Saturday, January 14, 2006

Conversion: It’s from the HEART to the HEAD to the BODY

"Behold, the Lamb of God!"

(Second Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on January 15, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 1 Corinthians 6: 13-20; John 1: 35-42.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of the Year 2006]

In one of his many books, Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote about a boy he once knew. Listen to his description . . .

“[This young man] would not comb his hair, wash behind his ears, clean his fingernails, or come to the table with clean clothes. And when he went out the door, he always slammed it. [But then] one day he came down, hair combed, clean clothes, hands well-washed, and clean behind the ears. And when he went out the door, he closed it gently. His parents could not understand it. They had begged, coaxed, pleaded, and bribed to no avail. [What they did not realize was] he had met Suzie.”

Here we have a boy whose behavior—whose actions—radically changed (much to the joy of his parents!). But those visible changes in his external behavior were the end result of an internal process—a process that started in his heart.

It all began on the day when he looked at Suzie and said to himself: “She’s really cute; she’s really nice; I like her!”

From there, the process moved to his head. He began to think differently, and to say to himself things like, “If I want to make a good impression on this girl, if I want her to like me, I had better clean up my act—literally! I had better stop looking and smelling and acting like a homeless person!”

That thought—and others like it—eventually motivated him to make the bodily changes his parents noticed (combing his hair, washing his hands, etc.).

This radical change in his life (which, in a certain sense was a kind of “conversion”) began in his heart, moved to his head, and finally manifested itself in his body.

And so it is with genuine conversions of faith. Under ordinary circumstances, they begin in the heart. They do not begin with external activity, although that’s where they ultimately manifest themselves.

Let me give you an example. After they attend Mass on a Sunday or holy day, our Confirmation students are now required to get an attendance form signed by the priest or deacon of the Liturgy, in order to certify that they were in attendance. You will see Deacon Fran and I doing this after Masses every weekend. Unfortunately, some of our teens were getting a bit lax about coming to church, and this is one way to make sure that they all get here.

Now, do I think for one moment that this means they’re converted? Do I think that their attendance alone means that they know Jesus and love Jesus and want to serve Jesus in their lives?

No way!

For that matter, do I think that an adult Catholic is faithful and devoted just because he or she comes to Mass every Sunday and holy day?

Not at all!

Please don’t get me wrong. I hope and I pray that for each of us coming to Mass is an outward sign of our inner conversion to Jesus Christ and his Gospel. But I am well aware of the fact that it might not be! We might be here because someone has forced us to be here! We might be at Mass every week simply “going through the motions,” so to speak.

Conversion does not begin with Mass attendance! It does not begin with that external, bodily action. It will eventually manifest itself there (if the conversion is genuine), but that’s not where it starts.

It starts in the heart. The real reason why I’m requiring the Mass sign-in for our teens is to get them into this building, so that they will be in an atmosphere of faith where they will have the opportunity to open their hearts up to Jesus and his truth.

But that’s their choice. They can choose to sit here every week with their hearts closed—as we all can; or they can say Yes to the Lord and open them up.

Conversion is from the heart to the head to the body. And I’m sure St. John and St. Andrew would agree with me, because that’s precisely the way it happened for them. Just take a look at today’s Gospel reading. There we hear about how these 2 men went from being “fishers of fish” to being “fishers of men”.

One day they were standing with John the Baptist (probably by the Jordan River), and Jesus happened to walk by. John pointed to our Lord and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

If nothing else, that made Andrew and John curious, and so they began to follow after Jesus. But soon their bond with our Lord went far deeper than mere curiosity. Within a very short period of time, Jesus had succeeded in touching their hearts.

That fact can be discerned, incidentally, from one little line in the story. I’m talking about this one: “It was about four in the afternoon.”

At first glance, it seems rather trivial, doesn’t it?

I mean, who cares? Did it really matter what time it was?

If St. John were standing here among us today, I think he would respond by saying, “You bet it mattered! It mattered a lot! Because you see, this was the hour that our lives were changed forever! It all began at 4pm: Jesus invited Andrew and me to spend the rest of the day with him—and we did! And what he said to us during that special time touched our hearts and convinced us that he was the Messiah—the one we and all of Israel had been waiting for.”

People who are in love often remember the very first time they saw or met their beloved. They can tell you where they were, what time it was, and sometimes even what they were wearing.

And so it was for these two apostles: they remembered where they were and even what time it was when they first encountered their Savior!

Their hearts were touched—and so were their minds—during their visit and discussion with Jesus. Their personal conversions, in other words, went very quickly from their hearts to their heads.

And finally, their conversions affected their bodies (in other words, their actions).

Andrew immediately took his body to his brother Peter, and shared the Good News with him. He said to Peter, “We have found the Messiah,” and he brought him to Jesus.

Then all of them left their fishing businesses and took their bodies on the road with the Lord for the next 3 years.

Conversion is from the heart to the head—and then to the body.

This can help us to understand why some people find it nearly impossible to be faithful to the commandments: It’s because they haven’t allowed Jesus Christ into their hearts! They’re trying to make their bodies obey God without the power and incentive that comes from a transformed heart. And that’s extremely difficult!

For example, we all find the words of today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians 6 challenging, don’t we? St. Paul says to us, “The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. . . . [So] avoid immorality. . . . Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you? . . . Therefore glorify God in your body.”

That’s very hard message to live up to, especially in our hedonistic culture.

But if we’ve allowed our hearts to be touched by Jesus, the power and the motivation to be pure and chaste will be much greater! It still will not easy; but it certainly won’t be impossible.

Think of Augustine, who lived back in the 4th century. Before his heart was touched by Jesus he felt powerless to avoid immorality. Consequently, his moral life was a mess! Among other things, he lived with a woman and fathered a child by her out of wedlock. But after his heart was transformed through the reading of a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he was not only able to be chaste, he was also able to live the life of a saint.

And he eventually became one!

Today let’s ask St. Augustine—as well as St. Andrew and St. John—to pray for us, that we will let the Lord into our hearts, so that we will experience the kind of total conversion that each of them experienced: from the heart to the head to the body.