During my sophomore year at Michigan State, I applied for Officer Candidate School (OCS) for the Marine Corps. At the time I was quite skinny, a bit of an introvert, and lacked self-confidence. These aren’t the attributes of a Marine officer. Not long after meeting with my recruiter, a squared away Gunnery Sergeant, I realized I needed to get myself prepared if I was going to make the cut. The Gunny told me I needed to put on weight, and not just weight, but muscle. He told me to start running. He also told me I needed start walking tall. The Marine Corps recruiting slogan at the time was, “The Few. The Proud.” Marines, and Marine officers, did not walk around with their head down… as I did.
I never realized how much I walked with my head down until I started trying to walk with my head up. How I managed not to run into other students I have no idea. To constantly remind myself to walk with my head up I recalled having watched a military movie in which there was a boot camp scene. The drill instructor was barking out a cadence for the recruits to help them keep time while running. One cadence call that stuck with me was, “Ain’t no use in lookin’ down! Ain’t no discharge on the ground!” As silly as it sounds, I kept repeating that cadence in my head as I walked to and from classes, and it worked! It wasn’t an immediate change, but eventually I was constantly walking with my head up – and what a different view it was! I started noticing classmates passing by that I didn’t realize I had passed before all the while staring at the sidewalk. Ultimately, a mild case of asthma kept me from being accepted to OCS, but the time and process was not a complete loss. Simply going through the application process and preparations brought about a good change in me. I was a little stronger, a bit more outgoing, and ended up with more self-confidence.
Jesus, in a way, is much like that Marine recruiter. Just as that Gunnery Sergeant told me I needed to make changes in my life to prepare for OCS, Jesus, in our Gospel reading this weekend, is telling us to change, or in his words, to repent. We need to change our ways to prepare for the Kingdom he promises. Repenting, or changing our ways, doesn’t get discussed a lot outside of Lent, though repent does appear 77 times in the New American Bible, Revised Edition. But changing from sin is a critical aspect of our relationship with God. It seems we tend to focus on the loving God, and downplay that God is loving AND just. We tend to focus on the Jesus who did not condemn the woman about to be stoned for adultery and downplay that he also told her to go and sin no more (cf. Jn 8:10-11). Jesus, at the very beginning of his public ministry tells us to repent, gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, dies and rises from the dead because the Father is loving AND just.
Change is not easy. It takes time and effort. It also takes awareness of a need to change, like my found awareness of how often I walked with my head down. To repent from those things which separate us from God we need to become more aware of them. One way to grow in awareness is to make an evening examination of conscience. Through this simple step of reflecting on the day in light of the Ten Commandments and the Seven Capital Sins we can become aware of our sinful ways, especially some of the seemingly smaller sins like gluttony, sloth, or gossip as the Archbishop referenced in his homily last Sunday. With that awareness we can take steps to reduce those occasions when we sin.
Just as asthma kept me out of the Marine Corps, sin keeps us out of a full and loving relationship with Jesus. Let us listen and respond to our heavenly recruiter, Jesus, by using this Lenten season to change, to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. “Ain’t no use in talkin’ bad. Sin just makes Jesus sad!”
In the peace of Christ and Semper Fi!