The story of John Newton is generally well known. He was a ship captain in the African slave trade during the 1700s, and eventually he had a conversion to Christianity. He later joined with his friend William Wilberforce to bring about the end of the British slave trade.
Newton is most commonly known for writing the text to the hymn “Amazing Grace,” a song that many mistakenly believe tells the story of his conversion from slave trader to Christian. While “Amazing Grace” (the original title was “Faith’s Review and Expectation”) mentions elements of Newton’s transformation, the song was published in 1779, some nine years before he came out forcefully against slavery in his book, Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.
Newton’s conversion took a long time and wasn’t very dramatic. While he had a distinct conversion moment—he became a Christian when a ship he was on almost sank during a storm and he felt saved by prayer—little actually changed in his life for some time. He continued to work in the slave trade after initially finding faith in God, and even was the captain on two other slave ships. Only gradually, over years, did Newton’s religious fervor emerge.
While it may be disappointing to learn that Newton’s transformation from sinner to saint wasn’t instantaneous, his life is a more realistic example of Christians who accept Christ, are baptized, but wonder if anything has changed in their lives. When we want to make a change in our lives, we often do something small, like buy new clothes, start a diet, or take up a new hobby. These often bring about outward changes, but seldom make a difference to our interior.
To make significant changes, we must undergo a real conversion. We must change from who we currently are into what we hope to become. This takes time. The word that best describes this conversion is “transformation,” which suggests a radical change that orients our lives in a new direction. It changes who we are and what we do. When we are transformed, we develop a new character that is greatly different from what we were.
St. John Paul II made this point when he spoke to aboriginal Catholics in Alice Springs, Australia, in 1986. The pope noted during his visit that faith is not like a hat or a pair of shoes. It can’t be put on or taken off at will. Instead, Christianity affects us to the roots, to the core of who we are. Conversion is the act of being transformed.
During Lent, we engage in activities aimed at helping us to become better disciples of Jesus. We practice prayer in order to become better at prayer. We practice self-denial to learn to control our desires. And we practice acts of charity to learn to be more generous. But what happens when we finish the 40 days of Lent? Do we return to our old lives as if nothing had happened, as if we’d taken a vacation away, but now we are back to our original practices and habits? What happens to the prayer habit we developed during Lent? Have we developed a spirituality of prayer so that we continue the practice religiously, or is it something that we continue to do only when we remember?
Have we developed an “attitude of gratitude” so that we remain joyful givers once Lent is over, or do we abandon the practice and give only when we are made to feel guilty? Have we disciplined our desires so that we can control our actions and behavior, or do we remain creatures of habit, eating and drinking or playing games on the computer without being aware of what we are doing? That is the difference between hearing the Gospel message and being transformed by it. As Jesus frequently admonished, let those who have ears, hear.
We believe, as Catholics, in the effectiveness of God’s grace. We believe that God gives us a divine gift that touches us and empowers us to respond in kind. While we cannot earn this gift of grace, we can take it and use it through our initiative and be transformed by it. While the hymn “Amazing Grace” may not be about an immediate conversion, its message is no less valuable. God’s grace is amazing. Through it, we are transformed. Our faith can be moved from tepid to blazing hot, our commitment to justice and our practice of mercy can make us into different people.
While we may never have to make the dramatic transition from slave trader to abolitionist that Newton made, each of us has room to grow and change. That, ultimately, is the purpose of Lent: to be transformed through God’s grace into fervent disciples. Forty days won’t be enough time for the transition to be completed, but it’s a good start. Remember, even St. Paul, who experienced the Lord personally on the road to Damascus, needed three additional years of preparation before he was ready to share his faith in Jesus with others.
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
Our readings today fortify our Lenten journey with the accounts of two journeys. In the First Reading, God commands Abram to set out on a journey to a “land that I will show you.” Trusting in God, Abram leaves behind his family, friends, and homeland. The Gospel account of Jesus’ Transfiguration occurs in the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, the place of his suffering and death.
Jesus had revealed to his disciples that he was the Messiah, who would bring spiritual liberation through suffering, death, and resurrection. Now Jesus takes his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, up a mountain where he appears in his risen glory, conversing with Moses and Elijah, who signify the Law and the prophets. This vision points symbolically to Jesus as the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament. A further symbol emerges when “a bright cloud casts a shadow over them.” The cloud symbolizes God’s presence, and the Father identifies Jesus as he did at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” These disciples are privileged witnesses to Jesus’ glory as God’s Son who fulfills the plan as foretold in the Old Testament. This vision fortifies the Apostles for what lies ahead. As they descend the mountain, Jesus tells Peter, James and John a second time that he is destined to suffer, die, and be raised from the dead. This vision of the transfigured Jesus offers them strength.
This experience of the disciples offers us courage as well: “Listen to him.” The message is clear: the risen Christ accompanies us through life’s journey, where our sufferings and death will culminate in sharing in the resurrected life.
At the Transfiguration, the Father identified Jesus as his “beloved Son” and directed the Apostles to “listen to him.” Through listening to Christ, the earth will be transfigured, the authors of Gaudium et spes write. “When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise—human dignity, sisterly and brotherly communion, and freedom—according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace” (#39).
Jesus had invited Peter, James, and John to a momentous experience and then instructed them not to tell anyone until “the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” The disciples still needed to be formed by the Spirit. In the Aparecida document, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean note the importance of the Spirit’s work in forming missionaries. “Disciples must be formed in a spirituality of missionary action based on docility to the impulse of the Spirit, to its life giving power, which mobilizes and transfigures all dimensions of existence” (#284).
In the Second Reading, the audience of the Second Letter to Timothy hears that they are “called to a holy life.” Holiness requires an ongoing commitment to conversion. Pope John Paul II explains in his encyclical on the Eucharist and the Church’s relationship to the world, Ecclesia de eucharistia, “Proclaiming the death of the Lord entails that all who take part in the Eucharist be committed to changing their lives. It is his fruit of a transfigured existence and commitment to transforming the world in accordance with the Gospel which splendidly illustrates the eschatological tension inherent in the celebration of the Eucharist” (#20).
For Your Reflection During this second week of Lent, try to imagine the faith Abram possessed to leave everything he knew. Are you able to trust in the Lord enough to put aside all worry for a day? How do others know that you possess faith?
LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR
On this coming Tuesday, March 10, 2020, the Little Sisters of the Poor will be visiting our parish as they have done for many years during the Lenten Season. They will give a short explanation of their ministry during the weekday Masses and then accept your donations afterwards in the lobby. Here in Chicago this is one of over 180 Homes operated by the Little Sisters in 31 countries throughout the world. Your support will enable them to continue their mission of caring for the elderly poor in a spirit of joy and dignity. Any assistance you are able to give will be deeply appreciated. Blessings! To learn more about their apostolate, please go to www.Littlesistersofthepoorchicago.org.
THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS
Every Friday during Lent we pray the Stations of the Cross publically in church at 4:15 P.M. This devotion began in Jerusalem many centuries ago when Christians began walking the path that was thought to be the one Jesus walked on Good Friday as he moved from being condemned to death by Pilate, travelled the streets where he met Cyrus of Cyrene, the weeping Women, and the Blessed Mother, fell several times and then arrived at Golgotha to be crucified. Even though many of us may never get to Jerusalem to trace the steps of Jesus, we can walk with Him as we move from station to station in church, meditating on his sufferings, death and burial for our salvation.
You are most welcome to join others each Lenten Friday afternoon to make this journey; you may either stay in one pew or join us as we physically move around the church. I remind you that on these Lenten Fridays Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament will take place shortly after 4:00 P.M. so that we can begin the Stations on time at 4:15.
I would like to remind you that we have a packet of tickets in the Front Office called Chicago Shares. Each packet contains five coupons ($1.00 each) which you may purchase in order to distribute them to the homeless on the street. With these coupons individuals can purchase items of food as well as things like toothpaste, aspirin, bandaids, etc., from drug stores. Sometimes people would like to give financial help to those begging, but they are hesitant in case the money would be used for alcohol, drugs, etc. Chicago Shares is a good alternative.
DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME
We remind you that Daylight Saving Time goes into effect this year at 2:00 A.M. today, Sunday, March 8. Be sure to set your clock ahead one hour before you go to bed on Saturday so that you will be able to arrive on time for Sunday Mass. All too often we hear people asking us something like, “Father, when did you change the Mass times?” The answer: “We didn’t change the Mass times; the government changed the time throughout the United States.” I happen to be a fan of the longer hours of daylight in the evening, so I welcome the change. It also becomes a great reminder that spring, warmer weather, and baseball season are just around the corner.
BRINGING ALL WE ARE INTO WHAT WE DO
The Spirituality of Lawyers
Saturday, March 21, 2020, 8:30-4:30 P.M.
Spiritual traditions boldly claim we are more than what we seem. There is a spiritual dimension, a hidden fullness, to our make-up. When the dimension releases, it empowers our mental, physical and social lives and allows us to see possibilities for action that we did not previously see. But how does this happen? How do we bring soul into our work as lawyers? Our retreat day will explore this spiritual path.
This all-day program concludes with a Vigil Mass and is open to all lawyers, judges and those in the legal profession. Breakfast, lunch and coffee breaks will be provided. Pre-event registration is required to attend. Cost to attend is dependent on your years of service in the legal profession.
Retreat Leader: Jack Shea, Theological Reflection in Parish Life
Location: Archbishop Quigley Center, 835 N. Rush St.
Cost: General: $65.00
Government and Non-Profit $50.00
Lawyers in Practice for Five Years or Less: $50.00
Student and Clergy: No Cost
Please e-mail [email protected] for more information, if you have questions, or if you are interested in sponsoring this Retreat Day.
A CHUCKLE FOR LENT
Needing to shed a few pounds, my wife and I went on a diet that had specific recipes for each meal of the day. We followed the instructions closely, dividing the finished recipe in half for our individual plates. We felt terrific and thought the diet was wonderful—we never even felt hungry!
But soon we realized we were gaining weight, not losing it. Checking the recipes again, we found the answer. There, in fine print at the bottom of the page it read, “Serves 6.”