Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Oh God, take me back!"

The following are excerpts taken from a Homily Father Miguel Ceja gave at the Memorial Mass for Deceased Priests held on Nov. 6 at Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral, San Bernardino. Scripture reference: Lk 15: 1-10

By Father Miguel Ceja
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Riverside

My friends, the entire biblical message is more thoroughly rejected than accepted by people. That is, the need for our repentance. Most biblical scholars agree that repentance is the very first step into the fullness of our humanity.

The Old Testament prophets without exception preach that repentance is the only way to reestablishing the covenant with God. In the New Testament, John the Baptist preaches repentance and the people flock to hear him. Then Jesus announces the Good News of God’s kingdom and his first specific instruction to the people is contained in one word, repent.

Jesus teaches us that our heavenly father values our repentance more than anything else we might do. He compares the joy over our repentance to that of the shepherd who has found the lost sheep that has strayed from the flock and to that woman who has found her most treasured procession after a long and frantic search. “I tell you,” Jesus says, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”

The crux of the problem, with this biblical call to repentance, is that it is a call to change our whole way of life. St. Paul describes it as putting on a new man, reforming our lives. It is reordering our priorities. It is rethinking the way in which we see ourselves and see others. It isn’t easy to accept this biblical concept of repentance, especially when we have convinced ourselves that we are more or less perfect just as we are. We are all doing just fine, thank you. We aren’t about to change all that.

There was a woman who was preparing to attend a special event. She had been looking forward to it, with pleasure, for a long time. The new dress she had bought for the occasion was carefully laid out on her bed. But her little daughter did not want her to go out that night. She wanted her parents to stay home and she put up quite a fuss about it. 
When the mother was out of the room, the little girl thought she had found a way to keep her mother home. She took out a pair of sewing shears and she slashed the new party dress, ruined it completely. 
When the mother came back to the room she was almost stupefied by what she saw. Instead of exploding and becoming very angry, she just fell on the bed and started crying bitterly, completely oblivious to her daughter’s presence in the room. When the little girl saw her mother’s reaction, she realized the seriousness of what she had done. She started tugging at her mother’s skirt, calling out “mommy.” But her mother continued to ignore her, acting as though she was not even in the room. The girl cried out a little more desperately, “mommy, please!” At last, her mother responded, “yes, what is it you want?” And the little girl answered, “Mommy, please take me back.”
That little girl went to the heart of the matter. She didn't say I’m sorry or that I won’t do it again. She didn't say a lot of the things that might need to be said later. She had sensed, somehow, that the problem was the broken relationship between herself and her mother. So she cried out “mommy, please take me back.”

My brothers and sisters, that is what is at the heart of today’s Gospel. This is the point at which all true repentance begins. Every time we ask God to forgive us we are saying, please take me back. Every time we ask God’s forgiveness we are acknowledging the basic problem, our broken relationship with him. Every time we ask God to forgive us, we are positioning ourselves before God for that healing of our broken relationship.

“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”

We share in this joy by first acknowledging God’s forgiveness and then accepting it. It is not a matter of convincing God that he should forgive us. It’s not about moving God to be compassionate through our tears and pleadings. It is not about changing God’s mind and heart. Our loving God never withdraws his love and mercy. It is a matter of changing our own mind and heart. It is a matter of understanding why there will be more joy for the one repentant over the ninety-nine who have no need to repent. The reason is, of course, is that the ninety-nine don’t exist.

All of us, without exception, are called to repentance, are called to change. We are called to a better way of life every day of our life.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Just as God’s love and mercy are greater than the things that separate us from him, so too should our love and mercy be greater than the things that separate us from one another. To forgive is to acknowledge that only love can overcome the evil that divides and alienates. To forgive is to acknowledge that only love can heal the wounded relationships with one another.

So we repent. We begin by clearing out the debris from the past that continues to separate us from God and neighbor. Oh God, please take us back. I am a sinner, Lord. Forgive my self-righteousness. Forgive me for all those half-hearted efforts to understand the problems of others. Forgive me for all those times when I was too busy to listen. Forgive me for being unkind to other human beings. Forgive me for abusing and exploiting other human beings. Oh God, please take me back.

We are the Church of Jesus Crist. Lord, forgive us for our failure to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ effectively in word or in deed. Forgive us for not being salt of the earth and light of the world. Forgive us for hiding our commitment to peace and justice under a bushel basket. Because there are those who have not heard of the promise of eternal life and we are sustained by it. Oh God, please take us back. We know you never withdraw your love and mercy, so we pray, Oh God, please take us back!

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