Delay Not Your Conversion

Sirach 5:1-8

Newspaper or magazine articles many times will deploy what is called a “pull-quote”- a key phrase, quotation, or excerpt that has been pulled from the article that is restated and embedded into the column in a much larger font, in an eye catching fashion. Its purpose is to highlight a key topic within article and to entice readers to read the whole thing.

 

Looking at today’s readings, for me, the pull quote is within the first reading: “Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day.”  This line, and these two readings when looked at together, encourage us to bear down, do whatever it takes, and do it as soon as soon as possible, to bring ourselves into harmony with the Lord.

 

The book that we all received at Mass a couple of Christmases ago here at St A’s was entitled “Resisting Happiness” by Matthew Kelly. In that book, Kelly makes the point that in our own human nature, our inclination toward “resistance” causes us to be our own worst enemies when it comes to the pursuit of happiness. “Resistance” as he tells us, is the sluggish feeling of not wanting to do something that you know is good for you, or the inclination to do something that you unabashedly know is not good for you, and it’s everything in between.  It’s the desire and tendency to delay something you should be doing right now.”

 

We resist holiness just like we resist happiness.  In fact, you could easily say that the two go together – a holy life is a happy life. We know what it takes to be holy - we hear about it every day at Mass and through our scripture reading, but we still put off those things that we know we should be doing.

 

A “pull quote” from Chapter 7 of Resisting Happiness says: “Resistance loves keeping us busy with anything but the one thing that will most help us grow.” In the busyness of this world, working at a job or busy in retirement, we can easily find plenty to do, but not all of our activity moves us closer to being holy.  Our readings similarly encourage us not to let time get away from us, presuming our righteousness, putting off asking for pardon from any sinful tendencies or wrongdoing.

 

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is very arresting in his rhetoric as he warns against sins of the flesh as he tries to encourage in his listeners a sense of urgency. He says:

 

"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off!" Our hands can bless others with loving touches or they can deliver a back-of-the-hand or worse.
 

"If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off!" Our feet aided us in making our way to daily Mass today.  They can also put us in position to do good works for others, but they can also take us to places that we ought not go, where temptations abound.
 

"If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out!" Our eyes can lead us to a state of meditation as we gaze at the sky or our stained glass windows, or they can take us to places on the internet where we ought not go.

 

Jesus says to all of this, "Cut it out!" This might lead us to ask, why be so dramatic about all of this?  Isn't his language kinda extreme?

 

Well, remembering that pull quote from the first reading, “Delay not your conversion to the Lord”, I suppose it's sort of like the doctor who needs to be rather blunt with his patient because, if he doesn't effectively get the point across to him or her of the urgency of their condition, they may not take the steps necessary to try to get better.

 

From our pull quote, the word "conversion" is translated from the Greek word epistrepho which means "to restore, to return, or to come again".  In our conversion, God restores us to himself and fills us with his living water.  When this takes place, we know his love more deeply.  We experience new hope in our battle against temptation.  We know that God is on our side, and that knowledge gives us strength to make that next first step when “resistance” is fighting us.

 

How about another “pull quote” from Matthew Kelly’s book which can provide us with a solution: “When you are discouraged or caught up in procrastination, simply do the tiniest thing to move whatever you are working on forward.” Hey, that’s the advice we probably gave our kids a time or two – start small, one step at a time, and ask for God’s help.
 

And so we ask God today, help us, inject in us the energy we need to start this day with a renewed spirit and sense of urgency, to fight temptation and those sinful tendencies that have gnawed at us over time. Help us slay that dragon of resistance and take that next first step toward conversion, to be the holy disciples you created us to be. We know that by pursuing holiness, we will find happiness and a joy on this earth that will only be surpassed by the joy that is promised us when we see your face one day in the kingdom of heaven.

 

Amen!

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