Friday, January 20, 2006

Repentance: It’s The Best Thing You Can Do—For Yourself!

(Third Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on January 22, 2006, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Mark 1: 14-20.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of the Year 2006]

Repentance is good for you.

Repentance is healthy.

Repentance is liberating.

Repentance is the best thing you can do for yourself—as well as the best thing you can do to improve your relationships with other people when they go sour.

And to all this, we should say, “Thank God,” because the other noteworthy fact about repentance is that it’s not an option!

It’s a requirement. It’s a mandate. It’s a command that comes from Jesus Christ himself! So the fact that it’s beneficial on so many levels is an added bonus!

The importance of repentance should be obvious from today’s Gospel passage. There Jesus says, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel!” According to St. Mark, these were the very first words our Lord spoke during his earthly ministry. In a certain sense, they form the foundation of everything else he taught during the next 3 years. And his message to his listeners was clear and direct. He said, in effect, “This is what you have been waiting for; this is what the entire nation of Israel has been anticipating for centuries! Old Testament prophecies are now being fulfilled, and God is beginning to establish his kingdom among you. If you want to be a part of it, you need to repent—and you need to believe!”

Repentance obviously improves your relationship with God: that’s a given. But it also improves your relationships with other people. The simple statement, “I’m sorry” (spoken from the heart), coupled with a desire to make amends for what you’ve done, can make a big difference in healing the rift between you and the people you’ve offended.

On the other hand, failing to repent and to say you’re sorry when you’ve done something wrong can have a disastrous effect on a relationship.

It reminds me of a little story that a parishioner emailed me a couple of weeks ago. . . .

A husband forgot his 25th wedding anniversary (which was definitely not a good idea!). His wife, as you might imagine, was extremely upset, especially since she was expecting a brand new car as an anniversary gift. (Her husband had promised her that several months earlier.)

She said to him, “Tomorrow, there had better be something sitting in our driveway that goes from 0 to 200 in 2 seconds flat!”

She obviously expected a pretty fast car!

Anyway, the next day she woke up, ran outside to the driveway, and saw a small package sitting on the pavement. She immediately opened it up, and found her present—a brand new bathroom scale!

The husband’s funeral was the following Tuesday!

This extremely foolish man would certainly still be among the living, if he had simply said, “I’m sorry.” His wife might even have settled for a Hyundai instead of a Corvette!

On a more serious note, the following is a letter that really does show how failing to repent can have terrible psychological, emotional—as well as spiritual—consequences in our lives.

It was sent to me about a year ago—along with this little prayer book—by a woman who used to be a parishioner of St. Pius. The letter read as follows:

Dear Fr. Ray,

It is with the deepest sorrow and regret that I have to write to you.

I attended St. Pius Parish in the 1980s, when you had just gotten there (at the time the church was struck by lightening when Fr. Besse was pastor). At that time, I made many visits to the church, in addition to coming to Mass on Sunday.

I am so ashamed to say that on one of my visits to pray, I was in the front pew on the right hand side of the altar, and I noticed a beautiful little prayer book. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I stole it, and have had it for over 15 years.

It is not just the fact that I took it, but that it belonged to someone who used it daily.

Over the years I have wanted to return it—just slip it back into the pew, and maybe the owner would somehow find it.

Everywhere I have moved, it went with me, along with my own prayer cards.

I started picking it up every once in a while to pray from it—but every time I tried, I couldn’t. . . . Guilt about this book has lasted all this time. . . .

My greatest sadness is that the prayers from this book were not said for over 15 years—for someone’s family, their church, their nation, the world. I don’t know how to get it back to its owner. Perhaps showing the book at all Masses might help. I only hope that the person who owns this book can forgive me.

May God forgive me, a poor sinner, and have mercy on me.

PS: I hope and pray it doesn’t belong to Monsignor Struck or Sister Dorothy. They have both helped me—and probably prayed for me from that book. Again, I am so very sorry.

We can deny our sin; we can pretend it doesn’t exist; we can sweep it under the rug (so to speak)—but in spite of all these efforts, it will always affect us in negative ways! Just ask the millions of women who suffer from what is now know as “Post-Abortion Syndrome.” On this sad anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, we should pray in a special way for them.

The woman who wrote this letter to me has been guilt-ridden and without peace for 15 years because of a sin she committed and then tried to ignore. But it didn’t have to be that way! All she needed to do 15 years ago was repent, go to Confession, and then make a sincere effort to return the prayer book to its owner. It was that simple! (By the way, if you happen to recognize this little item, please see me after Mass! You can start praying with it again.)

I’ll end my homily this morning as I began it:

Repentance is good for you.

Repentance is healthy.

Repentance is liberating.

Repentance is the best thing you can do for yourself—as well as the best thing you can do to improve your relationships with other people when they go sour.

And that’s why the sacrament of Confession is such a great blessing!

When was the last time you went?