It appears that the two young men who successfully climbed that sheer-rock, 3000-foot mountain wall recently are as intelligent as they are courageous and physically strong. Their responses to the eager press’s questions after their extraordinary feat were also out of the ordinary, I thought. One in particular caught my attention and stays with me for whatever reason, as it did while I was crafting this homily. They were asked what they would say to their admirers, what advice they would give them. One of the two answered with an infectious smile saying that he would suggest to them that they find their own mountain and conquer it.
Great answer! Very certain that even if I were one-quarter my present age and three-quarters my present weight I’d not be scaling any mountains, whatever their height, I began to wonder what the figurative “mountain” in my life might be that is waiting for me to climb it. I must have a few, I thought. Further introspection proved me right. Some of them, I realized, are old, as I am old, and bear scars of age not unlike the ones my spirit and body have acquired over time.
That left me with a decision to make: either walk away from the whole matter and not care whether or not I’d ever return to it, or to pursue it, not only as a workable introduction for a homily, but also, far more importantly, to start searching for my “mountain,” to explore it from below, to pray for wisdom and guidance, to devise a strategy, and to begin, however feebly, to climb.
What’s essential in our cultivation of genuinely Christian lives is not unbroken successes — or any success at all, for that matter. It is rather that we remain in pursuit, that we keep trying, regardless of results. That we never give up the struggle. Perseverance. Collaboration with the Spirit of God within us.
Conversion is an on-going process, not a one-time event. We humans are not confirmed in goodness and fidelity. We waver; we are tempted; and we find that what the temptation offers is very attractive. Life is an endless series of renewed good intentions: we are in constant need of conversion.
The scripture readings on this 3rd Sunday of the year emphasize the necessity of turning away from one lifestyle and embracing another: Jonas pleads with the people of Nineveh to quit their immoral ways and show their good intention to reform by an act of public penance. St. Paul, believing, as he mistakenly did, that the end of this world was about to occur, urges the new followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth to treat the affairs of this present world as if they did not really exist and instead to think and act with eyes on the world to come. And then, in the gospel for today, Jesus invites certain ones of his followers to a commitment they had never imagined making: to actually leave their jobs, their homes and their families, and join him in the difficult, demanding, exhausting, and even dangerous work of announcing his message of Good News to the entire known world.
What’s expected of us is not quite the same, but it has the same roots. Conversion for anyone implies turning away from something and toward something else in its place. We have to turn away from attitudes we know conflict with Jesus’ mind & heart. Prejudice that holds back the growth of unity. Conservatism that will not permit the Spirit of God to renew the face of the earth. Pessimism that cannot see the Kingdom of God taking shape in our midst even in the worst of times. And so forth.
Having cleared the field of these and other such negatives, we then turn toward life, embracing its promises and its risks, and discovering again and more fully the love that is God in our midst.