The parish welcomed the archdiocese's only deacon at Mass this morning. Rev. Mr. Pablo Santa Maria is in his final year of studies for the priesthood at the Seminary of Christ the King. The congregation responded very warmly to his homily, a call to personal conversion. Deacon Pablo kindly allowed me to put his text on my blog.
Today's parable is not among the best known of the parables of our Lord, however, it presents us with a powerful lesson...an invitation to conversion...conversion of heart and life, so that we can develop a relationship with Christ and so that we can find life.
In the first reading, the Prophet Ezekiel gives Israel a message from God. He speaks of those who have done right, but then turned to sin. These people will find punishment. Then he speaks of those who did not lead a virtuous life, but have a moment of conversion and turn their lives around. They will find life in abundance.
Christ repeats the same lesson to the priests and Pharisees; he puts this parable to them, a legal case for their opinion. Two sons, one who says no to the father's request and goes and does it, and one who says yes, but does not carry out his father's will. Which one has done the right thing? Who carried out the father's will?
These two sons represent two groups of people: identified with the first son are the sinners, in this case the tax collectors and prostitutes, who repent at the preaching of John the Baptist, and turn their life around. The theme of conversion and forgiveness was an important theme for Matthew (author of today's Gospel) since he had been a tax collector and found forgiveness.
Identified with the second son are the religious authorities of Israel—the Pharisees, the elders and scribes; all who refuse John's message. With this parable our Lord reiterates what we have heard before "...there is cause for great rejoicing in heaven, for one sinner who repents than for one hundred righteous..." This parable reiterates that joy, our Lord's predilection for sinners who repent, who turn their lives around, who find a moment of conversion.
But what is conversion? Some of us have heard the word before: conversion is turning our life around; it's like when we're driving and we make a U-turn when we come to an intersection that is taking us away from our goal.
The saints are wonderful examples of conversion, like St. Ignatius of Loyola or St. Augustine. Both led lives that were not exactly virtuous, both experienced a conversion and left their sinful ways and became great saints, teachers and examples.
Conversion is something we have to come to experience and to life. In our lives there will be a time in which we have to respond to the big questions..."do I want a relationship, a friendship with Christ?", "Am I going to be satisfied with a mediocre spiritual life?", "Am I ready to be holy?" This is where we'll make that U-turn in our lives.
However, conversion is much more than a one-time change. It is an ongoing process. In the Alcoholics Anonymous program, the members say, "today I will not drink". The members of AA have already made the decision to stop drinking, but they have to renew that commitment every day. It's an ongoing attitude that goes on for the rest of their lives.
For us Christians, in our spiritual life, it is much the same; as Pope Benedict has said, the "being a Christian can only take the form of becoming a Christian ever anew". It means saying yes to Christ, to his friendship, to his challenge of becoming a saint, of not letting ourselves be satisfied with mediocrity. [See Joseph Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching]
St. Josemaría spells this out very clearly. He writes "In our life as Christians, our first conversion--that unique moment which each of us remembers, when we clearly understood what the Lord was asking from us—is certainly very [important], but it is the following conversions, the subsequent saying yes to the Lord, the become a Christian everyday that is going to be increasingly demanding. It's not an easy call; but then again Christianity is not an easy way of life; it is not an invitation to mediocrity, but a challenge to grow in holiness and in love with God." [St. Josemaría, Christ Passing By, n. 57]
Now, we can feel discouraged and even intimidated, but we all experience this challenge in many areas of our life; in all the things that are really worthwhile; in our school work, our careers, our marriages, our relationships. These all demand time and a daily struggle; and it is the same for our relationship with Christ.
So as this new week begins, let us be solid in our resolve to be Christians, let us say yes to the Father who asks us to work in his vineyard of our holiness, let us go out there and take concrete steps; I cannot tell you what, but something concrete that will move us toward conversion. And let us do it joyfully, for this conversion will only be real when we can say yes to the Lord with joy in our heart.