SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Bar 5:1-9; Ps 125:1-6; Phil 1:4-6.8-11; Luke 3:1-6 ]

We are resistant to change.  Indeed, the call to conversion is often unheeded.  We are creatures of habit and we resist change.  The call of John the Baptist for the repentance of sins was not well taken by the Jewish leaders.  They thought they knew everything and that they did not need someone to remind them of what was the right thing to do.  This is true especially for those who are religious leaders, priests and laity alike, who are very much involved in church work.  We always direct the call to conversion to others, but not to ourselves.

What is actually the call to conversion?  It is not so much to change to something that we are not.  This is often mistaken to mean a call to become better.  In truth, conversion is to return to our original dignity as sons and daughters of God.  We have been created in God’s image and likeness.  Indeed, St John says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.’  (1 Jn 3:1)

But we have forgotten our dignity because of sin.  The sin of our first parents has wounded our nature, causing us to lose our preternatural gifts.  We have lost our ability to control our will and appetite.  We have lost the gift of infused knowledge to be able to wisely choose the right things and make the right decisions.  We have lost the ability to integrate pain and death into our lives, often seeing pain and death as negative when they are meant to help us to live our lives faithfully and courageously.   If we find it difficult to give up our old way of life, it is because we are ignorant.  We cannot see what is truly good for us as we are blinded by our sins. We think what the world offers can give us life and happiness.

Indeed, St John says, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”  (1 Jn 3:1-3)  To find our identity again, we need first and foremost to find God because God is the ultimate self-fulfillment in man.  Without God, man has no meaning and no purpose.  The only reason why we are created is to share in the life, love and the glory of God.  Man’s vocation is a divine vocation, a call to be in union with God who is the source of life.  If the world finds life meaningless or they live without a real purpose, it is because they have forgotten their divine vocation, which is to become God’s image and likeness.  St Paul wrote, “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”  (Eph 1:4-60

So conversion is not about sacrificing our good life, or giving up something beautiful and precious.  Conversion is to seek the ultimate truth and ultimate good which is found in God.  Conversion is to return to our original identity before the fall of our first parents.  They were invited to share in God’s life and love, but they rejected that divine call.  They wanted to do things their way, and find their own self-fulfillment without God. They wanted to find life without God.  This is what the world is doing.  This is what humanism seeks to do.  They believe that they can find the fullness of life without the need for God.  Of course, when we use the word, “God”, we mean that every man is seeking the Transcendent because life is more than food and drink.

In order to find this life, all we need to do is to give up those things that prevent the beauty of God from shining through us.  Isaiah cried out, “Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you, put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head: since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven, since the name God gives you forever will be, Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.”   Indeed, the way for us to share in God’s life is to live a life of integrity and devotion.  By so doing, we restore the peace and honour that has always been ours.  It is the lack of integrity that causes us to be at war within ourselves, and then with others.

It means removing all the obstacles that prevent the Lord from manifesting Himself in us.  This is why Isaiah and John the Baptist urge us to level our pride.  “A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low, winding ways will be straightened and rough roads made smooth. And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.”  The moment we are humble, we will be able to see the greatness and beauty of God.  Indeed, when we straighten our lives, we begin to see things in perspective.  We will no longer be at the service of money and power but money and power will be at our service.   We will no longer be slaves to our passions or to the world, but the world will be a slave to us for the service and the glory of God.  Indeed, as Isaiah prophesied, “For God has decreed the flattening of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills, the filling of the valleys to make the ground level so that Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God. And the forests and every fragrant tree will provide shade for Israel at the command of God; for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory with his mercy and integrity for escort.”

To find integrity, we need to find focus in our devotion to God.  This is what the Lord says, “Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights and turn your eyes to the east: see your sons reassembled from west and east at the command of the Holy One, jubilant that God has remembered them. Though they left you on foot, with enemies for an escort, now God brings them back to you like royal princes carried back in glory.”  God is the One who will restore us to our royal dignity and glory.  Christ is the one who by His death and resurrection restores us our dignity as children of God when we die with Him in baptism and rise to a new life in the Spirit in Him.

Indeed, conversion and restoration is ultimately the work of God.  This is what the psalmist says.  “When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage, it seemed like a dream.  Then was our mouth filled with laughter, on our lips there were songs.  The heathens themselves said: ‘What marvels the Lord worked for them!’  What marvels the Lord worked for us!  Indeed we were glad.”  For Israel, it was unimaginable that they could be delivered from their captivity in Babylon.  To think that King Cyrus of Persia, the pagan king who allowed them to return to Israel and even provided them with the resources to rebuild their temple, was unthinkable.   So too, in the work of restoration, we must rely on the grace of God.  St Paul makes it clear, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”  (Eph 2:8-10)

Of course, conversion takes time.  We are just like an onion.  There are many layers of inauthenticity that we need to peel off.  When we remove one, we find another layer of inauthenticity in us.  That is why restoration takes place.  St Paul prayed, “My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best. This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.”   We need to recover our goodness and beauty in Christ.

So let us continue to march forward by remembering who we were and how we can restore ourselves in Christ who is the true man and the true God.  Christ will lead us to restore our identity as God’s children.  So we pray to the Lord even as we apply all our energy to live an authentic life of integrity.  “Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage as streams in dry land. Those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap.  They go out, they go out, full of tears, carrying seed for the sowing; they come back, they come back, full of song, carrying their sheaves.”  By striving and by persevering, we will arrive at our divine calling and identity again.  It is the hope of St Paul and ours as well when he wrote, “I am quite certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes.”

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.