October 06, 2013
ORDINARY 27 (C)
“Increase our faith” – Luke 17: 5
As Jesus once said to Nicodemus, we have to be born again. We all have special memories of the emotional impact that comes with the wonder of a baby’s birth. Even more awesome, perhaps, is the realization that birth isn’t enough. A second birth is needed. Our first is involuntary: we don’t decide to be born into this world. Our second is voluntary: we can choose to accept or reject it. Our first birth brings us into existence. Our second brings us into life.
I think one of our fundamental problems in any age is seeing the necessity for a second birth. Call it a naïve belief in progress or just an uncritical assumption that deep down we know we are “good” whatever our faults may be. However, we fail to see that the human nature we are born with has a fatal flaw in it called original sin. Our seeming inability to recognize that fact is at the root of a lot of unnecessary pain & disillusionment. Denial, rationalization, laziness, & inertia all conspire to make spiritual cripples of us all. We cannot begin the journey down the road to spiritual health until we recognize the need for something more than what we were born with, & that something more is faith.
There is a word for it: conversion. It means a turnaround, a new beginning, a new insight, a new attitude & approach to life. For the most part, this is not something that happens quickly or even smoothly – it often takes a lifetime. There may be dramatic moments such as what St. Paul experienced on the road to Damascus, but he went through lots of preparation for that moment, & it took him years of subsequent experience & reflection to appreciate its significance. Most of us, I suspect, simply get to a point in our life when we look back & realize that a radical change HAS taken place in our outlook on things. But whether it be under dramatic or ordinary circumstances, Jesus makes it clear that it is essential.
What is the change that takes place? Simply this: we find ourselves in a new world where God is at the center of our lives & thinking. The living presence of God becomes real to us, & indeed, the MOST important thing in our life. Everything in life – marriage, family, career, health, hope for the future – is rooted in this living presence. Put another way, we enter into a way of life which becomes an ongoing, glorious, passionate love affair with God. This means trusting God in all things & believing His promises. It means getting rid of all the false idols in our life & being loyal to the one, true God. It means coming under His rule & obeying His commandments. It means witnessing to God’s goodness through the love & mercy we show others. It means spreading the good news of a gracious God who has revealed His awesome power to transform sorrow into joy & death into life.
One hears it said a lot these days that “I cannot accept the Church’s teaching on this, that, or the other thing.” There is always room for honest disagreement between people of good will, & some of it is due to simple misunderstanding of what it is the Church teaches. But after making such allowances, there remains a stubborn refusal to believe what can only be accounted for by a lack of conversion. One suspects that many do not approach the question within a context of faith, but are standing on the outside looking in. They want to judge that faith from the standpoint of fallen human nature uninformed by grace.
It is a part of the mystery of faith that we cannot manufacture it, we cannot earn it, & we cannot buy it. When all is said & done, we have to admit that faith is born of God’s love: it is a gift of grace. But it is still up to us to accept it & cooperate with it.
There is the story of a rich farmer who lay dying having a conversation with his wise servant named John, who said, ”Sir, if you want to receive new life from God, you will have to go to the pig sty, get down on your knees in the mud, & say, ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.’” After some protestations, the farmer finally said, “All right, I’ll do it.” Whereupon John replied, “It isn’t necessary now. You really don’t have to go to the pig pen. You just have to be willing.” Our first birth brings us into existence & our second brings us into life. We just have to be willing! AMEN!