Reflection for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)
We “have corrupted” ourselves. We have “quickly turned from the way” God commanded us and have become a “stiff-necked people.” But he will remember us “and the promise” he himself swore, “an everlasting inheritance.” It is the gracious Spirit displaying “utmost patience,” who will seek to come closer to those moving farther away from him; who will remain faithful to those losing faith in him; and who will continue to love those ungratefully abandoning him, leaving the “ninety-nine in the wilderness” while seeking “the lost one till he finds it.” And it will be the joy of our Lord when we are found by him.
This is God’s infinite justice: No one can claim to be too weak or too helpless against the onslaught of evil, that our Father’s grace is hopelessly beyond our reach. He will judge and condemn those who, in spite of the graces given by him, are not repentant and are not interested to return. On the other hand, this is God’s infinite mercy: No one can claim to be strong and resistant against evil desires without depending on our Father’s grace. Knowing how truly weak we are, he will thus never judge nor condemn any repentant sinner seeking to return. Neither then should we judge nor condemn.
A repentant sinner is one who is fully aware of having offended the love of God. Moved then by love, not by fear of him, he acknowledges his weaknesses and transgressions, surrenders himself totally to our Father, and pleads for forgiveness. A repentant sinner is also fully aware of the necessity of denying oneself in order to make up for the offended love of God. Moved then by justice, not by fear of him, he willingly accepts the consequences of sin imposed upon him and willingly performs the same, with the hope that God’s offended love is completely satisfied.
A forgiven sinner is one who is fully aware of having been successfully reconciled to God and others. Unburdened of the guilt for a love offended and joyful at the assurance of a love restored, he is immensely grateful that he is willing to reform and make amends; the readiness to render him service through the Church is much more heartfelt. Obedience is thus not only a manifestation of the realization of love, but also a manifestation of the complete restoration of lost love. A forgiven sinner is also fully aware of having possibly offended his neighbor and seeks to be successfully reconciled with her as well. Moved also by love for his fellow human beings, he acknowledges his faults, surrenders himself to the offended party, and pleads for forgiveness. Moved also by justice, he returns what has been unrightfully taken from her, or he repairs whatever damage has been inflicted upon what rightfully belongs to her.
This is precisely how we can help establish God’s kingdom of peace.
Penance is hence, the initiating human act which concretizes the appropriate response of a reciprocating act of love, to God’s initiating divine act of love, animating a life of conversion hopefully directed towards total human transformation. It is not simply as we commonly thought, a requirement for compliance to instructions given by a confessor in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; it refers to a continuing act of persistently living a life with the aim of loving God as much as possible, but never hoping to equal the infinite love with which he loved us first. Penance subsequently engenders faithfulness to the teachings of the Gospel, applied through acts leading to personal sanctification as well as acts intended in consideration or at the service of the needs of others.
Returning to God will be a lifelong journey. When we succumb to temptations with selfish desires, he will always be around us, calling for us to return, to be reconciled anew to himself and to be committed again to a continuous transformation of the self, and to a life given in baptism. A life of mindful penance therefore, will keep us constantly recollected of Love who will not want anyone of us to remain astray, even if we have ungratefully and repeatedly disobeyed him. We must carefully remember that he seeks each one of us, determined to bring us back to himself; we must in turn carefully remember to be prepared to go with him.
May we be guided towards a contrite return to him as we pray: O Spirit of the high heavens, I kneel and bow before your great countenance! At the throne of mercy, I pray for forgiveness of foolish deeds done long ago ‘til this day, which I seek to forget and consign to oblivion.
How much have I not thought about your love? About how you saved me from the evil that others have against me? About how you delivered me from the bondage and oppression of this world? And why in my lack of desire for you, I have chosen to care less, to believe less and not even to love but a little?
I have seen how you chose to be with me, even if I chose to live without you. I have seen how you led me by the hand into straight paths, even as I fought to walk in crooked ways. I have seen how you listened silently but very closely to the painful rants of my youth and to the insults of my many years. I have seen how you still loved me in spite of myself, and how tears began to flow from my eyes, knowing now how much I have been a fool!
To the Spirit who cared for this poor soul, I commit my love, and to you I will open my ears to accept your wisdom. Lead me through this life, be with me, until the very end. May I be open to the wounds of others, and heal them for you. May my life be my everlasting offering to your gentle greatness. Amen.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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