By Bishop Robert Barron
Everyone is, in principle, interested in repentance. Whenever that call is uttered in a clear and uncompromising way, people tend to respond. No matter how high they might seem in the society, no matter how self-confident, they ultimately want God.
And so, like those who in the time of John the Baptist, we ask “What should we do? How should we live our lives?” This question, of course, tells us something else about repentance: that it has to do with action more than simply changing our minds.
We know our lives have gone off the rails in different ways, and we want to get them back on track. This is possible only through certain things we do. The spiritual life is, finally, a set of behaviors.
So what does John the Baptist tell us to do? His first recommendation is this: “whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none” (John 3: 11). This is so basic, so elemental—yet so almost thoroughly ignored! In the Church’s social teaching, we find a constant reminder that although private property is a social good, the use of our private property must always have a social orientation.
Pope Leo XIII wrote in Rerum Novarum, “If the question be asked how must one’s possessions be used, the Church replies without hesitation that man should not consider his material possessions as his own but as common to all.” And then this startling line, very effective for an examination of conscience: “when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one’s standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over.”
An early Church Father, St. Basil the Great, expressed this idea even more radically and in tones that echo John the Baptist: “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry. The cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked. The shoes you allow to rot belong to the barefoot. The money in your vaults belongs to the destitute. You do injustice to every man whom you could help but do not.”
So what should we do this Advent, we who seek repentance, we who await the coming of the Messiah? Serve justice, render to each his due, and give to those who are need.