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Conversion and Holiness

By: Raymond C. Osok, OFM

Why do we need to undergo conversion? What will happen if we don’t repent?

A famous Original Pinoy Music song entitled “Anak” (which means Child) written by Freddie Aguilar expressed apology to his parents and regret for dropping out of school and wasting his youth through engaging in different forms of vices. The lyrics start with how happy his parents were when he was brought forth into the world. His parents loved him so much. They provided everything he needed. Then as he reached adulthood, he demanded freedom. He started doing things his own way. He didn’t follow his parent's advice anymore. His stubbornness led him to different forms of vice that led him astray. His parents waited for his return. Until such time that “the child” has come to his senses and realized his mistakes, so he repented.

The song “Anak” is like the relationship between God and G-d’s people. In the beginning, G-d was so pleased with his creation. Everything he made was “good and beautiful”. G-d created humanity in his own image. Thus, the original state of humanity is holy (sacer), which means having divine quality— the quality of being good and perfect. He said, “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44). However, this holiness was tainted when evil entered the human psyche. The man was tempted and he committed sin. Humanity’s freedom has led to pride, which eventually led to disobedience to God’s commands.

Despite people continuing to commit sin, God has not stopped searching for them. He wanted them to go back to him and return to their original state of holiness. This disobedience continues and could be depicted in the time of Noah. The people continued sinning. This wicked generation did not obey, and neither honor Him anymore. God saw that only Noah and his family were faithful to him. With the desire to put back the original goodness of his creation, God cleansed the earth. He sent flood to wipe the wicked people and renew his creation. God, in the first reading, established his covenant with Noah. He promised that that “never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”He will be with his people always.

G-d never breaks his covenant with his people. His accompanying presence is constant. In the second reading, Peter in his letter perfectly pointed out the faithfulness of God to humanity and sent his only beloved Son. God did not send anymore the water of destruction for the wicked but water of salvation through baptism. No more flood for sinners, “Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.” This letter emphasizes the salvation brought by Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. For Noah, he brings only the righteous people out of the flood into a new creation. While Jesus Christ, through him, brings all people to a new life leading them back to their original state.

In the Gospel, Mark presented a brief story of temptation. Like in Genesis, the Evangelist tried to recreate another story of temptation featuring the devil, wild beast, angels, and the man (Second Adam). In this new story, it was twisted, the antagonist-devil did not succeed in tempting the Son of Man. This narrative highlighted Jesus who restores the original state of the holiness of man and puts back harmony of nature previously destroyed by Adam’s fall. After Jesus declared explicitly, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

The invitation of Jesus to repent and believe in the Gospel are ways in order to become holy. In the dogmatic constitution of the church, this holiness is underlined saying, All the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed, they have an obligation to strive” (Lumen Gentium, 42). Holiness is not an option; it is an obligation to fulfill. No matter what the condition in life is, “all Christian faithful must direct their efforts to lead a holy life and to promote the growth of the Church and its continual sanctification” (Can. 210). Although it is an obligatory invitation, but it is still for the individual to follow it or not. From the very beginning, God respects the individual freedom he bestowed upon each human being. However, each action of a person has consequences. As Newton's third law of Physics says, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” God in the beginning severely warned Adam and Eve. Noah convinced the people to be converted and to enter his boat, but they just laughed at them. And Jesus had offered his life, announced and showed us the way back to God.

Lastly, in the homily of Pope Francis at the Basilica of Santa Sabina last March 5, 2014, he asked, “Why must we return to God? Because something is not right in us, not right in society, in the Church and we need to change, to give it a new direction. And this is called “needing conversion!” There is an urgent need for conversion because there is something wrong with the present context. In the contemporary era, there are many distortions: the manipulation and deformation of concepts such as democracy, freedom, justice; the loss of the meaning of the social community and history; selfishness and indifference toward the common good; the prevalence of a market logic based on profit and the culture of waste; unemployment, racism, poverty; the disparity of rights and its aberrations such as slavery, trafficking, women subjugated and then forced to abort, organ trafficking; and culture of hatred, fake news, corruption, etc. (see Fratres Omnes, 10-24.).”

Thus, the reason why we should undergo conversion is because our present life is not what is expected in us. Our purpose in life is to be holy. Pope Francis encourages us, “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self” (Gaudate et Exultate, 32). Conversion is a process of changing our present state to the way of life of Jesus – following his words and example and little by little aligning oneself to the Gospel values.

With this invitation to conversion, may the Lenten practices lead us to a new life. Let us strive to restore ourselves in our original state of holiness. Have a blessed and meaningful Lenten Season! Continue to stay healthy, happy and holy.