Tuesday, December 16, 2014

“The Church is not a theological classroom. It is a conversion, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and sanctification center, where flawed people place their faith in Christ, gather to know and love him better, and learn to love others through grace as He designed.”

“Neither fear nor self-interest can convert the soul. They may change the appearance, perhaps even the conduct, but never the object of supreme desire... Fear is the motive which constrains the slave; greed binds the selfish man, by which he is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed (James 1:14). But neither fear nor self-interest is undefiled, nor can they convert the soul. Only charity can convert the soul, freeing it from unworthy motives.” ― St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Gospel Text: (MT 21:28-32)
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
The son said in reply, ‘I will not,’
but afterwards he changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the Kingdom of God before you.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

The heroes of the faith make quite a lineup! Moses the murderer, David the adulterer, and Jeremiah the complainer are only the start. There’s also Francis the libertine, Ignatius of Loyola the vain soldier of fortune, and Augustine the womanizer. But despite their broad array of vices, all these saints had one thing in common. Like the first son in this parable, they had a change of heart that radically altered their lives. Because their no became a yes, they have left us a legacy of holiness that we can all relate to.

It may be tempting to think that all of the saints knew what would happen when they said yes to God’s call, but that’s probably not what happened. It’s more likely that they experienced a gradual softening of their hearts, and with each softening, the yes became more confident and more apparent, leading to dramatic conversions and history-changing events.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus makes reference to the unsavory reputation of some of his friends. He says that the grace of God works with the humble of heart and not the self righteous. Obedient faith is always the final test for Jesus in Mathew's gospel. Neither son in the story was the kind of son to bring joy to the heart of any father. Yet in the end one was better than the other. The first son realizes he needed to repent. He faced his conscience, laid down his pride admitted his wrong without any excuse. He fulfilled his work realizing his insolence may have marred his work, but he did his best and God recognized his good deed.

The first son is an example of how we need not be slaves to our insolent self. We realize that promises never take the place of performance. Fine words are never a substitute for fine actions. Jesus says the one who is open to Jesus' message of mercy enters the Reign of God. God is faithful. Those faithful to God's message will be blessed. You can recognize them because they respect everyone's freedom. God holds himself against “good people” (Pharisees and Scribes) who complain God is too merciful. God forgives sinful people. This is one of the messages that Pope Francis speaks about so eloquently.

One of the best ways to ensure a soft heart is by going to Confession. There is a grace in this beautiful sacrament of mercy that cuts through our excuses and our objections. Through Confession, we find the grace to say yes to the Lord more and more often, simply because we are tasting his love, and that love is changing us.

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