The fruit worthy of Repentance

…Unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’ (Lk. 13: 2)

May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN

I’ve not been happy with myself for a long time. I’d lost weight and was going good. Then I spent every day for nearly a year in pain. I still went to work and I struggled through looking after the kids and at times I felt so broken (still do) physically that I’m exhausted and end up not being able to walk straight…. this is not alright by me at 34!
With the pain and me being able to do less I regressed into myself. Every attempt to overcome my isolation mostly failed. I ate and ate because it was my comfort… for 5 minutes then I’d need more…
I’m not perfect and I’m so scared of failing again and my anxiety went through the roof when I walked into the gym today but I did it. My stamina is awful but my lifting hasn’t suffered too much. I need t
o get back on this.
No more snacking. No more missing meals. Time to get back to cooking meals full of flavour and veg rather than eating “easy” meals all the time. This is Day One… this is where I fight.

Maybe you recognise Oli’s story or a version thereof? – Oli’s not his real name – but the account I’ve just read is verbatim. It came my way this week via a social media post. I might’ve just scrolled past it, except that this guy who I’ve not actually seen since we finished our GCSES, in sharing his current wrestle with depression, unwittingly echoes the malaise we all so often feel in this vale of tears. I got in touch with him. He gave me permission to share his words with you. And in so doing, he offers an insight into the kind of Lent we should all be looking to live and to embody.

Lent should be growing us as fruiterers in the harvest-field of God because we may use the opportunities it affords to pray, to study, to look, listen and be led in ways that restore us in our relationship with – and our reliance upon – Him.

It isn’t easy or pretty to go through the sort of introspection that my school friend has done lately. Oli isn’t, I think, a Christian, but his astute recognition of that self-regression in which sin lurks so insidiously at the centre – a three-letter word with ‘I’ in the middle – speaks, I think, to the Christian Lenten imperatives of examination and vigilance that bid us look out for the snares into which the devices and desires of our frail hearts so easily lead us.

Depression of itself is of course no sin; but then neither is the liberal pouring of Hendricks or Bombay Sapphire when you can get them – though both fruit quickly into behaviours which place us so very dangerously at the centre of ourselves that we quickly become trapped, isolationist and even fatally despairing. Call that food addiction or alcohol dependence. Both are sinful when we misappropriate them; their misuse does harms to us and offends God. ‘And [we] do many things like this,’ as our Lord himself noted. We can become those Sadducees who live as if there were no resurrection.

Salvation history shows the children of Israel doing it too; readily turning back to themselves and their own devices.  in a trice when the going gets tough, turning their back on the God who led them out of captivity and withdrawing perilously into themselves. It is catastrophic; they die like the Galileans and the eighteen crushed outside Jerusalem. It is not the measure of sinfulness which is the problem here for Jesus or for Paul, but rather its effects. Sin puts us in a vacuum of self-regression, which is a blight upon the seedbed of holiness because it results only in impeding our running of the race; our fighting the good fight of the faith. We perish quickly because the cares of this life choke the Word in us, yielding nothing. There is no harvest when we sow only to ourselves.

Paul in today’s epistle uses the example of the wilderness period to urge the Corinthian church, set on such a course, to repentance. And it is such a life that the horizon of Lent brings once more into view for us too. We are to be those who often take a long, hard look at ourselves and the ways we sin and not rest content until we have found the way out from them who is God himself. God imparts to us Godself as the manna and manner of life for the journey.

Oli maybe wouldn’t put it this way, yet there is a clear strength within him  enabling metanoia to take place: that change of mind which envisions transformation and the perfect state for whose attainment Cardinal Newman said we must indeed change often, for to change is to grow. Oli is changing; digging into himself in heart and mindset. He has that lowliness, penitence and obedience of heart which Archbishop Cranmer, whom we remembered last week exhorted.  Maybe the meme holds true: ‘be like Oli.’ Maybe I should be like him. If I bear fruit next year, well and good. If not, should I be wasting the soil? What about you? Where does your digging and manuring need to take place?  Where is the mire? If you begin to dig where that is, you may also find Jesus, the prudent and patient gardener waiting to restore his first fruits to the holiness for which he made you.

Lent should be growing us as in this way as we make and take the time to look for and return to God again. It should, as St. Benedict suggests, have a sense of perpetuity about it as we seek to be like little children; the small Christs on our way to our heavenly Father.

Being Christian is the most exciting journey we can ever embark upon. It means never staying as we were, but being transformed ever and again in mind and heart by the grace of God’s restorative mystery on our lives. That mystery is the resurrection and we are its chosen sons and daughters.

May we enter once again into its renewal in the days and weeks to come, and so find ourselves restored to bear our share of good fruit; that baptismal fruit of fire and Spirit: the fruit worthy of repentance. AMEN