TURNING AROUND


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 2:36-41; PS 33:4-5,18-20,22; JN 20:11-18]

What is metanoia? It means to turn around, which is what repentance is all about.  It is to turn around to receive the Good News.  Repentance is not a negative term.  In fact, it is a positive term because it invites a person to turn away from sin and turn towards the new reality of joy, freedom and peace.  This was what St Peter told the people, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation.”  This same message is addressed to us today.  We are called to be faithful to God and the gospel.  The gospel wants to free us for authentic love and the joy of unconditional service against the materialistic, consumeristic, selfish and self-centered values of the world.

How can we help people to turn around?  Conscientising the conscience is the ordinary way of helping people to repent.  That is why instruction in morality is fundamental in guiding the life of our people.  Unless they know what is right and wrong, there would be no repentance.  The ideology of relativism precisely misleads people into desensitizing their conscience because according to relativism, there is no question of right or wrong, but it is a matter of preference and pragmatism.  This explains why today we face a world that is not only immoral but amoral.  At least if people realize that some of the things they do are immoral, they can still change.  But when it is amoral, the conscience is dead.

This explains why St Peter began by highlighting to them the wrongfulness of the actions against Jesus.  He said, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know – this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.  But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”  (Acts 2:22-24)

However, it is not enough to be aware that something is wrong, but that someone has been wronged and who is causing the harm.  Indeed, this is the situation of the world today.  People are very quick to pick on the faults of others but are blind to their own.  This was the case of King David when he heard the parable of the prophet Nathan whereby a rich man took from a poor man, the only little ewe lamb he had to be slaughtered for his guest.  “Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; ‘he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’ Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!'”  (1 Sm 12:5-7)

 

There is a great deal of hypocrisy in the world today.  The world is promoting promiscuity and pornography, but when people fall into sexual sins and are tempted to commit sexual crimes, we condemn them.  It is almost like putting temptation and waiting for those who are weak to catch the bait and then condemn them.  Isn’t this what the devil does?  He seduces us and then accuses us.  “For the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”  (Rev 12:10)  Instead of removing the cause of sexual crimes, we condemn the weak who fall into the traps set up by the world!

Hence, it is not enough to name the sin but we must be made aware that we are equally guilty of that sin for repentance to take place.  Indeed, that was what happened.  “Hearing this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the apostles, ‘What must we do, brothers?’ ‘You must repent.’ Peter answered ‘and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”  To be cut to the heart is what guilt is all about.  Unless we know we are guilty, there can be no repentance. This kind of guilt is different from scrupulosity.   We must make a distinction between good and bad guilt.  The former sets us free and makes us take action to change.  The latter just dwells in us all the time, causing us to live in regret and condemnation of self.

There is another way to bring people to turn around, which is by way of arguments.  St Peter “spoke to them for a long time using many arguments.   They were convinced by his arguments, and they accepted what he said and were baptised. That very day about three thousand were added to their number.”   There is still a place for apologetics in theology although the defence of faith today is taken over by dialogue.  Yet, we still need to give a reason for our faith, as St Peter tells us.  “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”  (1 Pt 3:15f)  By explaining what and why we believe, we provide the intelligibility and credibility of our faith.  This is what theology is all about.  It is a systematic presentation of the faith.  But theology’s presupposition is also faith seeking understanding.  This explains why theological arguments only help those who are ready to listen, dialogue and have a certain openness and predisposition to believe, or are sincerely searching for the truth.  Otherwise, intellectual arguments alone will not convince anyone who is out to disprove the theological position of the other party.  So it will not do much good since no one is going to be convinced of anything as there is no genuine dialogue.

The third way to help people turn around is through the witnessing of God’s power and mercy.  Peter’s homily was in response to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. The crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”  (Acts 2:3-6)  St Peter used this phenomenon to explain why “God has made him (Jesus) both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36)  Indeed, the early Church testified to the Lordship of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit through the signs that accompanied their preaching.  “And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  (Mk 16:17f)

St Peter offered this same gift to them when he said, “every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God will call to himself.”  It is not enough to tell people to give up their sins but we must offer them something greater if they were to turn around to receive Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Unless we have something better to offer, why should people give up what they consider their security, even it does not offer lasting happiness?  That is why the Church cannot do away with the healing ministry and works of charity.  Preaching without the works of God will not change hearts or convince people that the Lord is risen.

In the final analysis, love is the best way to make people turn around.  This was the case for Mary Magdalene in the gospel.   She was the one whom the Lord “had cast out seven demons.”  (Mk 16:9)  St Luke also mentioned her as one of the women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities who provided for Jesus and the apostles out of their resources.  (Lk 8:1-3)  Mary Magdalene must have been like the other women, so grateful to the Lord that they would visit Him at the tomb the next day.

In the gospel, we read of the reward of Mary Magdalene’s love and devotion to the Lord.  She was not able to let the Lord go and even after His death, her love for the Lord was immense.  This was due most likely to the fact that she must have been so terrified and tormented by the seven demons in her.  In the ancient world, it was believed that demons were the cause of physical and psychological illnesses.  Because of her love for the Lord, she was among the first disciples gifted to see the Risen Lord.  We are told specifically in today’s gospel that it was her intimacy with the Lord that helped her to overcome her grief and pain.  She could not see properly because of her overwhelming grief that when the Lord appeared to her, she thought He was a gardener.  However, when the Lord called her, “‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master.”   To hear the Lord’s voice defines her as a true sheep of the Shepherd.  (cf Jn 10:3-5)

We too must turn around to the Lord if we are to fall in love with Him even more.  It is the lack of intimacy that prevents us from giving all our resources to serve Him.  We love ourselves more than we love Him.  Like the women who used all their resources to serve the Lord, we too can give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord if we love Him as much as Mary Magdalene loved Him.   Guilt, awareness of our sinfulness, the joy of a new life ahead of us and intellectual convictions supplement, but that is not enough to ground our commitment to the Lord.  Only love can, because when we love, we will do everything out of love and for love, even to the extent of giving up our life for the love of someone as Jesus did for us.


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


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
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