done us with the memory of what God has done or to let the memory of the past keep hurting us. “Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God.” And God is present to us when we remember Him. This is why the Mass is so important. We gather to remember God and as we remember Him, our minds are changed, our memories are healed and we become whole again.
Finally, John Rohn is quoted for saying, “We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” And I guess none of us would want to experience the pain of regret. It is the pain that comes in the evenings of our lives. So, now as it is still morning, let us undergo the pain of discipline so that we can avoid the pain of regret. For discipline does not inhibit our freedom. In fact, it makes us free. Imagine a Ruby player without discipline, how can he be free to play well? And then imagine a Christian without the discipline of prayer?
This is what John the Baptist asked for in the Gospel reading when he challenged the Pharisees and the Sadducees to produce the fruit of their repentance. If you are truly repentant, then follow the discipline of prayer. Prayer here is bringing our real selves to the real God. It is an act of bringing ourselves to God to recreate us. It means “we back off and allow God to have His way in our lives, in the lives of others, in our situations etc.” And when this is done, our lives become even more beautiful than a good Ruby game played by disciplined player.
Fr. Francis Afu