Today’s gospel concerns what we meditate upon in the Third Luminous Mystery of the Most Holy Rosary: the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Christ said to the people in Capernaum and beyond, as he says to us, “Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”
Repentance involves turning one’s life in a different direction; going a different way. When the Magi went to see the Christ child, the gospel tells us, they returned home by a different route; their lives were changed after the encounter. When St. Paul was blinded by the light, his originally-planned journey ended; he began following Christ instead, and went places he had never dreamt of before. Many of us have had similar experiences as the Magi and St. Paul, if not in a less dramatic manner.
Repentance is also an ongoing process. We often stray off the path or sort of straddle its edge. Each day we must decide anew to continue firmly on the path or to go somewhere else – to be “led by another” (Christ) or to follow our own will. Following the way of Christ involves being converted in a radical way, in every aspect of who we are: how we think, how we speak, how we see, how we hear, what we do, what we don’t do, and so forth. For us to be in the Kingdom of Heaven, Christ the King must rule every aspect of our lives.
Turning our lives towards Christ means following the light – “on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen”. His light is his teaching, which shows us the correct way to go forward. His light is his grace, which gives us the ability to do what he commands. His light is the Church, which surrounds us as a visible community of believers that together strives to serve Christ in the midst of this world.
But following this light isn’t easy. It can even be scary. Deep within us lies a suspicion that originates in that temptation that the Devil whispered in Eve’s ear countless ages ago: we suspect that, somehow, God will not really make us happy – that we have to take matters into our own hands and do things our own way, according to our own lights. But how can we confront this suspicion? How can we overcome our fear? Hear the encouraging words of Benedict XVI in this regard:
[M]y mind goes back to 22 October 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry… His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!” The Pope was addressing the mighty, the powerful of this world, who feared that Christ might take away something of their power if they were to let him in, if they were to allow the faith to be free. Yes, he would certainly have taken something away from them: the dominion of corruption, the manipulation of law and the freedom to do as they pleased. But he would not have taken away anything that pertains to human freedom or dignity, or to the building of a just society. The Pope was also speaking to everyone, especially the young. Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing – nothing – absolutely nothing – of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open – open wide the doors to Christ… and you will find true life! Amen.
Will we take the risk that repentance entails? Will we open wide the doors to Christ? We have some great examples in Pope Francis, in Pope Benedict, in Pope John Paul II – and in so many saints, both old and new. Will we entertain a suspicion – a mere possibility – or heed that which is real?
On this Sunday, as we contemplate our daily task of repentance and confront our fears, may their examples give us a “boost”, the extra encouragement that we need to follow the way of Christ with resolute hearts. May his light pervade every aspect of who we are, and shine out from us to the world around us. Repent: the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! +