There is only a short amount of time between now and the beginning of the season of Lent. This short time is for preparing for the season of Lent. The Scriptures for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time might give us a hint about how to do that. We are told that the kingdom is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel.
Since most of us have been trying to improve our lives through the years, we have had some practice at repentance. For most of us we acknowledge our sins, we promise to do better for a while we do better and then we fall back into some of the same sins. The staying power of our repentance and our renewal seems not to follow with our original intent. We’re reminded of the words of St. Paul, when he says that we do the things we are not to do and don’t do the things we ought to. Why is that?
When you hear that the kingdom of God is at hand, how do you interpret that? Has it affected at all how do you picture God being present to you today? When you think of the kingdom of God, do you think more in terms of heaven and the afterlife or that something is here and now that might be called the kingdom of God? I imagine that if we truly believed that the kingdom of God was at hand it might affect the choices that we make. It might help us to be more godly and be able to act against temptation. If we really believed that the here and now is as important as the afterlife, it might help us to concentrate on living in this moment.
Our daily moments are spent with family and friends, coworkers and neighbors as well as strangers that we encounter along the way of life. If the kingdom of God is at hand, it’s taking place with that same group of people that we encounter every day. This seems to be why so many of the teachings of Jesus had to do with how we treat each other, especially our enemies and those who have nothing to give us. A closer examination of our treatment of others might help us to repent more clearly and more directly. Instead of giving up chocolate or beer for Lent, we may want to take more time paying attention to those around us. We might take the time to broaden the circles that we travel in. We might listen more and judge less. We might be more gracious and less cynical.
But what does repenting have to do with believing in the Gospel? Can our awareness of the kingdom of God and noticing our sinfulness and repenting of that sinfulness help us to believe more in the Gospel? It seems that if the Gospel is not rooted in reality, it will have no lasting effect on our lives. The Gospel might be a good story, we might enjoy the life that Jesus led, and we might even be drawn to some of the teachings but if it is not somehow connected to our relationships and our commitments then it will be difficult to believe in the Gospel. Imagine how many people are turned away from Christianity and Catholicism because they know the Gospel says one thing but they see us act in contrary ways in our relationships and our commitments. Let us use these weeks before lent to to notice the kingdom of God in our life so that we might be ready to use the season of Lent is a time of repentance and renewal.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.