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Archbishop Follo: Conversion to Purify the Heart

With the invitation to convert not only the intelligence and the will but the heart too

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III Sunday of Lent – Year C – March 24, 2019
Roman Rite
Ex 3.1-8a.13-15; Ps 103; 1 Cor 10.1-6.10-12; Lk 13: 1-9
Ambrosian Rite
III Sunday of Lent – Sunday of Abraham
Dt 6.4a; 18.9 to 22; Ps 105; Rm 3,21-26; Jn 8.31-59
1) Conversion= turning to Christ who loves us.
This Sunday’s Gospel passage (Lk 13: 1-9) can be divided into two parts. One speaks of the call to conversion (13.1-5), the second presents the parable of the barren fig tree (13.6-9). The two sides find their meeting point in the theme of conversion.
«Repent,» asks the Savior, whose invitation we hear on this Sunday as it frequently happens in the Lenten liturgy. The verb «to repent» is repeated twice in today’s Gospel. The warning is given in a solemn form («I tell you …») and as the indispensable condition to escape the judgment of God («If you do not convert, you will all perish»). Luke is not primarily interested in the content of conversion (what to change), he prefers to make us aware that God’s judgment is imminent and general.
«Convert us, O God, our salvation» the same liturgy makes us pray. Therefore, conversion is an invitation to be received and a gift to be asked to the Savior.
In the «Roman Rite» Gospel, St. Luke speaks to us of the need for conversion and of his urgency because the judgment of God that is upon us. But what does to convert mean?
The verb privileged by the Old Testament to indicate conversion is shouv which means to change course, to go back. On the existential or ethical level, this Hebrew verb connotes a change of orientation, a modification of behavior. Moreover, in the Old Testament to indicate conversion also the Hebrew verbs biqqesh and darash, whose meaning is «to seek God or the good», are used.
The New Testament uses «epistrefein«, which literally means «turning to», to indicate external change and change in behavior while using «metanoein«, which comes from the Greek verb ‘to change idea’ and is composed of meta ‘after’ and noeo ‘to think’, to indicate the inner mutation, the change of mentality. The term that Luke uses in our text is «metanoia«. He, therefore, insists on inner change, on the new and different way of thinking, evaluating things, and judging them.
God’s judgment does not know injustice, it goes beyond justice (Divo Barsotti). We must prepare ourselves for it by turning our intelligence to the Truth, our will to Good, and our head and heart to Jesus our Destiny so that his Gospel may be a concrete guide to life, and by asking God to transform us recognizing that we depend on Him and on his creative and merciful love.
It is a mercy for which the infertility of the barren for the winemaker becomes the invitation to work again and even more so that everything is done to put the plant in conditions of bearing fruit. To the human temptation of hardness and exclusion, the parable opposes the toil of Divine Charity.
The Lord, merciful and patient, still gives us time to bear fruit. The words of Christ, the winemaker, are consoling: «Sir, I will put manure, I will heal … and you will see that it will bear fruit». The tree of our life cannot flourish if we are do not converted to Christ who with his love performs the miracle. Let’s follow the invitation that God already addresses to his people in the Old Testament: “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with tears and lamentations. Tear your heart and not your clothes, return to the Lord your God, because he is merciful and gracious, late to anger and rich in benevolence and he takes pity on misfortune «(Jh 2: 12-13).
This is the reason why Pope Francis teaches: «This is the rule of conversion: moving away from evil and learning to do good. Converting is a journey. It is a journey that requires courage to get away from evil and humility to learn to do good. And, above all, it needs concrete things «(Morning meditation in the Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Martha. Learning to do good – March 14, 2017). The concrete things on the Lenten journey are the works of penance, which brings us back to the state of light, whose fruit consists of all sorts of goodness, justice, and truth.
2) The conversion of Abraham.
On this journey towards God, the Ambrosian liturgy, after having proposed «the example» of Zacchaeus and of the Samaritan woman, today offers us the great figure of Abraham who converted his life in an offer to the point of being ready to sacrifice his son Isaac.
For Abraham God’s promise to give him an innumerable people was more certain than the life of his son Isaac, whom he did not refuse to sacrifice to the Almighty who was asking for it.
Total abandonment to God is a source of tranquility and serenity both towards the past and the future. Conversion takes place through the renunciation of oneself and of what is dearest to us, like a child in the case of Abraham, in order to deal exclusively with God and his good plan for himself and for the world.
If we add a loving trust to this total abandonment, we will be ever more capable not only of taking care of ourselves but of letting ourselves be taken care of by the Lord. Then our heart will expand, and we will be relieved from the weight of ourselves, a weight that oppresses us. With astonishment, we will realize how straight and simple the path was.
We think that uninterrupted effort and tension are necessary for conversion, together with a continuous renewal of actions and facts. In my opinion, to turn to Christ and follow him steadily require few things; it is enough, without even thinking too much about the past or the future, to look at him on the Cross with confidence, as a Brother who leads us into the present reality. If, for distraction, we should lose sight of him, let’s not indulge in it but turn to him, and we will understand what his goodwill is for us. If we sin, let us convert to the sacrament of Penance and do a penance that is a pain of love.
3) From conversion to consecration
Confession » is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.» (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1423). We had the first conversion with baptism, but «the new life received in Christian initiation has not suppressed the fragility and weakness of human nature» (1426). Conversion is the law that lasts a lifetime, up to the moment when man gives out his last breath. It was so for St. Peter as for St. Paul, for all the saints, and it will for each one of us.
To be converted is «to abandon one’s will in Christ’s, through humility» (Saint Bernard, On conversion – Sermon 34) Witnesses to this are the consecrated Virgins who to the Bishop’s request: «Do you want to live only for God in silence and in solitude, in assiduous prayer and joyful penance, in hidden work and in the service of others ?”  reply:» Yes, we want “(Ritual for the Consecration of Virgins, n. 55).
These women testify that the consecration of life to God means the truth of love, of work, of justice, and of life itself. The whole life is transfigured through the offering of oneself to God. Perfect charity (in which the perfection of all Christians consists) lived virginally brings the whole person to his Creator and can be defined a total consecration or sacrifice that the human being makes of himself to God in imitation of what our Redeemer Jesus Christ did.
Through this consecration the consecrated Virgins are a sign that the important thing is to have no other ultimate goal in all our actions than God, and to make no other profession nor to seek other taste on earth except that of pleasing God and to serve him, that is, to be righteous by practicing the holy law of charity.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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