St Augustine was born in Northern Africa in 354. His young adulthood included fathering a child out of wedlock and leaving the Catholic faith. His personal life was one of journeying away from faith. In his 20’s Augustine moved to Milan, Italy where he became a professor of rhetoric. While in Milan he became increasingly unhappy with his personal life. It was in this frame of mind that he sat down one day and began to ponder his life. Suddenly he broke into tears and began to cry out to God: “And you, Lord! How long will you be angry with me? Forever? Why not at this very hour put an end to my evil life?”
St. Augustine then heard the voice of a child which seemed to say, “Take and read! Take and read!” The voice then seemed to command him to read the Bible. He picked up a Bible and opened it to the following verses of the letter of Paul to the Romans.
“…the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of
darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh (Romans 13:12-14).’”
After reading this St. Augustine stopped reading as he felt a deep peace. That episode began Augustine’s conversion to Christianity. Shortly afterward, he enrolled himself in the catechumenate in Milan. He was baptized the following Easter (Confessions of Augustine).
In the First Reading the Jewish people are in exile. They believe that the exile is unfair as it is a punishment from God for the sins of their ancestors. Ezekiel is saying that they are responsible for their own sins. He is calling them to take personal responsibility for their own sinfulness and then to turn back to God. He is calling them to not only freely choose to turn from sin but also to follow the path that God has set before them.
In the Gospel Jesus asks the Jewish leaders a question. Which of two sons did his father’s will, one who initially said no but ultimately did the father’s will or one who said yes and ultimately did not do the father’s will? In the question Jesus is contrasting the Jewish leaders who seemed to be living the Law but were not willing to change their lives at the preaching of John the Baptist with the tax collectors and prostitutes who were recognized as sinners and yet were changing their lives at the preaching of John the Baptist. Jesus is challenging the Jewish leaders to learn from the tax collectors and prostitutes and turn back to God.
Jesus shows that what is most important is not our past sinfulness nor our appearance in the eyes of others but instead how well we are willing to take in the message of Christ and allow that message to lead us to turn back to God. What is important is not our past but instead the present and future direction of our lives.
GOD’S CALL AND OUR RESPONSE
The story of the conversion of St. Augustine and the first reading and Gospel call us to decide to turn to God and to constantly follow through on that decision. Our second reading helps us to reflect on one aspect of this conversion.
JESUS FOLLOWED GOD’S WAY
As Christians we are to live lives which reflect Christ. This begins in our Baptism. Living like Jesus will involve conversion.
The second reading is written by St. Paul to the Christian community of Philippi. In the letter St. Paul helps us to reflect on one of the aspects of conversion. St. Paul writes that Jesus emptied himself of divine glory and took the form of a slave. Jesus emptied himself of divine glory through serving others and through being obedient to God by dying a painful and shameful death on the cross.
St. Paul exhorts the Philippians to put on the mind of Christ. Putting on the mind of Christ means imitating the humility of Jesus which was shown in his self-emptying. To live in this way, we are to not look after our own interests but instead after the interests of others.
Like St. Augustine let us hear Christ’s call to conversion. Let us not only imitate the manner in which St. Augustine initially turned his entire life to Christ but may we live a life in which we are constantly growing closer to Christ through turning from sin each day. From what is Christ calling me in order to draw closer to him? Each day may I decide to grow closer to Christ.