In St. Augustine’s Confessions he tells of his conversion experience, “I was weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when I heard the voice of children from a neighboring house chanting, "take up and read; take up and read." I could not remember ever having heard the like, so checking the torrent of my tears, I arose, interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book and read the first chapter I should find. Eagerly then I returned to the place where I had laid the volume of the apostle. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: "Not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." No further would I read, nor did I need to. For instantly at the end of this sentence, it seemed as if a light of serenity infused into my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.
In today’s gospel we encounter conversion. Jesus asked, “which of these did the father’s will?” The response was, “the first.” We need to understand that it wasn’t the son who had the right words with no actions who should be considered the “good son,” but it’s the son who understands conversion of heart. Conversion may not always come instantly but it’s authenticity is revealed in one’s action, as was the tax collectors and prostitutes who believed John’s message and “are entering the kingdom of God.” Because the tax collectors and prostitutes believed they changed their evil ways. The same occurs with us, once we believe and change our bad ways then we can enter the kingdom of God.
The gospel is a perfect example of the famous saying of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always and use words if necessary.” Belief isn’t just saying prayers, professing our creed but it’s about action. Those who believed in what John the Baptist said, changed their ways and just didn’t repeat his words. It might be true that old dogs can’t learn new tricks or leopards can’t change their spots but we as Christians always have the ability to change our old ways. We hear in scripture that we can’t put new wine in old wineskins because they will burst the same occurs with us.
It is common in today's world to find Catholics who openly disagree with core Catholic teaching. We all know people who say that they are Catholic, but who don't come to Mass on Sunday - they only come on Christmas and Easter, if they come at all.
We all have heard or read about politicians who say that they are ardent and practicing Catholics, but who publicly support laws that go directly against some of the most basic tenets of morality as taught by the Catholic Church.
If we are honest with ourselves, we even recognize in our own lives this same tendency. We call ourselves practicing Catholics, and yet we spend more time working on our favorite hobbies than on our prayer life, and we spend more time becoming an expert in our profession than in our faith, and we tolerate in our own lives hidden habits of selfishness and sin while we criticize other people for their more visible faults.
If we think about it a little bit, we see very clearly that this contradiction between what we believe and how we live is not a good thing. It is like the second son in today's parable. He impressed his dad with fancy words and a good show of healthy obedience, but underneath the surface he was still living for his own self-centered gratification, not for the greater good of his mission in the Father's kingdom.
When we fall into that contradiction, it is no wonder that we don't grow in our experience of Christ's love and grace, and it is no wonder that we don't grow in wisdom, interior peace, and the deep Christian joy that we thirst for. Faith, if it's real, makes a real impact on our lives. When it doesn't, our spiritual growth is stunted. So let us today be those people with a conversion of heart that live out the gospel message to all four corners of this world.