Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2021.
Our Lenten journey today reaches its halfway point. We have three Sundays in Lent under our belt, and three more to go before we celebrate Holy Easter, and the eternal life made available to us through the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The word that begins our Mass today is “rejoice,” and this is always the word that traditionally begins the Mass on this the Fourth Sunday in Lent, popularly known in the western Church as “Mothering Sunday.” Rejoice, the verse from Isaiah reads, “all ye that have mourned.” And what are we mourning for but for our sins: the sins that we have committed, we mourn for, wishing we would not have committed them. And indeed we mourn that we commit sins at all, and we mourn that we seem unable to not commit sins. This is captured so poignantly by Saint Paul is last week’s Epistle, when he wrote to us saying “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” and “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” The reality of this hits us like a ton of bricks. Paul’s lament is our lament. And it seems there is little if anything we can do about it.
The reality is there in fact there is only one thing we can do. And that one thing is, we can repent. This is Jesus’s first teaching in Saint Mark’s Gospel account: Our Lord says, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, the first teaching of Jesus after His Baptism in the River Jordan is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” All of which is echoed by Saint Peter on the Day of Pentecost, on the day when after nine days of liturgical prayer and fellowship the womb of the Upper Room went Boom, and the Holy Spirit pouring forth from the 120 disciples of Jesus Christ, when his first teaching after his Pentecost sermon was “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” There is almost nothing we human beings can do about the muck of our sinful lives. Yet the good news is that the one thing we can do—repentance—is so powerful that by doing so, God’s grace transforms our mind and emboldens our heart.
The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia.” And it means a transformation of the mind, through which greater clarity and insight are obtained. Before repentance means anything else, it means great understanding. When we repent, we turn our selves around, from facing away from Him to facing toward Him. And the Church was her members to be very clear as to what it means to face toward God, and specifically Who is it that we are facing when we repent. When we repent, we turn to Him who, in the words of the Apostle, is rich in mercy. Him Who out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. When we repent, we face Him Who has raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And when we repent, we face Him Who desires more than anything else to show us the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.
And when we repent, let us always know, and never forget, that it is not towards us that God’s wrath is directed, but rather towards Satan, who ever presents to us the endless temptations which we so struggle to overcome, and often find ourselves giving in to. His wrath at our sins is towards the Devil; His tough love at our sins is towards us. Tough love—because He knows we are fully capable of growth in His Spirit, and fully capable of progress in the life of the Spirit whereby we commit fewer sins and express our life of prayer with more consistency, clarity, and fullness of heart.
After all, as Paul teaches us, we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. And what’s more, He gave Himself for us on the Cross, that we might receive Him in the Sacrament and be fed by Him, that our mind might week by week by transformed by the knowledge of Who our Savior is, what He has done for us, and what He always desire to do for us. Let us rejoice as we repent, brothers and sisters, for the Kingdom of heaven truly is within our heart.