December 4, 2022
Mt 3: 1- 12
The Gospel today presents the proclamation of repentance by John the Baptist followed by baptism in the waters of repentance. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines repentance as “a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time, it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart). 1431”
The emphasis in Christian spirituality is primarily on “a turning away from evil.” The focus is on looking at the wrongdoing and making resolutions to turn away from the subsequent behavior. This is laudatory and continues to be a motivation in repentance. However, as a Jew, John the Baptist has a different emphasis on repentance which we might find instructive.
The Hebrew for repentance is shuv. To repent means to make a strong turn toward a new course of action. The emphasis is more on ‘turning to a positive course of action’ rather than ‘turning from a less desirable course’. The emphasis on positive turning is toward God. As we orient our lives toward God, we turn our backs on sin. We are not looking at the sin but focused on God which puts wrongdoing behind us.
This brings to mind St. Julie’s image of the sunflower which always turns its face to the sun as an example of our orientation to God. The sunflower is a concrete, beautiful image that has captured the imagination of Notre Dame. However, in this time of ecological awakening and Laudato Si’, we might consider the beauty of the sunflower in itself as another awakening. In the second Chapter of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis celebrates creation as expressed in the Bible and speaks of it as a wonderful book written by God. In this book of creation, a multitude of creatures in the universe are the letters of this book. Imagine that a passage in God’s book of creation is the sunflower!
The high point occurs in the fourth Chapter of Laudato Si’ with an emphasis on integral ecology as an inclusion of mind and heart, science and art, faith and the whole spiritual life of culture. Perhaps the reorientation of our idea of repentance as a focus on turning towards God as the sunflower to the sun is an opportunity to consider our spirituality which is not separate but integrated in creation itself. Thus, in considering another perspective on repentance, we are awakened to a spirituality which has responsibility for creation.
In the present age, Matthew’s call repentance is to shuv towards the sunflower in an orientation grounded in the sacredness of the world and our response to care for The Common Good. The Bishops of Japan, for their part, have said something very striking: “Perceiving every creature who sings the anthem of its existence is to live with joy in God’s love and hope ” (Laudato Si’ par. 85). The contemplation of the sunflower is to “hear a message, hear a paradoxical and silent voice.”
Mt. 3: 1-12
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The Gospel of the Lord
Meet Sister Camilla Burns, SNDdeN