Sunday, September 28, 2008

Is It Good to Change Your Mind?

Pope Paul VI

(Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on September 28, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 21: 28-32.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-Sixth Sunday 2008]

I knew a man that I did not care for

And then one day this man gave me a call

We sat and talked about things on our minds

And now this man he is a friend of mine

If you’re over 45—like I am—you might recognize those words as some of the lyrics to a popular song of the 1960s, “Reach out in the Darkness”. I thought of them in preparation for this homily, because they’re the words of a man who has obviously changed his mind.

In this case, what the man did was a good thing—since it led to the healing of a bad relationship he had with another human person. But the act of changing one’s mind is morally neutral in and of itself. That’s important for us to realize.

In other words, the act can be either morally good or morally evil: it all depends on WHAT YOU’RE CHANGING YOUR MIND ABOUT!

Today’s gospel parable of the man with two sons provides us with a perfect illustration of this truth.

Notice that both boys changed their minds in this story: the first initially refused to go to work in his father’s vineyard, but then he changed his mind and went; the second initially said he would go, but then didn’t.

In the first instance, the son’s act of changing his mind was good, because in doing so he ended up honoring his father by his obedience; in the second instance, the son’s act of changing his mind was bad, because in doing so he was refusing to obey the 4th commandment.

Jesus used this story to reprimand the chief priests and elders of the people, who didn’t like John the Baptist, and who refused to change their minds about him, even after they saw tax collectors and prostitutes experience genuine conversions through John’s preaching and ministry.

The chief priests and elders refused to change their minds when they should have changed their minds because of pride—and probably also because of fear: they feared that if they accepted and honored John as a prophet, they’d lose some of their power and influence among the people.

Which only proves that human nature hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years!

As was the case at the time of Jesus, people sometimes refuse to change their minds when they should change their minds, while others do change their minds when they should not.

Concerning the latter phenomenon, do you know what Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Richard Gephardt and Al Gore have in common?

They all “changed their minds” on the abortion issue—when they shouldn’t have! Most people don’t realize that all those politicians were once pro-life.

But not anymore. They changed their minds in the wrong way for material gain and to increase their popularity. Unfortunately, those are very common reasons why people change their minds when they shouldn’t.

So is the fear of punishment: you’ll recall that this is why Simon Peter “changed his mind” about Jesus on Holy Thursday evening in the courtyard of the high priest.

He was afraid of being hurt—or killed.

Or it can even be something as simple as laziness. In fact, that’s probably why the second son in this parable changed his mind and never went to his father’s vineyard: he just didn’t feel like working that afternoon!

But, thankfully, it does work in the opposite direction sometimes. Like the first son, many people do change their minds and end up doing what’s right—even when they might be tempted to do otherwise.

In this regard, a few weeks ago I came across a great online article by Dr. William E. May, in which he defended the Church’s teaching regarding artificial contraception. Dr. May is a well-known theologian, who also happens to be a married man with children—and grandchildren.

He’s not a celibate priest.

But the interesting thing is, 40 years ago—in 1968—he was on the opposite side of this issue. And he was quite vocal about it! 1968 was the year that Pope Paul VI issued his famous encyclical, Humanae Vitae, in which he reiterated the Church’s traditional teaching on this subject, much to the chagrin of many Catholics—including theologians like young Dr. William E. May. In fact, May was one of the more than 600 professors who signed the infamous “statement of dissent” as soon as the encyclical came out!

He was one of the pope’s biggest critics!

But he eventually changed his mind. And now he writes books defending and explaining the truth on this and many other moral issues. As he later said, “I was beginning to see that if contraception is justifiable, then perhaps artificial insemination, test-tube reproduction, and similar modes of generating life outside the marital embrace are morally justifiable too. . . . I began to realize that the moral theology invented to justify contraception could be used to justify any kind of deed. I saw that it was a consequentialist, utilitarian kind of argument, that it was a theory which repudiated the notion of intrinsically evil acts. I began to realize how truly prophetic the pope had been, and how providential it was that he had been given the strength to resist the tremendous pressures brought to bear upon him.”

Dr. May could have added, “Pressures brought to bear on him by people like me!

It was good for Dr. May to change his mind.

It was good for the first son in this parable to change his mind.

And sometimes it’s good for each and every one of us to change our mind.

May the Holy Spirit help us to know when those times are, and may that same Holy Spirit give us the courage we need to actually do it.