Radical Conversion

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The WORD in other words (2018) by Fr Joseph Miras SVD – Canada

Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist – June 24

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

John was a towering figure of conversion and his preaching about it bordered on insult, harsh invectives and threats. His teaching created a climate of fear on those who were guilty and hope on those who believed. His denunciations were strong that he formed a circle of enemies that eventually had him silenced.

John preached repentance and it meant the conversion (reform) of Israel (Mt. 3:2). Conversion was not only on the personal and spiritual levels but also on the communal and the societal aspects of Israelite society, religion and government. (Comparable to B. Lonergan’s intellectual, moral and religious conversions). The message of John was a call for a radical transformation, a change on the personal and social levels of human life. His external appearance and lifestyle manifested the elements of radical change as he survived on honey and wore camel’s hair styling him symbolically after the OT figures (Samuel, Elijah) who followed the tradition of resistance and a revolutionary model of renewing society.

If the message itself of John was already strong, the tension created by his language contributed more to its biting strength. He called the priestly elite – the Pharisees and Sadducees – the honorable people of the society as “brood of vipers”. It is said that this expression was meant to disrobe the priestly elite with honor for their deeds that heavily burdened the people with economic problems and social ills. The priests were in cahoots with the Roman patrons.

How are we to appropriate the political color of John’s message? Isn’t the message of repentance a scary one since we need to change not only our ways but also encourage or exhort others to lead righteous lives? Isn’t it scary since the conversion must happen not only in a day (day of confession) or season or for a few months but it should happen during our lifetime?

Charity is a sweet kind of kindness but Mother Teresa once mentioned that to remove the root cause of material poverty is easier than to eradicate spiritual poverty. Because people feel they don’t need God, they don’t need the human words of care and concern; they see only their self-sufficiency, they see only their own survival.

This attitude creates values or movements like globalization and secularization and are imbibed by some communities and institutions that make people’s lives harder. This is where the radical call to conversion finds its meaning. We are called to carry out the task of conversion in the arena of human behavior that seeks to chart the common good. This was what John became and it led to his death.

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