Sunday, September 07, 2014

Conversion is hard. But it's necessary. (Sunday homily)

The readings are all about calling people to conversion. 
The “watchman” in the first reading. 
The method of providing correction in the Gospel. 
And the challenge for all of us to have an open heart 
to hear that call to conversion.

Saint Paul reminds us of the commandments. 
As the “watchman” appointed for Russia, I will do the same. 
Despite what you may have heard, 
all the commandments remain in full force!

Is that all there is to calling us to conversion? I remind you?

If only it were that easy.

The truth is, conversion is often painful. 
If you’re hooked on something – 
food, alcohol, anger, pornography, gossip – 
giving it up is going to be really hard. 
It’s humiliating, to have to face the power these things have, 
and how weak we are. 
And it’s embarrassing to realize 
what whiny-babies we can be about some things.

That’s changing ourselves. That’s hard enough.
Then there’s confronting others. That’s even harder.

The process described in the Gospel is hard to get just right.

We all know people, I think, who see this passage, 
and then they have a green light to get all up in someone’s face; 
and we’re watching, from the sidelines, cringing. 
It doesn’t work; it really makes things worse. 
And the person who did the confronting—because Jesus said so!—
is saying, “Gee, I don’t know what went wrong?” 
But we know; we saw the whole thing.

On the other hand, 
we all know people who really need to do some confronting, 
some speaking up…they don’t do a thing.

The balance is so hard.

So what, do you think I just gave us all permission to ignore this? 
Not at all. I’m just reiterating my point: conversion is hard. 
But it’s also necessary.

Last week, the comedienne Joan Rivers died, 
and there were a few people talking about 
what she’d be like in heaven. 
That’s what we often do: try to picture ourselves, 
or others, carrying on with our habits and preferences in heaven.

Look, I hope Ms. Rivers makes it to heaven, pray for her soul – 
but is that really what heaven is? 
More of the same as here?

Does that even sound like heaven to you?

People gossiping around the pop machine at work: 
Do you really want an eternity of that?

So the point I’m making is that while conversion is hard, 
it’s not something we can just skip.

It reminds me of when I was in high school. 
I’d get home on Friday afternoon, 
and I’d have a pile of homework to do. 
All this reading; these language worksheets; a paper; 
memorize the periodic table. 

It was so discouraging. 
So I’d go do something else; I’d have dinner, I’d watch TV—
and it was still there when I went to bed Friday night. 
Still there Saturday morning. And night. 
And after Sunday Mass. Still there when Sunday night came. 
The job didn’t become easier by avoiding it. 
And Monday morning was judgment day.

Well, thankfully, there’s more to heaven than high school! 
Aren’t you glad?

All right, I’ve stated the problem. 
What do we do with it? Here are some suggestions.

First, don’t dodge it, admit it: we need conversion.

As far as what may need to change? We’re all different. 
I have sins I confess over and over, and you might say the same.

Second, talk to the Lord about what you’re going to tackle. 
Is it more prayer, or more serious prayer, in your life? 
Is it overcoming a sinful habit? 
Is it being more truly generous? Correcting a fault? 
Repairing a relationship? 
Your resolution is up to you.

Third, make a plan. It can be a really simple plan. 
Start somewhere, even if it’s small.
Be practical. If you use bad language, how about a “swear jar”?
Do you know what that is? 
Every time you use one of those words, 
you put a quarter, or a dollar, in the jar. 
Then you give the money away! Ouch!

Is the Internet causing you problems? 
Put your computer in a public place. 
The rest of you? 
When someone moves his or her computer to the living room? 
Don’t. Say. A. Word. 
Part of what’s hard about conversion 
is we make it hard for each other. 
Let’s help each other in gracious ways.

Fourth. Go to confession. Can’t leave that out. 
I know it’s embarrassing; 
I am embarrassed sometimes when I go to confession. Just go. 

Fifth. Accept that you will have to give up something. 
Or take on something hard. 
One way or the other, there will be sacrifice. 

And this is a good place to say, 
it’s not going to be the same for everyone. 
One person can have a few drinks, but stop at the right time. 
Another person, can’t even have the one. 
It doesn’t seem fair. Don’t compare yourself to others. 
If you go to the gym, they person ahead of you 
was benching 400 pounds. Yeow! 
You’re embarrassed, you can barely manage 200. 
Then the guy after you? He moves the weight down to 50!

Also, it should be obvious that what I’m talking about here 
is shedding bad habits, and embracing a more challenging spiritual life.

None of this is about “accepting” 
or giving permission for someone treating us badly. 
Conversion and sacrifice are about how 
we become better, stronger, fuller people. 
More truly alive in the Holy Spirit. 
It’s not about how we become better doormats. 

Finally, never give up. 
It is the enemy of our souls who says we can’t change, 
we have no hope, and that the last sin we just committed 
ran out our credit with God. None of that is true. 
God is never lacking in mercy for us; 
he is bigger than all our sins, all sin in the world;
and there is no sin, no combination of sin, 
which will change God’s love for us. 
He never gives up on us! 
Anyone who goes to hell, ends up there not because God gave up, 
but because they gave up—or weren’t willing to try.

Didn’t you ever wonder why, when our Lord created the sacraments, 
he gave us Holy Mass, over and over and over, 
and we have confession, and we can go, back, and back and back?

This is why. There’s a light on for us—and it’s always on. 

1 comment:

ndspinelli said...

I like this sermon, Padre. You have a very good way of using real world experiences to convey complex ideas. I think your path makes you different than many priests who go right into the priesthood out of college. I would love to hear you deliver a homily. Too bad you live in the Buckeye state!!