Virgil Elizondo speaks about conversion. After 15 years as founder and director of the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, Virgilio went on to be pastor of San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio (I think the oldest cathedral in the U.S.) He says: “As one parishioner told me, ‘I like to come to San Fernando because in hearing the words of Jesus explained to me, I discover good things about myself I had never suspected, and I can’t wait to leave church so I can put them into action.’ ” My own understanding of Christian conversion was redefined by this experience: a discovery of the goodness within us that we have not yet activated. Our most painful and destructive sin is the failure to recognize the God?instilled goodness within us. If we do not recognize it, how can we activate it? No wonder the Gospel call to conversion is called “Good News”.”
(I believe it was Thomas Merton who spoke about the “false self” and the “true self”. Part of our spiritual journey is to get into contact with our false self in order to live more from our true self. Lent is a time to do this work. But I believe getting in touch with the God-instilled goodness within us can also release us from our false self.
So my Lenten conversion attempts will be to let God show me some goodness in me that I have not activated or put into action. I extend to you the invitation to join me in this Lenten Conversion adventure.
1ST Sunday LENT “C”
Making contact with our own felt goodness
Introduction: The Gospel presents us with the devil tempting Jesus.
It would seem that the temptations hinge on the words, “If you are the Son of God“ This is exactly what the devil is challenging. All that Luke tells about Jesus in the rest of his Gospel depends on Jesus’ passing this test with honor.
Homily: As we begin Lent the Gospel takes us back to the end of Jesus’ forty days. We begin our forty days, Jesus ends his. One may wonder if these temptations are real, literal or symbolic. Surely the comparisons with the years in the desert are not coincidental. Forty days, forty years; desert for the Jews, desert for Jesus. The challenge to turn stone into bread reminds us of miraculous manna to feed the wanderers. The desert people denied God to follow a golden calf. Jesus is challenged to tempt God. But here Jesus is faithful, the Jews were unfaithful. When we are living out of our false selves we are unfaithful.
During Jesus’ public life people tempted him to multiply loaves. People wanted to make him an earthly king. The people called for spectacular signs to attract people. Jesus didn’t give in to any of these temptations.
On Ash Wednesday we heard, “Come back to me with all your heart.” My call to conversion this year is framed in the words of Fr. Virgil Elizondo, ” a discovery of the goodness within us that we have not yet activated.” Many years ago I thought of Lent as returning to the loving embrace (arms) of God our Father. I used another expression then, “to be hugged by God.” It seems to me that when we do get a good hug we are affirmed in our goodness. Some years back a diocesan priest Psychologist and a Medical Mission Sister Psychiatrist set up a program for clergy and religious called The House of Affirmation. At this facility programs were offered to assist us in “making contact with our own felt goodness”. Before being able to feel this goodness I had to make contact with my own self defeating behaviors. It was truly a grace for me to avail of what the House of Affirmation offered. This lent we should try to let ourselves be hugged by God. We must let our loving Sacred Heart of Jesus speak to our hearts. Pope Francis has repeated again and again that God never tires of showering us with mercy. We tire of asking for mercy. Once we receive God’s mercy we are called to be more merciful in our action. God wants us to feel our own felt goodness.
When we come in contact with the holy, we also become more aware of the unholy in us. Last Sunday’s readings gave us three examples of people getting in contact with the holy and then becoming aware of their own unholiness, Isaiah, Paul and Simon. Perhaps this Lent we can come closer to Jesus, accept his mercy and discover goodness that we have not activated. Once this goodness is discovered, then we are called to action, to activate the goodness that we discover.