God calls us to conversion, offers what we need
By Father R. Michael Schaab
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Sept. 27
Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 25:4-5,6-7,8-9; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32
Our bodies convert nutrients into tissue. Football teams often attempt a 2-point conversion in close games. Builders convert single family homes into duplexes. This Sunday’s Scripture readings are all about conversion and those who convert, although the word “conversion” itself is never used.
All conversion involves change. The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel refers to the change of a sinner becoming virtuous as well as the change of a virtuous man becoming a sinner. The Gospel from Matthew talks about the two brothers and the change each of them experienced in responding to their father’s orders. One initially agreed to follow the orders to work in the vineyard but changed his mind; the other refused to follow the orders but also later changed his mind. What is most important, though, is what is unique about the change that occurs in the conversion that Jesus is calling his followers to experience.
The first unique aspect of this conversion is that Christ calls us to a fundamental change at the very depth of our being. It is more than simply a change of mind because it results in preserving our life. How does this happen? We know that Christ has been exalted and now lives forever. The conversion he calls us to unites us to him so that we can share his eternal life. We are to have the same mind and heart as Jesus. We are called to think and love as Jesus. As Paul says in the second reading, “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.”
AN ONGOING PROCESS
But how is this possible? How can you and I, as Paul says so often in his letters, “Put on Christ?” Well let’s be honest, we can’t do it alone! So why is Christ calling us to the impossible? Here it’s good to keep a contemporary saying in mind, “God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called.”
God calls us to conversion, and at the same time offers us what we need to convert. And that leads to the second unique aspect of Christian conversion.
While there are times in our lives when we have a heightened awareness of putting on Christ, times we call a “conversion experience” or “accepting Christ,” the fact is that conversion is an ongoing, lifelong process for a person of faith.
While there are times in our lives when we have a heightened awareness of putting on Christ, times we call a “conversion experience” or “accepting Christ,” the fact is that conversion is an ongoing, lifelong process for a person of faith. We never completely put on Christ in this world. Seen from God’s eyes, there is never a time in life when God is not inviting us and enabling us to convert. Today’s Responsorial from Psalm 25 points out some of the ways this is happening.
Twice in the Psalm we are reminded that God teaches and guides us. We’re called to remember how God has done this in the past by reflecting not only on the Scriptures but also on the lives of the saints and of ourselves and our loved ones. In rediscovering the encouragement of Christ, the participation in the Spirit and the divine compassion and mercy that others have experienced, our memories sensitize us to God’s contemporary action in our own lives. As the Psalm says, by remembering the Lord’s compassion from of old, God shows us the way today.
“HUMBLY REGARD OTHERS”
Conversion becomes possible because we are invited to participate in the very Spirit of Christ himself. Inspired authors and spiritual guides down through the ages have shared many methods for responding to this invitation. Prayer, meditation, fasting, pilgrimages and the Mass itself are held up to encourage us. Paul in today’s reading from the Letter to the Philippians, reminds us of a third unique aspect of Christian conversion.
Both the invitation to participate in conversion as well as the encouragement and power to respond to that invitation are all bound up in our attitudes and relationships with others. Quite simply, to put on Christ we must put on one another,
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.”
Father R. Michael Schaab is a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria who gives retreats and days of recollection, and who fills in as presider at parish Masses on weekends. He resides on a hobby farm in Putnam County.