Thursday, March 8, 2007

Sunday, March 11 ~ Third Sunday of Lent

Luke 13: 1-9

1 There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? 3 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Silo'am fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." 6 And he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, `Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?' 8 And he answered him, `Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. 9 And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

Questions for Reflection and/or Discussion

This week a friend shared with me a discussion she had with her husband and son about hell. They were distraught in reading in a book that those not in a state of grace at the time of their death will most definitely go to hell. They were worried about those who didn’t have time to get to Confession. She was struggling to explain to them this truth while commending their compassion for these lost souls. Do I really believe there is a hell? Do I believe it is possible for people to go there when they die? Do I believe it is possible for me to go to hell? How do I feel about people going to hell?

It was such a timely discussion, as this week’s Gospel speaks of the same uncomfortable quandary. Jesus is assuring His listeners that they will go to hell if they do not repent and bear good fruit. He is telling us the same. It is true. Some people, probably some we know, will die and go to hell for lack of repentance or bearing fruit. I pray it will not be me or you. Do I know someone in need of repentance? Am I praying for him/her/them? Do I witness to them by my daily walk?

Most importantly for each of us, this is an opportunity to evaluate our lives. We cannot change the past, but we can look towards the future. Like the fig tree, we have relatively little time left before our judgment. Am I ready? Am I living the Christian life I should be living? Am I producing good fruit for our Lord? What about my life do I need to change right now? Do I hope for the blessing of purgatory and eventual welcoming to heaven?

Our pastor responded to my friend’s experience by reminding us that there is justice. Our God is a just God, and He will send those to hell who do not keep his commandments. Otherwise, there would be no righteousness. While this may seem harsh, when people choose to turn away from God, they are choosing their own eternity. Father also reminded us that there are different degrees of grace. A person in mortal sin will go to hell without repentance, but most of us are probably headed for purgatory. We frequent Confession but still commit venial sins quite regularly, especially the sin of idolizing anything other than God. He said if you die on your way to Confession or having planned to go to Confession shortly, your sins are forgiven you. Do I frequent Confession often in preparation for my judgment? Am I in a state of mortal sin and need immediate Confession? Do I turn away from my venial sins once they are forgiven and not commit them again or do they compound with repetition, potentially equating to a mortal sin? What eternity do I choose?

With outstretched arms he begs us to turn toward him, to weep for our sins, and to become the servants of love, first for ourselves, then for our neighbors. Just as water extinguishes a fire, so love wipes away sin. ~ St. John of God