Conversion & Lent, Saturday after Ash Wednesday, March 11, 2000

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sant’Agostino Station Church, Rome
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
March 11, 2000
Is 58:9b-14; Lk 5:27-32

Two blocks from here, in the Church of San Luigi, is found without a doubt the most famous artistic depiction ever made of the Gospel scene we just heard. In Caravaggio’s Call of St. Matthew, we see Jesus’s outstretched finger zeroing in on Levi from across the room, calling him from his customs post, calling him from his life of sin, to follow him. During this Lent we’ve just inaugurated, Jesus has each one of us in his divine cross-hairs, and just as poignantly and personally as with St. Matthew, is stretching out his finger to call each one of us in particular from our customary posts, from our sins to get up and follow him much more closely. This is what Lent is all about, to follow St. Matthew’s example by responding to Jesus’ direct invitation, and leave everything behind that keeps us from him, so that the Divine doctor may heal us from the cancer of sinfulness and we might live fully the divine life he died to give us.

We are extraordinarily fortunate this Lent to be able to be here in Rome, making this pilgrimage during the Jubilee Year when almost everything in this Holy City and almost every word of the Holy Father calls us to the conversion Christ wants from us this Lent. Each Jubilee door is a portal calling us to leave our sinful lives behind and enter into Christ, that door of Redemption, anew. Each address of the Holy Father reminds us of the invitation of Christ to cross that theshold. And tomorrow, in a particular way, the Holy Father will do so on behalf of the whole Church, when he purifies the Church’s memory by confessing the sins of Christians throughout the centuries up until our own day and our own sins.

Moreover, the patrons of this city, like the patron of this beautiful Church, likewise beckon us to conversion with particular urgency this year, for they were all great sinners whom God made great saints. Peter begged the Lord to depart from him for he was a sinful man, and then proved it when he abandoned the Lord when the Lord arguably needed him most. But the Lord prayed for him that he would convert back and then go out and strengthen his fellow sinners in the faith, which is what he did, with his words, life, example and blood. St. Paul used to kill Christians for living, terrorizing the Christians of the 30s in the same way that Nero, Valerian and Diocletian did in later decades, but the Lord, too, brought about his conversion and Paul poured himself out like a libation trying to bring God’s merciful love and truth to all the world. St. Augustine, too, once walked these Roman streets as a promiscuous Manichean. But the Lord kept his fingers and eyes fixed on him and eventually got through to him, too. And his confession of and repentance for his sins has been the means God has used to bring countless sinners to conversion throughout the succeeding centuries. The Lord likewise is calling us, today, right here in this holy Church in this most holy city to a similar conversion from whatever keeps us from him.

But the Lord’s plan is not to stop there, and that’s what today’s Gospel makes plain to us as well. Yes, he is pointing directly at us to draw us toward him. But he hopes that with Matthew, Peter, Paul and Augustine, we might become so united with Him that he can then POINT US TOWARD OTHERS and send us out to take the message of conversion, of the Good News of his merciful love, to all sinners. Jesus, the Divine Doctor, made house calls to crowds of sinners to call them to a change of heart. He sent Peter before the Sanhedrin to do the same. He sent Paul before the Athenian philosophers, Roman governors and countless others, Augustine before the Pelagians and Donatists, and Matthew throughout the East to do likewise. And he calls us, each one of us sinners, this Lent, to go out after his lost sheep with this same message of conversion.

If we’re looking for a model for this Lenten evangelization, we don’t have to look any further than the woman buried underneath the Blessed Sacrament on the right. St. Monica didn’t try to convert thousands. She tried to help convert just one. With so much persistance, over so many years, traversing so many countries, with so many tears, she helped finally to convert her Son, Augustine, and as St. Ambrose said to her so eloquently, “it was not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.” Her example inspires us this Lent to look around us, around our families and friends, to find such a sinner and, like her, do what we can to try to help bring that sinner to repentance, by our direct interventions and by our sacrifices and prayers. We can do so confidently during this grace-filled great Jubilee, in the hope that those great sinners we know, like ourselves, may perceive Jesus pointing toward them, and like Matthew respond to Jesus’ invitation to leave everything immediately and follow him, following him all the way through the Cross to that eternal kingdom he’s prepared for us since the beginning of the world.