Saturday, January 21, 2017

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A (Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23) Repent and believe in the good news


One thing that all of us here have in common is the search for happiness. Everyone wants and hopes to find happiness. We may have very different ideas as to what happiness is, but we are all looking for it. The biggest problem seems to be where to find it. We will look for it in a partner, in having children, in work, in material things. When we fall in love we may think we have found it, but if we persevere in a relationship we will realize that while it is a great gift to have this other person, they won’t completely fulfill me either, because they cannot. I am asking the impossible of someone if I expect them to completely fulfill me because only God can do that. Hopefully our happiness will begin in this life and we will have many happy times, but total fulfillment is in the next life. I think that even to recognize that much is a big step. In 1858 Our Lady appeared several times to St. Bernadette in Lourdes and one of the things she said to Bernadette was, ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.’ We will not have total fulfillment in this world.

When Jesus began his public ministry one of the first things he said was, ‘Repent and believe the good news’, or in today’s Gospel it says ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ What does ‘repent’ mean, and what is ‘the kingdom of heaven’ that we so often hear about? In different places Jesus says, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is among you and ‘within you.’

All of us see the world in a particular way. We have a particular mindset which is usually formed by our upbringing and our culture. We think that the way we see the world is the right way, maybe the only way. And yet if we go to a different country and culture we realize that others see it in a completely different way. There are different ways to look at the world and our way is not the only way.

Part of today’s thinking is that the way to heaven is wide and easy and that most people find it. Yet Jesus said almost the opposite. He said that the way to heaven is narrow and difficult and that not everyone finds it. He said the way to hell is wide and spacious and that many people take it. What we call ‘hell’ is the opposite of what God offers us. God offers us happiness, joy, fulfillment, love, peace and the joy of being with the people we love. To lose this is what we call hell, the opposite of all that God offers us: isolation, hatred, despair, pain, darkness and knowing that we have lost the possibility of happiness, which is the eternal presence of God, the only thing that will fulfill us. If we have free will then it makes sense that we can choose one or the other.

The kingdom of heaven that Jesus mentioned so often, is the way of looking at the world that comes from him. Seeing the goodness and beauty in the world around us and the people around us. Learning to live the commandments of God that help us to see the world in this way. And that’s why the kingdom of heaven is within us and among us, if we choose to live as Jesus taught us, with compassion and mercy, realizing that our life is about love and service.

Why does Jesus tell us to ‘repent and believe’? To repent is to continually ask forgiveness and turn back to God since we continually stray from the path that leads to heaven. It means to change our direction and follow the way that leads to happiness, to God. To lose that is the worst thing imaginable, because it would mean losing our chance of happiness, which all of us want. That is why Jesus tells us to keep coming back and seeking the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness, which He assures us awaits anyone who makes even the smallest effort to do, but to believe that we don’t need to repent is a big mistake.

He also tells us to ‘believe in the good news’, or ‘the kingdom of heaven’ because that is the way that leads us to that happiness. To understand Jesus’ teaching, to believe in it, is to understand why we are here. The teaching of Christ is the only thing that makes sense of what our life is about. While I was at home in the last week I heard a shocking statistic, which says that at the moment there are two suicides every three days. What is going on? People have lost faith and so they don’t know where to turn. They have lost the vision of what their life is about. They have lost sight of the kingdom of heaven and so they have nothing to live for. That is why what God offers us is so important and that we keep coming back to it through repentance. Not to take this seriously would be a big mistake on our part, because this is the teaching that comes from God, the most important choice that we can ever make.

            ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’

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