Once again, I have invited Fr. Marvin Labasan to share his thoughts on this Sunday’s readings, and I thank him for graciously accepting my invitation. Here is his homily.
Many of us started the New Year with resolutions. After a few weeks, it is good to look back and ask ourselves how we fare with our resolutions. Do we still keep them? How consistent are we with our resolve?
We may have varied resolutions, but our hope in making them is true for all: to become a better version of ourselves. Unfortunately, no matter how good our resolutions are, we soon realize we fall and move away from them. We find ourselves returning to our old habits. Often we begin the year with strong determination, but never get to finish what we started. Our enthusiasm quickly fizzles out like “ningas kugon.” Why?
Today’s gospel may provide an answer. The evangelist Matthew tells us that Jesus started his public ministry with the instruction, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The Lord’s first instruction was repentance. Like our resolutions, repentance is a resolve we take to change the course of our life’s direction. We repent because we want to change.
The Greek word used by Matthew for repentance is metanoia, which means a change of mind. Repentance is not just a matter of feeling. It starts with a conviction and disposition that something ought to be changed. This disposition must begin with a change of mind, for what we think influences what we feel, and what we feel influences what we do or say.
We often think of metanoia or repentance as turning away from vices, sins, addictions and the like. Metanoia is not only an act of turning away from something. It is also an invitation to turn towards another thing. It is natural that when we turn away from something, we automatically turn towards something else. The question is, to what or to whom are we turning?
The experience of Peter, Andrew, James, and John in the gospel is a clear illustration of metanoia. When they decided to turn away from their livelihood and leave their father, they turned towards the Lord. This teaches us that when we aspire to change, we must turn away from what we usually do and turn towards the Lord. When we decide to change and be freed from sin, vice or addiction, it is not enough to say no to them and to turn away from them. Repentance is “re-turning” to God, and as we turn again to God, we must leave everything behind and follow Him.
The common problem with our resolutions is that we rely too much on our human capacity and discount God’s power and mercy, who alone can transform us and make us into who we truly are.
It is only by turning towards the Lord that we can refashion ourselves. That is what he did to Peter and the other apostles. He said, “I will make you . . .” That is what he does to us, as well. When we turn to Him, he makes us more than we are. When we turn to Him, God’s dreams and hopes for us are realized. This is what he meant when He said, “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” It is a Kingdom where God’s hopes and dreams for humankind are realized. A kingdom where He is the King and not Paul, Apollos, Cephas, or some celebrities we follow on social media, or even ourselves.
The reason why resolutions fail and why conversion is always a challenge is that we merely turn away from what we detest, but fail to turn towards God. If we want conversion and our resolutions fulfilled, we need to return to God.*