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Homily for 1/16/05 - Sunday before Theophany - Repent

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  • David Moser
    Having passed the feast of Nativity, we now are moving toward the feast of Theophany which is the Baptism of the Lord. Just as we prepare for Nativity by a
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 16, 2005
      Having passed the feast of Nativity, we now are moving toward the feast of
      Theophany which is the Baptism of the Lord. Just as we prepare for Nativity
      by a period of fasting and special services in the weeks before the feast so
      also we must prepare for Theophany. There is not a separate fasting period
      before Theophany (except of course that the eve of the feast is a fasting
      day) and today, the Sunday before the feast, is the only special service
      that we will have and so it is particularly important that we attend to the
      instruction given to us today about our preparation for the feast. The
      Gospel that we heard today tells us quite clearly to "prepare the way of the
      Lord, make His paths straight." These are the words of the forerunner as he
      announced to the world the coming of the God/man Jesus Christ. Not only is
      he speaking to the world at that time, but, through the words of the Gospel,
      he is speaking to each of us. It is necessary therefore to listen to the
      Forerunner carefully and attend to the message that he gives to us.



      Since the sin of Adam and Eve the world was fallen into darkness and only
      the law and the prophets offered any kind of guidance through the spiritual
      dark. Every day, by the grace of God, the sun rose in the sky, foretelling
      the coming of the light to the world to end the darkness of the spiritual
      night, but for many, this lesson was lost. Suddenly, just as the dawn sky
      lightens before the rising of the sun, the spiritual sky began to lighten
      with the coming of the last and greatest of the prophets proclaiming the
      coming of the God/man, the light of the world. And this prophet cried out a
      single message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This
      message speaks not only to the world as it was, but also to each of us
      today. How do we prepare the way of the Lord? How do we prepare for the
      coming of the God/man Jesus Christ? How do we prepare ourselves for this
      great feast? We do so according to the words of the forerunner - by
      repentance.



      As with many of the great prophets who came before him, St John proclaimed
      his message not only in words but by the very actions and essence of his
      life. The clothes that he wore, a shirt of camel's hair and belt around his
      waist, are the clothing of penance. The shirt of hair is not some luxurious
      coat of soft fur, but it is akin to sackcloth - harsh, crude, itchy,
      constantly abrasive to the skin. This is the traditional garment of
      repentance and mourning. When the great prophet and king David sinned
      before God, he repented in sackcloth and ashes, when the prophet Jonah
      proclaimed the judgement of God to the city of Ninevah, the whole city
      repented in sackcloth and ashes. The Prophet and Forerunner John came
      preaching repentance clothed in a shirt of camel's hair, that is sackcloth,
      and lived amongst the sands of the desert, that is in the ashes.



      Not only his clothing, but also his diet proclaims this message. The
      Forerunner ate only locusts and wild honey. He ate only a fasting diet, not
      eating the flesh or product of any living animal, but eating only that food
      which God provided directly. He ate nothing cooked or prepared but only
      that which he found in the desert where he lived. When he repented the
      Prophet and King David fasted, when the children of Israel wandered in the
      desert they ate only manna, the food provided by God. St John proclaimed
      the necessity of repentance by his diet, for he lived a life of fasting,
      eating only that which God provided by His hand.



      This then is the message - to prepare the way of the Lord, to straighten His
      path by repentance. What then does repentance do? Repentance opens the soul
      to receive the grace of God. If we do not repent of our sinfulness and of
      our sins, the soul remains closed to the grace of God. For this reason we
      are given the Mystery of Repentance or Confession. When we confess our
      sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from
      all unrighteousness. This cleansing is accomplished by the application of
      His grace, but in order for the grace to have an avenue to work in the soul
      we must first confess. Confession is not just listing off all the things
      you have done wrong, or all the things you feel bad about; confession
      requires something more, confession requires true repentance.



      True repentance is to turn away from sin. This turning away begins with the
      awareness of our sinful condition before God. It is not uncommon to comfort
      ourselves with the thought that "I may not be perfect, but at least I'm
      better than that other person - that criminal, that murderer, that bum, my
      wretched neighbor" Of course when we compare ourselves to others (and in
      the process judge others) we find an excuse for our sins and a reason to
      dismiss them. But we are not to compare ourselves to others, but only to
      God. When you look at yourself, remember that we are called in the Gospel
      to "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" Repentance is not so
      much about guilt for breaking a law, but rather it is about the realization
      that you are not like God. The law only tells us how a person will act who
      is like God - but the real problem with breaking the law is not the guilt of
      the infraction, but rather that you are not like God. Any time you realize
      this, either by the prick of conscience in your heart or by the effect of
      your actions on others, the horror and awareness of your sin should rise up
      within you and the desire to repent, to turn away from whatever it is that
      separates you from God, should be born in your soul.



      When this desire to repent is born within you, then you seek a remedy, a
      relief from the weight of sin and that remedy is found only through the
      sacrament of confession. It is important then to prepare for a good and
      thorough confession each time you come for this sacrament. First you must
      examine your soul to see what is within you that is not like God. It is
      normal to want to hide your own sins, to turn a blind eye to them and deny
      that they exist - but this is not the way of the one who is preparing his
      soul to receive God. It is necessary to shine a bright light upon the soul
      to find even the faintest shadow of sin that it might be revealed and rooted
      out. This bright light is the light of the law and so we have many aids in
      preparing for confession. We have the ten commandments which are the limits
      on our behavior set out by God. There are many explanations of the
      commandments in the writings of the fathers that help us understand the
      enormity of the kinds of behavior that they cover. In addition to the ten
      commandments of the old testament, we have the beatitudes of the new
      testament. Where the commandments teach us what kind of behavior to avoid,
      the beatitudes teach us what kind of behavior to seek out. Any time that we
      do not fulfill the ideal described by the beatitudes that too is a sin and
      our shortfall should be confessed. With these two tools given us in the
      scripture, we can examine the soul and begin to see even the smallest sin.



      But it not enough simply to look at the soul ourselves - for we are used to
      deceiving ourselves and excusing ourselves and our eye is blind especially
      to our own sins - it is also necessary to seek out the help of a spiritual
      physician, one who can listen to the sins you have found on your own and
      then dig deeper and uncover those sins which lie hidden even from your own
      eyes. This person is, of course, the priest, and so when we come to the
      sacrament of confession, we come to the priest and confess to him as a
      witness before God all of the sins we have found. The priest hearing these
      things then might also ask questions or ask about other sins in order to
      help you see even deeper into your soul. Every time you confess a sin
      before the priest you break its power over your heart. Unconfessed sin has
      a hold and grip on the soul that only grows stronger and stronger the longer
      it is allowed to remain - the only way to break that grip is to confess your
      sin and repent of it. This repentance - that is the genuine turning away
      from sin, the sorrow and mourning that it has infected you, the revulsion
      that it has found its way into your soul - is the key which opens the door
      to the healing balm of God's grace.



      In Confession the priest stands not only as a co-examiner of your soul with
      you, but also he stands as a mediator before God, praying for your spiritual
      healing and well being, interceding for you before God asking that God send
      down upon you the gift of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The priest also
      stands before you in confession as the instrument of God applying the grace
      that God gives to your soul in the most effective manner. Thus you may hear
      from the priest in confession some kind instruction or direction. This isn'
      t the mere suggestion of how to live a better life - it is a spiritual
      prescription of how to recover from the effects of a particular sin, how to
      improve your spiritual health. The instruction of a priest in the sacrament
      of confession is grace bearing and in order for God's grace to have its best
      effect in you, it is your obligation to follow that instruction. This is
      the specific application of divine grace to your soul, to the specific
      places where you need it most.



      Finally in confession the priest will lay his stole - the symbol of the
      pouring out of God's grace - on your head and will say the prayer of
      absolution. The priest is not obligated to give absolution but may only do
      so when he sees within the heart of the one confessing true repentance, a
      true sorrow and mourning for having sinned, a true desire to turn away from
      that sin and not to return to it. Seeing this, the priest then lays his
      hand upon the head of the penitent and prays - prays that God will hear the
      cry of the penitent, that He will forgive and absolve the sin of the
      penitent and that He will send down His grace upon the penitent to heal him
      and strengthen him and deliver him from the effects and power of sin in his
      life. At this point - having the avenues of the soul opened by repentance,
      the grace of God pours into the soul, filling the corners and spaces opened
      by the rooting out of sin, flowing in and around those areas previously
      occupied by sin and immersing the soul in its healing balm.



      The coming of the Forerunner proclaims the coming of the Lord and invites us
      to prepare a way for him. The preparation of the soul to receive the grace
      of God is repentance - by repentance we open our hearts and prepare
      ourselves for the flood of God's grace. Today we are called to prepare the
      way of the Lord, to make His paths straight. Today we are called to repent
      that we might receive in full measure the grace of God poured out upon us.
      Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
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