In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. … But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:2).
Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum. … From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:12-13, 17).
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answer them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5).
As a Roman Catholic Christian who is, by the Providence of God, also a citizen of the United States, during the past week I have been understandably preoccupied with two events. One of them is an action of the U.S. Supreme Court, potentially fatal to America’s liberty, deceitfully disguised as a refusal to act. The other is a compromise of God’s will for the perpetuation of humanity, liable to be fatal to the souls of many, that may be under way in the guise of a deliberative effort to preserve respect for it.
In a backhanded manner befitting the craven nature of the deed, the United States Supreme Court refused to interfere with several lower-court rulings that involved the federal judiciary’s controversial efforts, in violation of the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to promote the specious “right” of homosexuals to marry. In a fashion reminiscent of Pontius Pilate’s pathetic effort to wash his hands of Christ’s innocent blood, the court sought to disclaim responsibility for the federal judiciary’s ongoing campaign to destroy the moral basis for constitutional government of, by and for the people in the United States.
Meanwhile, in Rome, Italy, the much anticipated Extraordinary Synod on the Family is taking place against a backdrop of unusual confusion and uncertainty in the upper reaches of the Catholic Church. The imperative of God’s love (See John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you may love one another: just as I loved you, so you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”) is being set in opposition to the imperative of obedience to God’s commands, which Christ declared to be a prerequisite condition of love (See John 14:15- “If you love me, keep my commandments”).
But Jesus also said, “If a house be divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25). Both the nation into which I was born and the Church into which I am called by Jesus Christ now seem to be dividing against themselves in just this way. In each, I see clear evidence of the division. Yet when I think it through, I see no reason for it. Each body to which I belong (the body of the people and the body of Christ) has, as it were, a soul or rational first principle. The soul of the Church is, of course, the life of Jesus Christ. The soul of the American people is the premise of justice (rightness, or righteousness) in terms of which they came into existence as a nation. These principles are remarkably self-consistent. But they are also remarkably consistent with one another.
In recent years, I have repeatedly had occasion to think about these two fundamental aspects of the moral identity of the American people, which is also, of course, my own. And on each occasion that impression of consistency has been confirmed, no matter what the context in which the principles I speak of had to be applied. A series of articles on my blog, under the heading “The Christian Federalist” offers a good sampling of this thinking; as does the series “Love, marriage and the common good.” The latter is particularly relevant given the USSC’s derelict complicity in the federal judiciary’s ongoing murderous assault on the understanding of God-endowed right on which the constitutional self-government of the American people depends.
I am moved to call attention to these articles because I think the current moral crises in both the Church and the nation to which I belong call for more than fear and lamentation. They call for decisive action. Because Christ is my leader in this regard, the account of his ministry must be my model for action. But his ministry began with a call to action, which was a call to repentance, a call to recognize and turn away from sin, a call to choose right as, in Christ, it is made known to us. But matters of right choice require an activity of mind. For it is with the mind that we reflect upon the alternatives involved. Because moral matters always involve the choice between right and wrong, this activity of mind always takes place in the presence of evil, whether as temptation or as accomplished fact. In either case, repentance is in order if any good is to come of what we do. For even when evil is only a thought, we can only repent of it by turning our mind toward God.
In English the word “repentance” doesn’t immediately evoke this activity of mind. But the Greek root (μετανοέω) repeatedly used in some form or another in the New Testament, cannot be understood without reference to it. As a matter of disposition, repentance has an immediacy that goes beyond thought, arising in and engaging our spirit. But as a matter of choice, repentance involves deliberation, a faculty of mind whereby we think through the false appearances of freedom in order consciously to recognize and enact the commands of true liberty, wherein we do all that we are bound by God to do, in order to receive and preserve the existence His present regard for us makes possible.
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 1:18-20).
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