It isn’t easy to repent. When you think about it, it takes a bit of courage and big dose of honesty to admit your mistakes. We often try to ignore them, hide them, explain them away. People in public life now “misspeake” because they cannot admit that they were lying. Our public heroes, rock stars, professional athletes and all who appear on the page sixes are constantly making a mess of their lives but it is all right because they are our glamorous.
When John the Baptist called the people of his day to repent of their sins, Jesus hailed him as a prophet and more than a prophet. Yet Jesus also hinted that many of those who “repented” were really going out to see John because it was the thing to do, the latest diversion for the glamorati of Jerusalem.
Yet to repent is one of the basic requirements for honesty and integrity for us all, you, certainly me, all of us without exception. While it is not ever easy, it is always good for us. And God calls us to repent precisely because he is preparing us for something more. That is where the example of Jonah and of John comes into play for us. Jonah resisted but God kept after him and, at the end, he was grateful to God because he let God lead him into a life of honesty and integrity that was proven by the example he gave to the people of Nineveh whom he converted. John, the greatest born of a woman, paid for his honesty and integrity because he insisted to Herod that the King too had to repent for having taken his brother’s wife.
Yet there is something more that you and I experience today here in this Cathedral, listening to this Gospel. Just at the moment John is arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God! Yes he calls for repentance in full continuity with Jewish tradition and the prophetic acts of his cousin John. But there is a major difference, a qualitative addition to his message. REPENT YES! But now, it is BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL. BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS! For with Jesus repentance is the means to open the doors of your heart to greatest gift anyone can ever have: life in Christ, sharing his life and participating in that life in and through His Church of which he is the head and we are the members. As Pope Francis noted at today’s Angelus, The proclamation of Jesus is similar to John but the substantial difference is that Jesus does indicate anyone else to come: He himself is the fulfillment of the promises. He is the ‘Good News’. Who believes in him is the one who listens to his word and, following him, enters into the Kingdom of God.
While Jesus is the Son of God and alone can save the world, he is also one of us, the Son of Mary, born into the world to bring salvation to all who repent and believe. Yet there is another extraordinary part to the message of today’s Gospel. Immediately Jesus shows us that he needs us to be able to complete the mission the Father has given to him. As he passed by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother, Andrew, …Jesus said, ‘Come after me and I will make you fishers of men. They abandoned their nets and followed him. And thus began the greatest spiritual adventure the world will ever know. And it continues to this day. And it will continue till the end of time. And you and I are integral parts of this adventure.
Yes, it isn’t easy to repent. But like everyone everywhere, we need to repent of our sins, our failings and seek to live honest lives of integrity and truth? And we do. But are we the ones who, at the same time, have listened to the call of Jesus and believe in that invitation, We follow him by belonging ever more deeply to Him, to his Church and to one another? Yes and yes and yes!
There will always be need for successors of the apostles and for priests so that the Church can live her life as the sacrament of unity of God and the world. As St John Paul taught me, There will never be sufficient priests for the work of the Gospel and the pastoral care of God’s People. Therefore we must all pray daily for vocations to the priesthood. We must all encourage young men, especially young men in our own families, to consider prayerfully if God is calling him to be a priest. There can be no Church without the Eucharist and no Eucharist without priests.
But the mission of the Church, the mission Jesus gives to the Church is the responsibility of us all! Married, single, rejoicing, weeping, young or old like me, Jesus has forgiven our sins. Jesus has given us life through baptism and confirmation. He renews that life every week here by His Word and by the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. He calls us them to be prophets to the world by our lives, our words, our actions. He calls us to help repair the world by our care for others, imitating Jesus who loved the poor, took pity on the suffering, healed those who were physically or spiritually sick and raised up a fallen world by his cross and resurrection.
This is the great spiritual adventure that is ours. From repentance to belief, from darkness to light, from the world that is passing away to the world where Christ will be all in all. This is why he called Peter and Andrew, James and John. This is why he calls you and me today to be salt of the earth and light to the world. Remember what he told them and us at the Last Supper? You are my friends if you do what I command you. And this I command you, Love one another as I have loved you. AMEN.