The podcast can be found here.
A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity.
John tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to “clean up” the bird’s vocabulary.
Finally, John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder.
John, in desperation, threw up his hands, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer.
The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched arms and said “I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.”
John was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird continued, “May I ask what the turkey did?”
There are many things that cause us to change our behavior. I specifically recall the phrase, “Do I need to get the belt,” being a real motivator for me. The term for a change of behavior that Jesus, John the Baptist, and all those before them used was “repent.” I would wager that repentance falls in the top five topics of all preaching. Why? Well, for starters, it’s kind of fun! “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” All ya’ll goin’t hell! That’s good stuff right there.
It is this call of repentance with angry fiery rhetoric and with cajoling and tears that has been preached from a thousand pulpits, but this understanding of repentance – turning from evil – is only half of the act of repentance.
The Spanish Philosopher, Unamuno, in the year 109 a.d. tells of the great Roman aqueduct in Segovia. It carried water from the mountains into the city and did so for over 1,800 years. However, after sixty generations, it was decided that the best means to preserve the ancient structure was to stop using it. The government – and that should give you a good clue that this story isn’t going to work out well – the government decided, “This aqueduct is so great a marvel that it ought to be preserved for our children, as a museum piece. We shall relieve it of its centuries-long labor.” So they laid modern pipe and rerouted the water away from the structure. It was then, after 1,800 years of use, that the aqueduct began to deteriorate. The sun beating on the dry mortar caused it to crumble. The bricks and stone sagged and threatened to fall. What ages of service could not destroy idleness disintegrated.
Jesus said, “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
Turning from evil is only half the act of repentance, for in turning from the evil, we must turn to something else, otherwise through idleness, the evil practices will return and the decay will begin again. Therefore, the second half of repentance, after turning from evil, is turning to God and that which was empty is filled with the presence of God, and the final condition of that person is not worse, but is instead made holy in the eyes of God—and that is the Good News. From our Gospel today: After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” In the person of Jesus, God has drawn near to us. The waiting is over; therefore, turn from evil, turn to God, and follow him, believing firmly the words of God, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” And it sure would be nice if it ended there…
Do you remember Joshua’s big speech to the Israelites after they had crossed the Jordan? The part where he says to them “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” And the Israelites say to him, we choose the one true God. They said, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.” How did that work out? Yeah. Not so good. The same is true for us. We repent. We turn to God. We will serve and obey him always. And how did that work out for you? Yeah. Not so good. That old hymn speaks truth:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it—
Prone to leave the God I love
It was a bright Sunday morning in 18th century London, but a particular young fella’s mood was anything but sunny. All along the street there were people hurrying to church, but in the midst of the crowd the man was desperately lonely. The sound of church bells reminded him of years past when his faith in God was strong and the church was an integral part of his life. It had been years since he set foot in a church—years of wandering, disillusionment, and gradual defection from the God he once loved. That love for God—once fiery and passionate—had slowly burned out within him, leaving him dark and cold inside.
As he walked, he heard the clip-clop, clip-clop of a horse-drawn cab approaching behind him. Turning, he lifted his hand to hail the driver. But then he saw that the cab was occupied by a young woman dressed in finery for the Lord’s Day. He waved the driver on, but the woman in the carriage ordered the carriage to be stopped.
“Sir, I’d be happy to share this carriage with you,” she said to him. “Are you going to church?” The man was about to decline, then he paused. “Yes,” he said at last. “I am going to church.” He stepped into the carriage and sat down beside the young woman.
They exchanged a few pleasantries, then the lady went back to her book of devotions. After a short while she looked up, excited about a bit of poetry she had just read and wanted to know what he thought. He consented to listen and she read him:
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace’
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
When she looked up, she saw that the man was crying.
“What do I think of the poetry?” he asked. “I’m Robert Robinson. I wrote it. But now I’ve drifted away from him and can’t find my way back.
“But don’t you see” the woman said gently, “The way back is written right here in the third line of your poem: “Streams of mercy, never ceasing,” she said, “and those streams are flowing even this morning.”
That day Robinson renewed his relationship with Christ.
Repent: turn from evil and turn to God. It is not always a once and done. In many cases, it is a rinse and repeat. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’” Does that mean we give up? Absolutely not. If anything, it should point us to a renewed determination and to a deeper understanding of our need for a Savior and a greater love for Him.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” If you should fall, then consider the words of St. Josemaría Escrivá: “How low you have fallen this time! Begin the foundations from down there. Be humble… God will not despise a contrite and humble heart” And again he writes: “Don’t forget that the saint is not the person who never falls, but rather the one who never fails to get up again, humbly and with a holy stubbornness.” You have fallen. Humbly repent and with a holy stubbornness… rinse and repeat.
Let us pray:
Father in Heaven,
ever-living source of all that is good,
keep us faithful in serving You.
Help us to drink of Christ’s Truth,
and fill our hearts with His Love
so that we may serve You in faith
and love and reach eternal life.
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist
You give us the joy of sharing Your Life.
Keep us in Your presence.
Let us never be separated from You
and help us to do Your will. Amen.