Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword - Conversion - To change one's thinking:
The first reading from the Book of Jonah describes two acts of conversion. In the first instance, Jonah, a Jew to the back teeth, is moved to abandon his prejudice against the Gentiles and to obey the Lord by going to preach to the Ninevites. Then, reference is made to the conversion of the Ninevites. Here, we need to remember that not all of the Scriptures are strict history, but frequently, the accounts are parables employed by different authors to make a very real point. The Book of Jonah was not written by Jonah, but by an unknown author some three centuries later, who named his writing after Jonah, and the point he seeks to make is the need for the Jewish people to break from their narrow-minded religious bigotry; to recognise that God's love is for everyone..

St. Paul's epistle, like so many of the early Christian writings, is influenced by the conviction that the second coming of Christ would occur in the not too distant future - a sort of millennium mentality. Therefore people should recognise the urgency to turn from all that would distract them from their ultimate destiny - union with God.

The Gospel makes two calls for conversion. Firstly, people, generally, should "repent and hear the good news"; and, secondly, the call to the Apostle to turn from their every day pursuits to follow Christ.

Point 1: The need for conversion is as present in today's society as it was in the times of which we have just been reading.  Archbishop Hickey, echoing the call by Pope Benedict, frequently speaks of the increasing secularisation of our society and its willingness to frame laws without reference to the mind of God. His recently released publication, "Living Biblically" is, as he says, a call to be part of the great plan of salvation that began with Abraham and Moses culminating with the coming of Jesus Christ. And  it is possible to sense an unease in many people's minds over the rapid disappearance of "values" in society. Particularly is this so with regard to an absence of trust amongst people.

Point 2: The early religious history of the Jewish people - from which our traditions derive - had been one of an open and very close co-operation with God. The relationship had been a very real and personal one and laid heavy emphasis on a person's dependency. But, a fundamental human weakness appeared resulting in people thinking that they could go it alone. Their lives were no longer God-centred. From that point onwards, the religious history of the Chosen People became a series of repeated calls to repentance. A call repeated by John the Baptist and taken up by Christ.

 This spirit of repentance did not so much centre in 'sorrow for sin' in the conventional sense; what it implied was a reversal of life-style. The word used by Christ actually meant "to turn completely around" - a "switch-back" as it were. His plea is for people again to recognise their dependence; for them to give up their stand of phoney self-reliance and again to see life as a series of co-operative acts between creature and Creator. Such a renewed attitude gives rise to a sense of trust and confidence; so much so, that the oft repeated phrase "God help us" assumes the character of a prayer instead of being an expression of hopelessness. This is what the theologians call "grace" - God's help coming to people, but only on request. Prayer and the Sacraments are the visible signs employed by people to indicate their need for God's help. Every stage of life is matched by a corresponding sacrament, or sign, by which we indicate our desire to co-operate. Baptism, Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, Orders, Matrimony and Anointing.

Practically, it is worthwhile to be on the alert against a spirit of pseudo-independence which leads us to imagine that everything depends on our own efforts.  A succinct reminder of our dependence came my way, recently, with the comment -"Imagine the price of air if it were brought to you by another supplier"!

Scriptural reference: "Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:4-5)