Repentance – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 18:9-14a, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When priests hear confessions, once in a while there will be someone who would come in and say, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, my last confession was this-and-that. These are my sins. Father, I was very angry with someone because…” and what follows would be a litany of another person’s sins… “because he did this, she said that, he’s really nasty with people, she really mistreats her kasambahay, he gets drunk and beats his children, she spreads rumors, etc, etc”. In such cases, priests are instructed to very politely remind the penitent, “Uhm, excuse me lang po, ma’am/ser, ikumpisal po natin ang sarili nating kasalanan, ho?” Karamihan, nagugulat sa sarili tapos natatawa. “Ay, sorry, sorry po, Father, pasensiya na.” Nadala ng emosyon kaya biglang nagbuhos ng sama ng loob. But there are still quite a few who don’t get it. No matter how many times you remind them to confess their own sins, they still end up enumerating offense after offense of other people, as they sound angrier and angrier. When this happens, sisters and brothers, I actually end up not being sure of what to do! But what I’m sure of, though, is that the person is not quite ready for the sacrament of reconciliation. How do you help a patient to heal, so to speak, if all the patient tells you are symptoms of another person’s illness?

One of my students asked me last week, “Father, di po ba Jesus came into the world to save all sinners? Pharisees were sinners. So, Jesus came for them, too, right? But Pharisees always get bad reviews, Father.” Her point was that we shouldn’t be over-critical about Pharisees because Jesus came precisely for all sinners, self-righteous Pharisees included.  A very good point. But see, salvation consists of two very important movements: God’s loving movement of transforming us from our selfish ways, and at the same time, our movement of acknowledging that we are sinful and need to be transformed—what we call repentance.

“But, Father, can’t God forgive sinners who don’t repent?” I’m sure God can and God will, for nothing is impossible with God. But that’s only one movement of salvation,and God being willing to forgive us is not the problem here. The problem is the other movement of salvation, our movement as sinners, the acknowledgment that we need saving. Hindi po nagkukulang ang Diyos sa pag-akay sa atin patungo sa pagsisisi at pagbabago. Pero sapat ba ang ating pag-ako ng pangangailangan nating magsisi at magbago? I love our Tagalog word, “pag-ako,” to acknowledge, to take the responsibility—because pag-ako comes from the root word, “ako”. And pag-ako is such an important movement towards pagbabago. An alcoholic, for example, may hate being hooked on alcohol. In fact, many alcoholics apologize to their family the morning after they’ve had a bad night. But an alcoholic will not be transformed unless he finally admits he’s addicted. An abusive father may regret hitting his children. But nothing will change with that regret unless he accepts that he’s violently sick and needs help. A devout Catholic may go to confession and believe she’s a sinner. But if she believes more that everybody else is a worse sinner than she, even if confession is real, it might not be transformative. The Pharisee in today’s parable has a perfect score in obedience to the law. But he doesn’t see his need for saving because he’s perfectly righteous. So how much further into God’s heart could the Lord take him even if he wanted to? So, yes, as far as Jesus’ movement is concerned, he comes to save all sinners, including the self-righteous. But that’s not the problem. Are we repentant enough to approach God & really say, “Diyos ko, makasalanan po akong tao. Inaako ko po na dapat po akong sisihin. Maawa po kayo sa akin”?

You know, sisters and brothers, as a priest who has heard many confessions, the truly repentant think of themselves as the worst of all sinners, much like the publican in today’s gospel. And it’s very difficult to convince them that God still loves them in spite of their sins. But you know what’s even more difficult, sometimes even impossible? To make the self-righteous see that they are sinful. So what do you do? What do you say to someone who sounds as though he’s already saved himself?

At the end of the day, dear sisters and brothers, we really have nothing to boast of before God. Wala po tayong maaaring ipagmalaki sa Diyos. Whether we’re righteous or sinful, whether I’m a priest or you are lay, whether someone is up for beatification and canonization while the rest of us continue to struggle to surmount our selfishness—we are all sinners and need God’s saving. Wala po talaga tayong maaaring ipagmalaki sa Diyos.

The good news is, God moves for all of us to be saved and saved lovingly; all, without exception. So we do our turn and move towards God.

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