The need to forgive ourselves

5 December, 2021 2nd Sunday Advent, Year C

John the Baptist is among the most theologically significant figures in the Gospels. In Luke’s gospel, his birth narrative parallels that of Jesus. His conception is announced by an angel, and his birth was a surprise gift to his aged parents. The expectant mothers of Jesus and John meet and rejoice that they have been blessed by God. The children are cousins, and both will begin their mission in the desert.

Although his formative years were lived in obscurity in the desert, John’s public ministry began by calling people to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins symbolised by water baptism. Using the words of the prophet Isaiah he also called people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. His message and ministry marked the culmination of the law and the prophets and heralded the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. He was a transitional figure between the Old and New Testaments.

His call to repentance can be viewed in two ways. Looking backward, the issue can be making up for what has been done in the past. Looking forward, it can be about getting things sorted so that the problems will hopefully not recur. However, the issue of repentance is more complicated than just having two perspectives on life. Socially, we want criminals to pay for their crimes, so we send them to prison to suffer because of their actions and this is often seen as the essence of justice.

Many people share this view and believe that those who acted badly should get their just desserts in this life and if not then certainly in the next. Hell is imagined as God’s final reckoning where the God of justice prevails. However, this is hardly an adequate view of God who through the prophets and through Jesus calls us to repent. To repent is to start anew, to make sure that past failures do not predict our future, so having repented of our failures and experienced God’s forgiveness, we look forward to a better way of living. Repentance is about letting the Lord come more fully into our lives.

God is a God of love, not of vengeance, so let us start afresh in the knowledge of God’s enduring love for each of us and look forward to the fullness of life to which God has called us.

In the formula of absolution in the sacrament of penance, we hear: “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sin.”

May we hear this message of love that reconciles, believe that God has forgiven us, and be big enough to let go of the past and forgive ourselves. Repentance is not simply about the past, but about a way of living into the future in knowledge of the love of God for each of us.

Michael A Kelly CSsR

© Majellan Media 2021

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