It’s a bit of a paradox that in my meager experience as a priest, that the words of one of the most popular and emblematic Mass entrance hymns exhorts people to sing a new song, and yet it’s the same song being sung for the nth time. I am of the opinion that the reform of sacred music would benefit priests in the first place; at least it would spare us from the agony of being the Mass to the tune of the choir singing a passable version of Sing a New Song. I’ve heard it a gazillion times I’m not even sure anymore if that’s actually the title of the song in question.
But joking and irony aside, this is precisely what the liturgy for this Sunday invites us to consider. Poets and the likeminded among you would agree with me when I say that our lives could be compared to a song. Each of us carry ourselves through life singing one tune or the other depending on the situation and the mood that we’re in at the moment. Some sing a tragic dirge, as if expecting the skies to come crashing down upon them at any moment, some sing a pleasant melody; others seem to float, borne through the strains of a love song. Others, however, live life so much that that they don’t content themselves to a single song: they are an orchestra in themselves, sounds blending into a perfectly harmonious whole. We have a special affinity to this type of expression, so much so that life and song are easily intertwined and lost in each other, life being exalted in song, song expressing life.
This is such, that a change of song would imply a change in one’s life. In our consideration the Christian message this Sunday, this turns our thoughts to the reality of our Christian vocation, which seen from a different aspect is none other than a life of conversion, of change. The first words of the Entrance Antiphon of this Sunday’s liturgy opens to our eyes the consideration of this reality: Cantate Domino canticum novum! Sing to the Lord a new song! The story of the conversion of Niniveh, which we hear in the First Reading, shows us two things: that the Lord always calls us to conversion, something which is always timely, and that it is never too late to come running back to God, and secondly, that obstinacy in sin will only cause us destruction. This is perhaps something that we take lightly these days, the notion of sin. We have exiled the consideration of sin from our society, banishing it as something that is purely a fruit of psychological malaise, as mere guilt. We have lulled ourselves into believing that banishing the fear of offending God effectively takes away the sad consequence of a life that is lived outside of His Law. St. Paul would always remind us that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23); no matter what it may promise us, the fact is that a life away from God’s law, from His love, always makes us become destructive, both for ourselves and for others.
One would thus comprehend the prayer that the psalmist says, which we have this Sunday in our Responsorial Psalm: Teach me your ways, O Lord! It is only in learning His ways that we are able to drink from that water that gives us life. In the learning process, listening is indispensable, and thus it is important that we take heed of the proclamation that our Lord Jesus makes in the Gospel: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel”.
Here evidently we hear the call to conversion, which is a central idea to the whole preaching of the Lord. The recognition of one’s insufficiency before God, that without God we are nothing, the confession that we have done evil precisely because we have preferred creatures over our loving Creator, whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us also as Father, is what conversion means on one hand. It means recognizing our own sinfulness and effectively making the decision to turn our backs on sin. On the other hand, being converted means facing the opposite direction: if now we have turned our backs to sin, it is because we have moved in order to face God, and discovering that our Father God has reserved his loving and merciful gaze for each one of us. Conversion means rediscovering who we are before such a gaze: children of God! See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are! (1 Jn 3:1). Repentance, conversion is the primary condition in order for the Kingdom of God to take root in us.
Basically, the message that is being made out to us in order to apply to our minds is that we have to constantly respond to this call to change, to make up, to return, to start again. To realize that not everything is OK in our lives and that we have to start again, repair what is broken, acknowledge what is wrong, do what is good. To recognize that we need the Lord in our lives in order to be OK. To live not anymore according to the old coordinates that we’ve had in the recent past; to do what St. Paul in the Second Reading had admonished the Corinthians: not to live according to the spirit of this world, which is swiftly passing away, but to live according to the reality that never changes: God is love, and we are children of God, and that we partake of life truly in the measure that we live according to this Love that comes to us in Jesus Christ.
Have you changed your song?
First Reading: Jon 3:1-5, 10
Second Reading: 1 Cor 7:29-30
Gospel: Mk 1:14-20