SUNDAY 18 – B
Change, Conversion and Transformation
(Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15, 31a; Psalm 78; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35)
A saying attributed to Cardinal John Henry Newman fits the readings today: “To live is to change; to live well is to have changed much.”
St. Paul, in the second reading to the Ephesians, puts it this way: “Put away your former way of life; be renewed in your minds, and clothe yourselves with the new person.” In short, he calls us to change, to conversion, to transformation.
Ron Rolheiser OMI, in his writings, acknowledges this call from St. Paul can be daunting, as well-meaning, sincere people can become discouraged at the lack of change and healing in their lives despite all their prayer and efforts to let go of some bad habit, painful emotion, negative attitude, or even and addiction. Why even try, if the result is always going to be the same – no change? To this dilemma, Ron offers some wisdom from St. John of the Cross.
The method St. John would recommend is very simply to grow our virtues. He counsels us not to focus on what we are trying to get rid of, but rather to focus on our positive characteristics and our virtues, and water them, affirm them, pay attention to them, and grow them so there won’t be room for the negative in our lives.
The more we grow in maturity, generativity, and generosity, the more our old wounds, bad habits, temperamental flaws, and addictions will disappear because our deeper maturity will no longer leave room for them in our lives. Positive growth of our hearts, like a vigorous plant, eventually chokes-out the weeds. If you went to John of the Cross and asked him to help you deal with a certain bad habit in your life, his focus wouldn’t be on how to weed out that habit. Instead, the focus would be on growing your virtues: What are you doing well? What are your best qualities? What goodness in you, needs to be fanned into fuller flame?
By growing what’s positive in us, we eventually become big-hearted enough so that there’s no room left for our former bad habits. The path to healing is to water our virtues so these virtues themselves will be the fire that burns out the festering wounds, addictions, bad habits, and temperamental flaws that have, for far too long, plagued our lives and kept us wallowing in weakness and pettiness rather than walking in maturity, generosity, and generativity.
That this call to change and conversion today is situated between the Exodus account of manna in the desert and the Gospel account of the aftermath of the miracle of the loaves is not a coincidence. The core of our faith is the Eucharist, and the Eucharist is also all about change, conversion and transformation.
The first reading from Exodus provides both a background, and a contrast to the Gospel. The contrast is neither the manna nor the quail had to power to transform. They could only sustain the people on their journey through the desert period. They were a static presence in the lives of the people.
How different it is with the Eucharist. When the people caught up to Jesus after the miracle of the loaves, he chastises them because they were still focused on the physical, static nature of the miracle – being filled with bread and their physical hunger satiated. They were like the Israelites in the desert, focused on manna and quail, and missed the real meaning of the miracle which Jesus took pains to teach them.
It is he who is the Bread of Life – who can give them not just physical food, but something much greater – eternal life. The catch is they had to come to him as the Messiah, as the Word of God, to believe in him and to put their trust in him. He would not just sustain them physically, but satisfy their deepest longings of their hearts, and give them the gift of eternal life even now.
This is where the call to conversion from St. Paul and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel come together. The Eucharist is our greatest prayer and the core of our faith. Rolheiser calls the Eucharist our one great act of fidelity. In his book by that name, he admits the Church has often made mistakes throughout history, but it has done one thing consistently right, which is to keep the Eucharist front and center of its faith life.
The bread and wine presented are not only festive symbols of our lives, but are also made of crushed grain and grapes. As such they represent us – our celebration and joys, as well as our sorrows and suffering. During the Eucharist, we place all of our lives on the paten and offer that to God with both gratitude and intercession.
Above all, these humble gifts of bread and wine, through the prayer of the priest and the community, and the power of the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, are transformed into his Body and Blood. Just as important, the next great transformation is we who receive are transformed into the Body of Christ, and given already a taste of life eternal.
Celebrated with great faith, the Eucharist can kick-start within us what St. Paul is talking about – a renewal of our minds; letting go of our false selves and rising to our true selves; growing in righteousness and holiness, and being transformed into the likeness of Christ. St. Paul is calling us to metanoia, which means putting on a higher mind, being our highest, best, trusting and truest self, as opposed to paranoia, which is our petty, mean, distrustful self.
Dorothy Day is an example of someone who has lived out these teachings. A leftist-leaning atheist when she was younger, she became disillusioned with the superficial values of the people she was associating with. She was also let down in her relationships with men, especially after the birth of her child. She spent time reflecting on life by the ocean, and met a sister and priest who were instrumental in her conversion, which happened largely through reading the bible, and encountering Jesus as the Bread of Life.
The Eucharist is both a call to conversion, change and transformation, as well as an encounter with Jesus who is both the Word of God and the Word made Flesh.
May our celebration today lead us further into our own journey of change, renewal and transformation, putting on a new mind, greater righteousness and deeper holiness.