Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
“Don’t ever change!” How many times have we tried to convince our family and friends that because we like who they are, we don’t want them to ever change.
Such a comment is meant to be a compliment and should be; however, we want to leave room for the Holy Spirit to change each and every one of us for the better, so with God’s grace, we can develop and mature into the person that God wants us to be. I like the phrase, “God loves us just as we are — but too much to let us stay that way.”
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus calls the disciples and all of us by saying, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Literally and figuratively, Jesus is telling us to not “dig our heels into the ground” to the point where we become stagnant and do not want change. On the contrary, Jesus challenges us to listen to His voice and to follow him, even if that means being uprooted from our life of luxury and leisure, and most importantly, even if it means having to say good-bye to those sins in our life that have caused us to adopt this attitude, “This is who I am, and I’m never going to change.”
Jesus tells us to “come after me,” but even before He tells us to follow Him, He exhorts us to repent: “The reign of God is at hand! Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark. 1:15). Because Jesus wants us to grow in holiness, we will never find Jesus telling us anywhere in scripture “Don’t ever change!”
The theme of change, conversion and repentance comes up often in the Bible. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “But of all possible subjects for sermons, study of the Bible inevitably leads to the conclusion that one of the most important subjects is Repentance. Repentance was the subject of John the Baptist’s preaching (Matthew 3:8). Our Lord’s first sermon was on repentance (Matthew 4:17). Our Lord gave repentance as the reason of His coming (Luke 5:32). Repentance was the subject of Peter’s first sermon to his fellow Jews (Acts 2:38) and of his first sermon to the Gentiles (Acts 11:28). Repentance was the subject Paul said he never failed to preach before Jew and Gentile (Acts 20:21). Repentance was the theme of Peter’s first message in which he asserted that the only reason God gave us more time to live was to repent (2 Peter 3:9). Repentance was the subject both of our Lord’s first sermon and of his last: ‘Repentance and remission of sins should be preached to all nations’” (Luke 24:47).
And why is repentance so important? Because repentance is the first act of the soul that turns back to God when our God, as loving Father, takes the initiative to reach out to us in order to draw us back into the fold, back into the family and back into His arms: “But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This verse tells me that our repentance doesn’t come first before God will even look at us and cleanse us from all of our sins. His everlasting love for us, which is proven through His son’s death and resurrection, comes first, and in turn, captivates, enthralls or fascinates us to the point that we want to change, convert and repent, not because we have to out of obligation, but because we feel compelled to out of love. It’s all God’s initiative, not ours, and His initiative is wonderfully spelled out in the Gospel of John: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…” (John 15:16).
I’m confident that once the Woman Caught in Adultery experienced Jesus’ overwhelming love and compassion, she was not only moved to tears, but also moved to repentance immediately as soon as she heard the voice of Jesus say, “There is no one here to condemn you. Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore” (John 8:11).
I’m also confident that the woman at the well, who had five former husbands and who was living with the sixth, was moved to repentance immediately as soon as she discovered that the Jewish man at the well was in fact the Messiah who knew everything about her and who still offered her overwhelming mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love (John 4:1-42).
The story of the Woman at the Well is the epitome of change, conversion and repentance. Archbishop Fulton Sheen walked us through her conversion by saying; “She first called Our Lord a ‘Jew’ (John 4:9), then a ‘man’ (John 4:12), then a ‘gentleman’ when she addressed Him as ‘Sir’ (John 4:15), then ‘a prophet’ (John 4:19), then the ‘Messiah’ (John 4:25).”
The change, conversion and repentance that many of these biblical figures experienced can be yours and mine, simply for the asking if we are willing to confess our sins (James 5:16), to amend our lives and to be moved to the point of repentance. The question is, are we willing to change? We can make changes now in January as we begin a New Year; we can wait to make changes during the 40 Days of Lent, which is a Season of Repentance for Catholics and many Christians; or we can choose to make some changes today by meditating on Mark 1:15: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Rev. Vialpando is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.