Lenten formula: Repent — Believe

Given by Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the First Sunday of Lent, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

On the first day of class, the opening lecture of a new teacher is crucial, because it lets the students know what to expect, sets a tone for the class and gives them an impression of who this unfamiliar teacher is. Likewise, the inaugural address of a new leader is critical, for it lays out the priorities and plans that will be the focus of his or her time in office, as well as offering the public a chance to know him or her more thoroughly.

In the same way, the first words Jesus Christ speaks in His public ministry are of crucial importance, for they, too, lay out His mission and His plan for our salvation. His words are also eternal, so they speak to His disciples in every age, from those who first heard them in Galilee, to those of us gathered here today, over two thousand years later.

In the Gospel proclaimed in our presence today, Saint Mark offers us those first words spoken by Jesus at the beginning of His public ministry: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel."

Jesus begins by alerting His disciples that His presence announces a new act in salvation history. "This is the time of fulfillment!" In the first reading today, we heard God tell Noah of the covenant He was establishing through him, a covenant that would extend through his descendants and ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The first words which Jesus speaks bring joy, promise, and hope! "The kingdom of God is at hand." Salvation is real and is in our midst! With the promise of salvation, Jesus also tells us what we have to do to attain that joyous end. Thus, He follows His announcement with two commands: "Repent and believe in the Gospel!"

"Repent!" Jesus says. The word "repentance" is taken from the Greek word metanoia, which means "changing one's mind." As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us in the areas where we are clinging to falsehoods and misconceptions that are leading us astray and away from experiencing the Kingdom of God, that is, God's presence in our midst. In some cases, these areas are easy to identify, such as when we believe that a teaching of Jesus Christ and His Church is incorrect. If we find ourselves in this position, the best way to approach this conflict is first to pray to the Holy Spirit for humility and wisdom, and then to find out what the Church actually teaches about an issue and why. I encourage a conversation with a priest about it. Many times, this will help us to see the true compassion found in the teaching of Jesus and His Church, and allow a change in our minds and hearts so that we follow Christ more closely.

Other times, repentance is not as easy, because our misconceptions are more deep-seated. A good practice for all of us is to pray this simple prayer each day: "Lord, contradict me with the truth." In other words, "Lord, confront the lies I believe about myself and others; confront the misconceptions I have about Your divine love of me; confront the misunderstandings about the way I think You are working in my life. Help me to see Your divine truth that I may be free. Help me to change my mind, and therefore, my heart, so I may truly repent, and cling to You, for You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life!"

The last command of God - the one that goes hand in hand with the difficult process of repentance - is believe. Christ calls us to "Believe in the Gospel." In Greek, the word Mark uses for Gospel is euangelion, which literally means, "the good message" or "the good news." The message Jesus speaks is Good News, the Good News of God's love calling us to allow Him to save us, calling us to repentance, to a change of mind and heart.

If we are to change our lives during this sacred season, it will not be because we want to blindly follow commands, nor will it be because of a fear of punishment. To truly change our hearts, it must be out of love: the love we see in the Good News Jesus promises.

Yes, very early in the season of Lent, Jesus repeats to us the same words He spoke as He began His public ministry! "Repent and believe the Gospel." Let us really listen to His words and put them into practice, so when Easter arrives, we may rejoice with hearts renewed by the love of the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ!

"This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel!"

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015