At the end of the Gospel today we hear the opening words of Jesus’s ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” How fitting it is that these are the words that mark the beginning of his ministry.
Because these are not words that deal with doom and gloom. These are not words that are designed to strike fear in our hearts or souls. Instead, these are words of both comfort and love. These are words that invite us to love.
Remember the first time you were in love? It was a novel experience for you. Because, if you are like me and most of us, we found ourselves acting differently. We wanted so much to please this person who caused such a positive emotion in our lives. When you fell in love for the first time, it affected everything you did. It affected the way you faced each morning, the way you dressed, the way you acted during the day, the way you treated others, what you read, what you saw at the movies, how you reacted to situations that arose during the day and on and on. As The Prophet once said: “Fall in love, stay in love and it will affect all of your life.”
Is it any surprise then the invitation of Christ to be his follower, to prepare to follow him into the kingdom of Heaven, is similar to that? Christ does not say, Love me because if you don’t, you face the fires of hell. Instead, he says simply: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and, if you wish to enter it, then you need to give up your old ways. It is no different than when we fell in love and changed the way we thought, acted and reacted. We realize that being a lover of Christ means that we cannot live the way we used to. We cannot live a life where we are the center of our lives, We must become other directed. Christ has to be at the center of our lives. And it’s not just The Christ that we encounter in Church, or in the Eucharist, or in a beautiful icon or a stained glass window, instead it is the Christ that we see around us every day – the broken, the despairing, the lonely, the sick, and the oppressed. And the beauty as well. Every time we open our eyes and see Christ in another, we move a little closer to seeing Christ Himself. Every time we see Christ in an act of beauty or an act of forgiveness, we move a little closer to seeing Christ Himself. Every time we stretch our arm or our heart to another, we move a little closer to seeing Christ himself..
Remember it all started with our Baptism. We were chosen by God, we were called a child of God. He has been pursuing us all of our lives, and He wants nothing more than to help us move from being merely committed to our religion and going through the motions, to experiencing true intimacy with him. If we allow him to do this, our lives will never be the same again. As our Holy Father Emeritus Benedict wrote in his first encyclical, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
What usually stands directly in our way are our own designs and desires and ourselves. Not all are called to live in a religious community or be a priest or deacon or a nun, but certainly we are called to the beliefs that Christ taught and we are called to living out the gospel according to the life we lead. Look around, to your left and to your right, every person is different but we are also the same in one significant way. The love of God is present to all of us and we are each called to that love in the very particular manner that makes us different from one another..
Each of us has been gifted in a certain way and using our own particular gifts is how we respond to Christ’s call. Our lives and all the moments we have to share are opportunities to give back the love we have received. Like Christ our concern should be to bring a little light into the darkness of the world. In today’s world, that is a a challenging task, for there is so much darkness present. All we have to do is look around and see the obscenity of homelessness and poverty side-by-side with wealth. You know, the other day I read a startling fact – that the 85 richest people in the world own more than 50% of the rest of humanity. Perhaps that was part of the motivation behind the message that Pope Francis had carried to the world elite at Davos this past week.
This does not mean that Christ’s message is a failure, but simply it means we are falling short of carrying it out. As with any thing in life, it is easy to get satisfied and comfortable and say I have done all I can. Like the man who built the extra store houses, we can be the fool by looking too far ahead when as God said this very night you will die.
You know, there is a bit of uncertainty to living our faith. In loving we must remember that there is always the requirement for giving more. The more we give, the more there is to give. When have we given enough? I’m afraid only you and God can make that judgment. You are the only two who can know for sure. But what more points us out as followers of Christ is that we give more than the care and love that we have received. That is why we are called to forgive because we are quick to forgive ourselves, and so we should just as quickly forgive others. What love can there be if there is any ill will present? So today we are again called to repent and to once again answer Christ’s call.
This Sunday’s Gospel invites us to remember that our personal vocation is founded on God’s original and absolutely free choice. His invitation towards us is an invitation to make a final decision to let Him conquer or re-conquer us to mark a turning point in our lives.
Let us ask the Lord, for us and the whole Church, for the gift of a true conversion of our hearts enabling us to receive Christ as the only Light to follow. For it is Christ who is the only one that really dispels the darkness within and around us.