Saturday, September 22, 2012

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17

Jesus started his public ministry with a phrase that has gotten a lot of play:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (NAB)
Definitely not what Jesus
meant by "repent."
Of course, "gotten a lot of play" can mean a number of things. Raise your hand if you read the title of this post and instantly thought of a guy with a sandwich board sign warning folks about the end of the world. But if you do a little research, the word "repent" is really not that scary.

Barnes' Notes on the Bible tells us that the word "repentance" has two meanings in the Bible: the definition that most of us think of is a feeling of sorrow for sinful acts. But, Barnes writes, Jesus was using the other definition, which is a change in the way you live your life, a self-improvement.

That sounds much less intimidating, and much more affirmative. Instead of simply focusing on ceasing bad activities, this idea of repentance in the form of self-improvement means that you are also focusing on doing good.

That also makes it more difficult, as I am finding. It's one thing to acknowledge that I have done wrong. But to completely remake myself takes time, patience and self-awareness - and I have to forgive myself for stumbling from time to time.

It's a crazy world out there, and I'm finding it really hard to turn away from the craziness. But I have to, and I've taken some steps to do so. I've wasted so much time arguing morality with people on the internet that I've "unfriended" some of them. I don't do it out of spite; I'm really just trying to avoid putting myself in pointless fights that really don't change anything. It's not spreading the Good News if you're just yelling at people about how wrong they are.

I've also started using some meditative practices to observe my reactions to things. Instead of getting angry at myself when my mind fails me, I instead observe them as simply thoughts passing through my mind. This puts me in a much better state of mind for prayer.

Words of Wisdom

Fr. Gordon Zanetti, St. Andrew Catholic Church, Cape Coral, Fla., on faith in everyday life: "I might be the best churchgoer. I might receive as many sacraments as possible. I might say the best prayers. But if my heart is hardened and I work for my personal gain, I have sinned."

-September 1 homily

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