- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories: Jesus – Emmanuel & the Call for a Change of Heart
Dr. Michael Higgins is a former President of St. Thomas University. He is now President of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC. In his regular blog, he commented on a recent interview done by CBC and CTV with noted cellist, Rémy Bélanger de Beaufort, who was attacked and badly injured on Halloween night in Quebec City by a man with a sword. Two other persons died of their injuries.
Mr. Bélanger was interviewed in his hospital room. Bandaged and splinted, he was still in recovery. He bore the signs of the multiple fractures and wounds he suffered, including a near severed finger that had been reattached.
Recalling that night, Mr. Bélanger indicated that he held no anger or hatred towards his attacker. He stated, remarkably to the interviewer: “I was in the ambulance and I had already forgiven him. I told myself, ‘why not try to say I love him’, and I realized I did.”
Dr. Higgins commented on Mr. Bélanger’s statement with: “In other words, Christ-like, he moved beyond a facile forgiveness to a place of deep compassion and non-judgement. Astonishing.” In this perhaps, we discover the full meaning of what we hear in Mark’s Gospel as he introduces John the Baptist and his call for repentance. (Mark 1:1-8) More than this, Jesus as he begins his mission is described by Mark as proclaiming the same call: “Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
Often, we direct this call for repentance to forgiveness of our personal sins and faults Frequently, we find ourselves focused on what we perceive as breaches of God’s law or rules and commandments. This might satisfy our desire for clear, straight forward answers, but repentance is much more than this. Repentance is really an ongoing, lifetime of transformation. Often, we refer to it as a conversion of life or a change of heart.
Living faith and the conversion it calls for is all about relationships – with God, with neighbour, with all humanity and creation itself. These relationships are like a network of friendships. In this context, a mature view of sin is the wounding of these relationships, revealed in the ways we fail to pay full attention to their care and their well-being. Sin then, is not about single acts or neglects, but rather about our whole attitude of life that distances us from others and from God. We wound other, creation and God with our neglect and self-centeredness. Repentance is a whole change of heart, a redirecting of our lives to bring new life to our relationships.
Undertaking conversion or repentance then, is to begin a new life journey. We see this in the way Mark describes this coming of John the Baptist bearing this message. It is no small thing, that the Gospel writer opens his telling of the story with the words: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) It is not the end, nor even the middle.
For John the Baptist, the call to repentance is only a first step, just as the call of Jesus to “repent and believe the good news” is only to be seen as the initial piece of a life-long discipleship. Transformations and conversions are life-long pilgrimages. They ultimately are processes of becoming. Rémy Bélanger de Beauport has revealed something of the depths of such a call to turn our lives around with a transformation of our heart. It is life-giving beyond ourselves and has the power to create a whole new world – truly good news for all humanity.