Homily: Repentance and Conversion

April 18, 2021 – Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-19 / 1 John 2:1-5 / Luke 24:35-48

The following is a homily I delivered in 2015 with the same readings we have today:

If you are a parent of more than one child, you may have experienced this.

Two of your children get into an argument. One of the children ends the argument by pushing, kicking, punching, or saying something mean to the other. You step in at that point. You bring them together, and you demand that the aggressor apologize to the offended.

The child rolls his eyes, and mumbles, “I’m sorry.”

Because he mumbled, you require him to try again. With full-blown attitude he says, “I’mmmmm sooorrrrrry.”

You are a persistent parent, and you know that’s not good enough. So you look the child in the eye and you insist, “Say it like you mean it!”

I am fortunate that in our 38 years of marriage, Carol and I have never had a disagreement or done anything to hurt one another. (Um…this statement is not true)

So speaking hypothetically only, let’s say that one of us did hurt the other. As long as we are being hypothetical, let’s say it was me that hurt Carol.

Since I am a male, I would not sense on my own that I had hurt Carol, but her demeanor would make it clear that something was wrong.Through a process of elimination, I would discover that I must have done something or said something to hurt her. Connecting the dots, I would know that an apology was in order.

I would go to her, and in my most sincere voice, I would apologize for having hurt her. I might even add a hypothetical hug. Thinking my work was done, I would then turn to leave, only to hear from Carol: “Saying you’re sorry isn’t enough…you need to prove it by your actions.”

These memories came to mind as I reflected on the scripture readings for this Third Sunday of Easter. In all three of today’s readings, there is talk about sin and repentance. That surprised me. I understand why we do that during Lent, but it’s Easter! Didn’t Jesus die for our sins?

We heard in the first Letter of St. John, “He is expiation for our sins, and not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world.” I had to look it up, but expiation means atonement. Jesus paid our debt! The slate was wiped clean! These are words of celebration, so why are we being told to repent in today’s readings?

In the Gospel, Jesus quoted scripture saying, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance…would be preached in his name to all the nations…”

This confirms that Jesus died for our sins. But forgiveness of sins is not the end of the story, it is only the beginning. Again: “…repentance…would be preached in his name…”

During Lent we are encouraged to go to confession, to seek forgiveness for our sins. The Lenten season ends with Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. His death opened the door to salvation for all of us. With the door open, we must act. We must step across the threshold. Christ’s sacrifice was all for naught if we don’t take that next step. That next step is repentance, stepping away from sin and toward what is right and good. Repentance is more than seeking forgiveness; it is seeking a right relationship with God. It is a critical part of the process of conversion.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter scolded the people saying, “…God…has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you…denied in Pilate’s presence…You denied the Holy and Righteous One…”

My first thought when reading this was: Peter said this? Isn’t Peter the poster child for denying Jesus?

We should not judge Peter too harshly. He saw himself in the people who had denied Jesus. His own guilt is reflected in his words. In his own way, he was saying, “I understand why you did what you did. I made the same mistake.” He is well suited to share with them how to recover from their denial. His simple directive of “Repent, therefore, and be converted…” was leading them to the next step. Peter was calling them to repent, to establish a right relationship with God. He then invited them to open their hearts and pursue conversion.

The people’s sin was denying Jesus. They must seek forgiveness and repent in an effort to set things right. Conversion will take place when they accept Jesus, when they believe.

When we confess our sins, two things take place. First, our sins are forgiven. Second, we are called to conversion.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1435) we read, “Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation: concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, and endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest path to conversion.”

Stated more simply… If our sin is selfishness, putting the needs of others first will lead us to conversion. If our sin is hatred, loving acceptance will lead us to conversion. If our sin is materialism, simplifying our lives will lead us to conversion.

The Easter season calls us to a conversion of our own: from unbelief to belief, from fear to courage, from doubt to certainty, separation from God to a right relationship with Him.

Connecting the conversion message to my earlier examples: For the children fighting, repentance is saying, “I’m sorry.” Conversion is meaning it. If I ever do have a disagreement with Carol, repentance will be apologizing in words. Conversion will be proving it by my actions.

Lent is about forgiveness and mercy.

Easter is about repentance and conversion.

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