From the Pastor’s Desk

My Dear Parishioners,

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the theme of repentance and conversion is clear. The Law of Moses required the annual day of Atonement on which the Israelites would rededicate themselves to following God’s Law, making atonement for their sins. Time and again the prophets called the people to repentance, to turning back to God. Rejecting sin and turning back to God was a goal of one’s faith and devotion to God.

However, at the time of the Gospels, it seems that many of the leaders of the people of Israel had ceased to understand this. The chief priests and the elders seemed to regard sinners, especially serious sinners, as permanently lost. They were quick to point out the need for repentance for other people, but considered themselves as righteous before the Lord. Many centuries later St. John Vianney would say that a parish in which many people go to confession is a holy parish since to repent of one’s sins is a gift of the Holy Spirit and where there are many penitents, the Spirit is strong and at work.

The chief priests and elders in today’s Gospel did not seem to recognize God at work when the sinners-prostitutes and tax collectors-were moved to a change of heart at the preaching of John the Baptist. Jesus sees this repentance, not only as the work of the Holy Spirit, but he also presents it as proof that he is the Messiah. When some of the leaders of the people ask for a sign, Jesus says no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah. Jonah was the sign of resurrection after three days in the belly of the whale, and also a sign of the necessity of repentance. When the people hear Jesus, many of them repent of their sins. That the Spirit moves people to turn away from sin because of their faithfulness to Jesus proves that he is the Messiah. It is the Father’s will that people repent of their sins and turn back to him.

Jesus poses the parable of the two sons to the chief priest and elders. He compares them to the son who says he is going to do the father’s will, but in fact does not do it. The chief priests and elders give the right answers to the questions about God and faith, but Jesus implies they do not do what the Father asks. Sinners affront the Father in their refusal to obey his law, but their later repentance and obedience atones for their initial failure.

One can never underestimate the power of repentance, not only to change a person’s life and redirect it toward God, but as a sign of goodness and faithfulness. Too many approach the sacrament of penance as if God somehow despises them since they are sinners. They fail to understand the reality that Jesus teaches just the opposite. Repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit and it is good that we have and use this gift. When we ask for forgiveness and receive it from a loved one, it occurs as part of the process of love between us. This is also the case when we repent of our sin because of our love for God. God forgives us because of his passionate love for us. This love was shown most perfectly in the selfless love of Jesus, who died for our sakes on the cross, precisely so that our sins might be forgiven.

All God’s Blessings,
Msgr. Maresca