John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees: "Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves,‘We have Abraham as our father.’” ~ Mt3:8-9
Complacency is an occupational hazard of participating in a two-thousand year old belief system. We grow up with certain rites, rituals, and religious expectations and we don’t really give much thought to how authentically we are acquitting ourselves.
The exterior facade looks great. That is, we attend church on Sundays. We accurately recite the formulas and prayers of the liturgy, confessing both our sins and our faith. We perform the external actions of worship that we learned from our parents or grandparents—kneeling, standing, clasping our hands in prayer, opening the hymnal (well, maybe not if you’re a Catholic, because everyone knows Catholics don’t sing!).
But what is going on behind the pious facade? Are we experiencing our faith within our spirits? Do we approach its practice intentionally and from the heart, or are we merely riding on the coattails of tradition, like the Pharisees whom John excoriates in today’s Gospel reading? John has no patience for those who rely on their religious heritage as evidence of their virtue. He demands nothing less than total and energetic conversion of heart.
The repentance John calls for is a reshaping of the inner self. In this process, prayer is an essential chiseling tool, helping us chip and carve off whatever bits of our lives block us from God, whatever pieces of calcified behavior or thought obscure the truth of our soul. As we deepen our relationship with God and gradually align our will with God’s, we begin to produce good fruit.
O God, Give me the tools of prayer and reflection that I need as I reshape the contours of my inner self during this season of preparation. Amen.