In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
After Christ was baptised, the first words that He said were: ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’. Why? Because after we have been baptised, we are always tempted and the only way to end temptation is to repent. But what exactly do these words mean? What is repentance? What is the Kingdom of Heaven?
In order to understand the meaning of the word repentance, we must first understand the nature of the opposite of repentance, the reason for repentance – sin. Sin comes to us in three stages.
Firstly, we have a thought, a temptation towards evil. Secondly, we entertain that thought and imagine its attraction until it becomes irresistible. Thirdly we act on that thought that we have entertained. These are the three stages of sin.
Repentance also has three stages.
Firstly, our consciences are pricked, we have the thought that what we have done is bad. Secondly, we entertain that consciousness and develop it until action becomes irresistible. Thirdly, we act. These are the three stages of repentance.
Repentance then is not just an idea, a thought, it is above all an action. Repentance is a change of mind which leads to a practical and visible change in our way of life.
Yes, it is true, that often we seem to come to confession with the same sins as before. Yes, it is true, that often we seem to make no progress, that although we have done wrong yet again, we have no tears, no depth of repentance to make us change our way of life. However, this should not mean that we lose hope, that we despair. That would be to fall to another temptation of the demon, the thought that we are unable to repent and that all our efforts are futile. Merely coming to confession and saying that we are weak, that we have done wrong yet again, that our repentance lacks depth, is an act of repentance in itself. As the Gospel says, we must forgive even unto seven times seventy. Moreover, by continued repentance and the determination to repent, eventually depth of repentance and tears will come to us.
If this is repentance, what then is the Kingdom of Heaven?
Firstly, the Kingdom of Heaven was Christ Himself Who spoke these words to the people of that time, before whom He stood. The Kingdom of Heaven was indeed at hand, for He stood before them.
Secondly, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand in another sense and stands before us in the here and now. The Kingdom of Heaven is here and now, but it depends on our willingness to accept Christ and His Holiness, Mercy and Grace. At this very moment each one of us is in fact able to meet God and enter into His eternal joy, but only if we wish to do so through deep repentance. The joy of the Kingdom of Heaven, simply the state of contentment with God, our well-being, is open to all who wish to accept Christ, the Word of God.
Yes, it is true that our well-being does to some extent depend on whether we have a job, a roof over our heads, enough money to pay our way in the world. But none of these things is absolutely essential, for there are people who have all these things but are still unhappy, they do not have the Kingdom of Heaven. And there are people who have none of these things and yet they are happy, they have the Kingdom of Heaven.
This reminds me of film-stars who marry and then divorce, remarry and redivorce and do this six or seven times, and each time blames the others for the divorce. In fact it is the film-stars who bear the problem inside themselves, in their selfishness and hardness of heart.
It reminds me of someone who goes from country to country and job to job, blaming each uprooting on others. In fact the problem is carried in the suitcase, the problem is with the instability of the person, their inability to get on with others, it is not in external circumstances.
It also reminds me also of the old folk-tale about happiness, which goes like this:
There was once a King who was very sad. He was told by his advisors that he should send out servants to find someone who was completely happy, take the shirt from his back and put it on. Then the King would be completely happy. So the King sent out his servants and they searched up and down the kingdom. Eventually one of the royal servants found a man who was completely happy. The servant returned to the King with the good news. The King asked impatiently: ‘But where then is the man’s shirt’? ‘Unfortunately’, replied the servant, ‘this man who was completely happy was so poor that he did not have a shirt’.
In other words the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven depends ultimately not on our external circumstances but on ourselves, on our interior disposition, on our ability to repent. Indeed it is only if we repent that the Kingdom of Heaven at hand.
May God grant us the desire for that repentance.