Saturday, September 24, 2011

26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: Conversion means turning towards God and towards others.

O Lord, you had just cause to judge men as you did: because we had sinned against you and disobeyed your will. But now show us your greatness of heart, and treat us with your unbounded kindness.

The words of the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass this Sunday opens us once again to the consideration of the reality of a God who not only is holy, God who by definition is utterly separate from the world and yet rules it with His loving providence, but a God whose name is also Love. This love of God is made manifest to us especially in the mercy that he has for us, in the forgiveness that he continually bestows upon us. Such is the greatness of His Heart: that it does not keep record of our sins; that while deeply offended and hurt by our sins, He has had nothing but love and forgiveness for each of us, and calls each to conversion. This is something that is most pleasing to Him, recalling the words of St. Maximus the Confessor, who said that there is nothing more pleasing to God than that man may return to Him with sincere repentance.

The readings of today’s liturgy help us to consider how important it is for us to respond to this call to conversion, which is an integral part of our Christian vocation, a call to which we must respond time and again in our life of discipleship. The First Reading, taken from the Book of Ezra, not only does show us the justice of God, which is far above that of man’s, nor of the holiness of God, but also reveals to us once again how much man’s conversion means to Him. It means much to our Lord that man lives, for it is in here that he is most glorified, remembering the words of St. Ireneaus of Lyon, who said that the glory of God is man fully alive. Man can only live fully as he was made to do being with God, and being with God means sharing his very life, that intimate life of union and love of the Blessed Trinity. In opposition to this is death, which is the fruit of sin, which is nothing else than the rejection of that very love which the Lord continually offers us. But if he returns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die: in depth we have received the invitation to live fully the life promised to us by God in Christ; conscious of our own weakness and sinfulness, we are led to realize once again that in order to share this life we have to answer the call to conversion, to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel, to fulfill the will of God in our lives.

This turning away from sin and doing the will of God in the particular circumstances of our daily life brings us to consider the experience of the two sons in the parable told by the Lord to His disciples. Here we could distinguish the obedience of one and the disobedience of the other. The attitude however of the obedient son (who was reluctant at first but in the end was precisely the one who fulfilled what his father wanted) move us further consider the example of Jesus himself: in the life and person of the only Son of God, who was obedient unto death, and death on the Cross, we are able to learn what loving God truly means. Allowing this same filial obedience and love of Jesus in our life means responding to the call of conversion and walking along this path, which leads us to face God, to contemplate that loving face that is revealed in the human face of Jesus.

But this path of conversion would not be complete if we are not converted for others as well. It is not enough to be converted to God; Christian conversion has a social dimension in the sense that the life of communion with God brings us to live this communion with the people around us, those whom we live with, those whom we share our daily life with. It is to this effect that St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, which we have heard in the Second Reading, admonished the Christian community to be in the same mind, with the same love, thinking of one thing…regarding others as more important than oneself, not looking out for one’s interests, but that of others, in effect, having the same sentiments of Christ. This was precisely how the Christian community in Jerusalem, soon after the descent of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost, lived: multitudinis autem credentium errant cor unum et anima una (Acts 4:32), the company of those who believed were of one heart and mind. This is an important consideration that we have to make, since we cannot love God hidden within our shell. It is impossible to love God all alone: this love needs to manifested and shared, a love which is actualized in a life in community, in communion with others as well. The conversion that is required of us by Christ is one that takes us away from our selfishness, from individualism, from egoism, which is a common temptation and is a reality in our life today.

Let us ask for this grace to be converted to Christ, so that, transformed by His love and forgiveness, we may be able to share with others, and thus live this very life of communion with God in the communities we are asked to build. Amen.

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