Delay Not Your Conversion to the Lord
Reading (Sirach 5:1-8) Gospel (St. Mark 9:41-50)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord lays out for us two different points. One, if someone does something even as small as to give a cup of water to someone because they belong to Christ, they will not lack a reward. We see the justice of God: that He will repay the kindness of people when it is done for the right reason, that our actions done for the right reason – done, that is, for salvific reasons to move us closer to Heaven – are meritorious. It is not just a matter of doing something nice for someone in order to get a reward from that person, because the Lord tells us if we do that then we have already received our reward. But if we are doing it for the love of God and for the love of neighbor then even something as simple as giving a cup of water to someone will have its reward.
At the same time, we see several times in Sirach in the first reading, and we see again in the Gospel reading, that sin also is going to need to be accounted for. Sirach is very clear in warning us not to heap sin upon sin, thinking, “Because God is merciful, it’s no big deal; I can just be forgiven.” That is not going to necessary follow. We all know well enough that if we live our lives just giving in to sin that what is going to happen eventually is we are going to die that way as well. If we spend our lives saying “no” to God, it is going to be very difficult to say “yes” one day because we have trained ourselves to say “no”. If we continue to sin thinking that it is no big problem, that we can just go ahead and sin and then go to Confession, first of all, that, of course, is a sin in itself, the sin of presumption: “Because God’s going to forgive me, I can just go ahead and sin,” so once again, heaping sin upon sin.
And he tells us to be very cautious not to delay our conversion to the Lord. Now we can all look at things and say, “But I’ve already turned myself over to the Lord,” but most of us have probably turned ourselves partially over to the Lord. We have turned to the Lord. We do receive the sacraments and we are trying to live a good life. But I suspect that if we really take inventory of ourselves, we are going to find that there is a part of ourselves – and, in most of us, probably a rather major part of ourselves – that we have not given over to the Lord. It is true that we are maybe not out committing huge sins and that we have gotten our act cleaned up and so we are in the state of grace. But how much of ourselves are we still not turning over? How much is still wanting for conversion?
We need to be very cautious about this. Remember, Jesus said, “Not everyone who cries out, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven.” They recognized that He was Lord; they believed in Him on one level – but not entirely. We need to give ourselves completely to the Lord. And when we recognize that there is something that is in the way, we need to get rid of it. That is what Our Lord is telling us in the Gospel: Better to go into Heaven maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna. If there is some area of sin, if there is an area of attachment, if there is an area of selfishness, whatever it might be, cut if off, get rid of it. If it stands between us and the Lord, it needs to go. Sirach says, “Delay not your conversion to the Lord.” When the Lord makes clear that there is something in the way then we need to take action. We need to get rid of it quickly, otherwise we delay and we fall into the presumption. Or at the very least what happens is that we fall back, straying from the Lord, and thereby delaying our growth in holiness because we put a roadblock in the way and we do not remove it.
So we need to be very, very careful not to fool ourselves into thinking that because we are basically doing what is right and we are going through all the various motions that we do not become presumptuous with that, but rather that we are really putting our heart into it and we are trying to grow in holiness, that we are really going deeper into our own souls and in union with Christ. That is what it needs to be. Otherwise, what happens is the pride will creep in, we will become lackadaisical, and we will begin to slip away from the Lord. So we need to stay on top of things, to continue to move forward, because God is just and if we know what we are supposed to do and we refuse to do it, we will have to answer for that. At the same time, if in even the smallest things we know what we are supposed to do and we do it for the right reason, it will not lack its reward. God is just: He will punish our sinfulness and He will reward our goodness. And so it is up to us to make the choice, as always, which way we are going to be. We know what we are supposed to do – now we need to make the choice to do it.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.