Practical repentance: Catholic homily outline for Third Sunday of Lent

Tower-of-Siloam

Central idea: Repentance. Doctrine: Lent is for repentance and renewal. Practical application: Entering our own desert through prayer, almsgiving, and penance.

To view Lectionary 30, click here.

Central idea: Repentance

Reading 1 Ex 3:1-8A, 13-15

Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro,
the priest of Midian.
Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb,
the mountain of God.
There an angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in fire
flaming out of a bush.
As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush,
though on fire, was not consumed.
So Moses decided,
“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,
and see why the bush is not burned.”

When the LORD saw him coming over to look at it more closely,
God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
He answered, “Here I am.”
God said, “Come no nearer!
Remove the sandals from your feet,
for the place where you stand is holy ground.
I am the God of your fathers,” he continued,
“the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”
Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
But the LORD said,
“I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt
and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers,
so I know well what they are suffering.
Therefore I have come down to rescue them
from the hands of the Egyptians
and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land,
a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Moses said to God, “But when I go to the Israelites
and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’
if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”
God replied, “I am who am.”
Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites:
I AM sent me to you.”

God spoke further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites:
The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,
has sent me to you.

“This is my name forever;
thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”

  • The Exodus was one of the most crucial experiences of the Chosen People. God was with them to deliver them despite the dangers in Egypt and the “difficulties, fears and infidelities” of the desert years when they discovered their “own limitations and unfaithfulness and also . . . the persistent and faithful love of God.” (HD 69)
  • At that time, God revealed his proper name, translated into English as “I am who am” or just “I AM.”
    • Every created thing has an essence—what it is. It also has existence. We know our essence and our existence are not the same because they can be separated and we can die.
    • God simply is. God is that being whose essence and existence are identical.
  • In Greece, very wise men like Plato and Aristotle were using reason to put aside the many pagan gods to discover the First Cause.
  • Already in this passage we see that the God of the Philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are one.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11

R. The Lord is kind and merciful.

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.

He pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills,
He redeems your life from destruction,
crowns you with kindness and compassion.

The LORD secures justice
and the rights of all the oppressed.
He has made known his ways to Moses,
and his deeds to the children of Israel.

Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.

  • We Christians have learned a great deal about God through the Chosen People.
    • God revealed through Moses and the children of Israel that he is One, that he is the creator of all that is, and that he is kind and merciful, bestowing benefits.
    • The proper response to being blessed by God is to bless him back by being thankful.
    • Because of our infidelities, we need God’s gracious mercy to save us from our sins. With God’s help we can repent.
    • We await final salvation from the destruction of death through which we must all pass.

Reading 2 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,
that our ancestors were all under the cloud
and all passed through the sea,
and all of them were baptized into Moses
in the cloud and in the sea.
All ate the same spiritual food,
and all drank the same spiritual drink,
for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them,
and the rock was the Christ.
Yet God was not pleased with most of them,
for they were struck down in the desert.

These things happened as examples for us,
so that we might not desire evil things, as they did.
Do not grumble as some of them did,
and suffered death by the destroyer.
These things happened to them as an example,
and they have been written down as a warning to us,
upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure
should take care not to fall.

  • The Exodus from Egypt and the forty years in the desert were crucial to Israel’s formation as the People of God: its discovery of its own limitations and unfaithfulness and its experience of the persistent and faithful love of God.
  • As St. Paul points out to us, we Christians read the words of the Old Testament and ponder the events the Chosen People experienced in so far as they (1) pre-reveal Christ and the Gospel, (2) give us instruction on how we ought to live our lives, and (3) point to the fulfillment of all things in God.

Verse Before The Gospel Mt 4:17

Repent, says the Lord;
the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Gospel Lk 13:1-9

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them—
do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”

And he told them this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also,
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down.’”

  • We live in a world in which God permits both moral and physical evil. Anyone can be harmed by a bad man (like Pilate) or by accidents and natural forces (like the falling tower).
  • We cannot know when we will die but we can know that we will die. We know by faith that when we die we will be judged by Christ. Therefore, it is vital that we be ready at every moment to give an account of our lives. Twice Our Lord says to his audience and each one of us If you do not repent you will perish!
  • The tree that does not bear fruit is like the person who is in the state of mortal sin. The first good fruit he should bear is repentance. After that can come many other good works.
  • Perhaps God gave Pilate more time so he could amend his life—and maybe he did. We can imagine those who died in the tower accident wishing they’d had more time.
  • All of us listening to the Gospel have some time because we are still alive. Let’s repent and bear some good fruit!

Doctrine: Lent is for repentance and renewal

  • Lent is a yearly opportunity to reactivate the graces we received in Baptism and to purify the faith we professed at that time (HD 69). It is not that there is something wrong with the Faith. What can be wrong is our understanding of it, or our full assent to it, or our living it out. To understand it better, to assent to the parts of it we find hard, and to live it more faithfully, we can call renewal.
  • Renewal is a process, and so it takes place over time, which is why the Church gives us forty days.
  • We can look at Israel’s experience as a prism to understand our own. Israel was formed over time. This People of God discovered their “own limitations and unfaithfulness and also . . . the persistent and faithful love of God” (HD 69). In addition, Israel could look at all her subsequent experiences in light of Exodus.
  • What about our own experience? “So for us, Lent is a time when in the wilderness of our present existence with its difficulties, fears and infidelities we rediscover the proximity of God, who despite everything is leading us to our Promised Land” (HD 69).
  • We still possess “the graces of baptism, received in infancy.” They “are not to be forgotten, even though accumulated sin and human errors may suggest their absence” (HD 69).
  • The desert of Lent “is a place that tests our faith, but it also purifies it and strengthens it when we learn to base ourselves upon God in spite of contrary experiences” (HD 69).
  • God is with us in Word and Sacrament so our faith can grow and we can bear fruit regardless of our sins (if we repent continually) and sufferings (if we offer them up).

Practical application: Entering our own desert through prayer, almsgiving, and penance

  • Why are prayer, almsgiving, and penance traditionally parts of Lent? What is their point?
  • We all have a desert inside ourselves. In it, we are alone, vulnerable, mortal. Understandably, we don’t want to go there.
    • But prayer, when undertaken with order (at a set time, for a set time, often in a set place), can put us in that desert where we are alone and faced with ourselves. Faced with our inadequacy, we can turn to God. In that solitude, we can find God with us. At the very least, we can offer God some of our “precious” time. At the very best, we can have a personal encounter with Him.
    • Almsgiving is another door into the desert. When we give away something, we feel we are giving up some of our “security.” But neither our time, nor our talents, nor our treasures can give us any real, permanent security. Almsgiving helps us face that fact. It also serves other persons. It helps transform us into the new person who makes himself a sincere gift of self to others.
    • Penance, whether fasting or some other form of mortification, is a headfirst dive into our personal desert. Penance halts our all-day, every day pursuit and enjoyment of big and small pleasures and consolations. In this emptiness, we have the opportunity to see if there is something better in life than physical pleasure and gratification of our egos.
  • So, a point of prayer, almsgiving, and penance is that they put us in our desert. There we are confronted with the truth about ourselves and can turn to God and find Him.
  • These practices also benefit others.

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

This outline is written to be in accord with the Homiletic Directory issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2014). (To read an excellent summary of the Homiletic Directory, click here.)

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