Conversion - a change of heart
January 26, 2003

Al Cariño
3rd Sunday in OT
Reproduced with Permission

Suppose someone asks you the question, "Are you like Christ?," what will your reaction or answer be?

You may be annoyed at being subjected to a question as personal as that. So you may answer back, "That is none of your business!" Or you may turn the question around and say, "Is anybody?" Finally, you may frankly but humbly answer, "I am afraid I am not but I would like to be."

I am positive that most people who are serious with their being Christians are aiming for the third option, namely, to be like Christ. For implied in this is our desire to be united with Him now so that we will be happy with Him forever in the next life.

This being so, where do we go from here? We may find the answer to this question in the gospel reading (Mk. 1:14-20) where Jesus at the start of His public ministry said, "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."

What Jesus in effect said is that with His coming, He inaugurates the Kingdom in which He is King and to which He invites everyone. The precondition for acceptance and membership in the Kingdom is repentance, conversion -- which is really one and the same as our acceptance of Jesus as Savior.

What does conversion mean? To be converted means to turn around, to have a change of heart. To make this more concrete, let us picture ourselves walking on a road. At the end of the road is the Kingdom where Jesus is King. Before conversion, we are walking away from the Kingdom. With conversion, we make a turn around and begin walking towards it. Put another way, the Kingdom of God becomes ours only if we repent, turn our backs to our old way of life and begin a life according to the teachings and deeds of Jesus.

What happens when we embrace the gift of conversion -- gift because we can never merit it and God dispenses it to whomever He chooses? When we are converted, a change in life takes place -- from a life of sin to a life of grace, from a life without Jesus to a life with Him, from exclusion from the Kingdom to inclusion in it and from self-centredness to God-centredness. All these -- they are really one and the same but only expressed in different ways -- are either/or situations, not both/and. Thus, we are either with Jesus or separated from Him, living in sin or living in grace, etc. There is no middle ground.

After conversion, we begin "to follow Jesus," to be His disciples. This is what happened to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John -- as Mark tells us in the gospel reading. After Jesus called them to follow Him, they made a turn around -- they left their nets, their livelihood and their way of life -- and began to follow Him.

In our present context, discipleship does not necessarily mean abandoning our present state of life, e. g., our being parents, our livelihood, etc. What it means is to reorient our values, to rearrange our priorities in life. It means placing Jesus above everything else, learning from Him and sharing His life and destiny. In short, discipleship is a call to a new way of life. With it, we cease to live for ourselves and begin to live for and in Jesus. With it, we also stop being self-centered, and begin to be sensitive not only to the needs of others but also to be at their service.

Is conversion a one-shot affair? Not at all. With conversion, a life of intimate union with Jesus begins. As we go on learning about His life and teachings and then compare what we discover with the way we live, we will find out that we still have a long way to go. For the goal that Jesus sets for us is nothing less than perfection itself. For did not Jesus say, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect?" Obviously, we can never be perfect; we can only approximate it. Thus, after our initial conversion from sin to grace, there are still a lot of "little conversions" that we have to go through. And with every effort we make with God's help, we make ourselves less and less imperfect. Conversion is therefore a lifetime grace and task. And this is "good news" because it means that before God nothing is settled, nothing is sealed.

Where do we find ourselves in this regard? Are we for or against Jesus? This is a very important question and our answer to it will affect our whole life -- its meaning and direction.

Let it be our prayer that God will give us the grace to discover where we are right now -- for or against Jesus. If we are not for Him yet, let us pray for the gift of conversion, for a change of heart. And if we are already with Jesus, let us pray for another gift, namely, the grace to persevere, to progress from grace to grace.