Feb 17, 2016

Our past and our future

A couple of months back I read a quote taken from one of Pope Francis’ morning homilies at Mass which are quoted daily.  Speaking of conversion, he referenced the lives of saints and reminded us of the danger of judging or labeling people by their past lives and maybe indiscretions.  We believe the grace of God, through mercy and forgiveness, offers every one of us a new beginning.  When that grace takes hold and we move forward having repented and adopted a new way of living, then the past is the past.  We are who we are today, not then. 

Imagine, for example, if the woman caught in the act of adultery and shamefully brought before Jesus for his judgement, (a Lenten Gospel coming up) were forever labeled "that adulteress" no matter how different her life may be now. She turned her life around through the mercy of God in Christ and now has become a faithful disciple of Jesus.  But the crowds might say: "O he hangs out with that adulteress."  Terrible judgement.    

So the Pope stated:  “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”  The call to conversion is universal but if we never assume that people can change, that we are all condemned to be judged by our past, then none of us would have a chance.  Some of the greatest Saints, in their past, lived unholy or at least non-saintly lives.  St. Ignatius of Loyola, Francis of Assisi, even Blessed Mother Teresa (soon to be Saint) lived a very ordinary life as a nun teaching the children of wealthy parents until her deeper call to work with the “poorest of the poor.”  St. Vincent de Paul desired to work in the court of royalty as a Chaplin hoping for some career advancement in the clerical life.  Yet, the plight of the many poor in the back neighborhoods of Paris touched his heart and the focus of his life changed. 

The first reading for this Wednesday from Jonah 9: 1-10: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021716.cfm tells a powerful story of conversion.  Not just for one individual but for an entire city – Nineveh.  The preaching of the somewhat reluctant prophet Jonah, who went to the notorious city unwillingly at the request of the Lord, preached the message of warning:  “Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed.”

Their sin, Jonah implied, would bring them destruction.  Then, amazingly the population heard this warning and began a city-wide call for penance: “When the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.  When the news reached the King, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.”

The King didn’t even stop with himself but called even the cattle and sheep in the fields to do the same!  They too must join us in the city-wide act of repentance for sin.  An amazing moment that likely brought the prophet Jonah to great awe.  Of course, then: “When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened . . . he did not carry it out.”

Can you imagine what might happen in America, if we too, nation-wide undertook an act of repentance for sin?  The point of this all is that if God can spare a city with a notorious past and turn it around to face the future with a renewed sense of right and good purpose towards him, consider what is possible for every one of us personally. 

We’ve all had a past but we all have a future. If there is anyone in your life, for example, who you still judge and label by how you knew them years ago, let it go!  Though they may be different now, you've ignored their present state and held fast to past memories of their younger years.  Let it go! 

If it’s been a while since you’ve gone to confession, plan to do so as soon as you can.  As we all were marked on Ash Wednesday, we heard: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  Or another way of saying it: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”  Conversion may be somewhat easy in some cases and hard in others but for all of us, myself included, this is a time to begin again in God’s great mercy.

God desires not our destruction but our life.  Peace.