Conversion: An Invitation to Serve

Session 6
5th Sunday of Lent
March 25, 2012
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15
Hebrews 5:7-9
John 12:20-33

(Cost of Discipleship: Renewed Commitment for Truth)

Until you have given up yourself to Him , you will not have a real self” – C.S.  Lewis 

Integration

Lent is marked as a time for introspection, self-examination, penance and repentance. Prayers and fasting are also observed to attain personal renewal.

Conversion is a prerequisite to responding to the call of discipleship.This is not an easy task.It is a long time process of following, obeying and imitating Christ in His way of life.

Objectives

1)      To facilitate reflection among the participants on their roles and experiences  as disciples of his community and of the church;

2)      To challenge the participants to an authentic renewal by getting involved in the life and mission of the disciples of the church.

Suggested Activity: Reflect on the Life of Conversion of St. Augustine

 

Augustine was born at Tagaste in North Africa on 13th November 354 A.D. His father was a pagan, a non-believer, of Roman origin.He was baptised shortly before his death in 370 A.D., and died in 371 when Augustine was aged seventeen. His mother, Monica (also a saint), was a dedicated Christian.  Monica was of the local Berber stock (Egyptian appearance).  He had a brother and a sister, Navigius and Perpetua.  Augustine grew up in a mixed atmosphere of faith and unfaith. He was not baptised in infancy.

At school, he showed intelligence. At home he spoke a Punic dialect; school introduced him to Latin, and to books in Latin which fascinated him. He decided that wanted to become a public speaker. In adolescence he mixed with unruly friends He liked to brag, to tease, and to be destructive. At the age of seventeen, he fell in love with a woman. He lived with her and they had a son.

But Augustine was not at peace with himself. He felt restless – he lacked something. He searched everywhere for the answer. He travelled from city to city, working as a school teacher. From Africa he went to Italy by lying to his mother First he went to Rome and then in 383 A.D. to Milan. He joined various religious movements, but he did not find the answer he was seeking.

Monica worried about her son. She prayed continually for Augustine’s conversion. She wanted him to find peace with God. She came across from Africa to seek him out. She coaxed him to separate from his long-time partner who was the mother of Adeodatus, their son.

In Milan, he attended the sermons of the bishop, Ambrose. At first he listened simply out of curiosity. Soon he sensed that he had to change his life if he wanted peace of mind and the truth. But he found it difficult to change. He kept putting it off. He kept saying, “Maybe tomorrow, tomorrow.” “Make me chaste, but not yet.”

One day in September 386 A.D. he finally made the decision. He was sitting in a garden with his friend, Alypius. He heard a child’s sing-song voice saying over and over, “Take and read, take and read.” (In Latin, Tolle lege, tollelege.) Then, realizing that this song might be a command from God to open and read the Scriptures, he located a Bible, picked it up, opened it and read the first passage he saw. It was from the Letter of Paul to the Romans. Augustine read:

Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. –Romans 13: 13-14

He said, “The scales fell off my eyes!” He asked himself, “Why not now? Why not this very hour put an end to my sins?”. His heart were flooded with light. He turned totally from his life of sin. He was Baptized by Ambrose during the Easter Vigil April 24, 387 at the age of 33. His friend Alypius and his son Adeodatus were Baptized at the same time.

Later, reflecting on this experience, Augustine wrote his famous prayer: You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. He went on to become a powerful influence on the spirituality and theology of the Christian Church.

 

Guide Questions/Reflections:

 

  1. Search for truth. Does our intellectual pride lead us towards wrong paths?
  2. The importance of knowing oneself for St. Augustine. Is our interior struggle a hindrance to our conversion of heart?
  3. The demands of active life of service. Do we avoid such responsibilities? Do we practice prayer-love-action?
  4. St. Augustine’s battle with temptation. What does it applies to your life his famous quote “Restless in my heart, until it rests unto you God”?

 

Deepening

Situationer

In our day to day living, we are bombarded by propaganda and advertisement that influenced us to consumerist mentality and competition. Most of our people think solely of themselves. Our present generation becomes excessively individualistic or self-centered. The “bayanihan spirit” and/or our sense of service and volunteerism are gradually lost. Seemingly, no one render service without asking for anything in return.

It is rare to hear and find heroes of service nowadays. Everyone seems busy with his/her needs, desires, lust for power, fame and money; and passion and greed. As a result, we have leaders charged with multiple corruption casesIn fact, our country once ranked as the 6th most corrupt country among the 33 sovereign states within the Asia Pacific Region.

Once in a while, we learn of commendable deeds by our people.  But seemingly they are situational heroes. We have our Overseas Contract Workers who are forced to work abroad because of lack of employment in the country. They are considered our new heroes because their remittance kept our economy afloat.  We also learn of heroic acts during disasters and calamities. They helped rescue  victims, sometimes at the expense of their lives. .

Now, more than ever, our country needs heroes because we face a lot of problems : corruption, poverty, hunger, unemployment, , huge foreign debt, climate change, destruction of environment, , politicalconflict, moral degradation, etc. Unless everyone learns and lives the true meaning of service nothing will change in our situation.

Reflection

The life of St. Augustine is truly one of the best examples of conversion. His radical change of attitude towards God and becoming a witness a life of holiness is a form of dying that gives new  life. Unless the grain dies is a great paradox here. Death leads to life. When we “die” to ourselves, we “rise” to a new life. Dying to oneself means we have to be crucified or to put to death our old self that resists the will of God.

Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if dies, it bears much fruit(John 12:24). We need to die to say yes to His will and to reject all that oppose His divine plan. He promised that we will bear much fruits if we choose to deny ourselves for His sake. Jesus used forceful language to describe the kind of self-denial He had in mind for His disciples.

If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him (John 12: 26). This can never be an easy task. Being a disciple of Christ is truly a commitment of dying to one self. What is the cost of discipleship? Discipleship requires a sacrificial posture, complete dedication to the life and mission of Christ, and a willingness to give up everything that  keeps us from the kingdom (Mat 19:16-24) or does harm to others.

Disciples must care about others, and love them as much as they love themselves. Jesus teaches us that when we care for those who are in need and deprived in His name, we are actually showing love to Him (Mat25:31-46). Jesus knows our sincerity when we help to others.

Politicians have a lot more to learn about sincerity in giving.  Because of the self-interest of majority of politicians, our idea of politics is now clouded with mistrust, which also results to having a generally bad impression of all politicians.  . In theory, politics is good: it is  for the people, by the people, with  the people. If public servants will just simply stick to their responsibilities, , then discipleship for them is not that costly.

Disciples must be committed to justice, righteousness and mercy. The giving of direct aid to someone in need can demand self-denial. The corporal works of mercy means to go out of ourselves. And when we look on the lens of social justice, the disciples need to correct the structures that perpetuate the suffering of the poor.

Call to Action

Everyone is invited to liv like Christ, who willingly embraced death to bring salvation and give us life. As disciples, we are challenged to constantly change our ways and to imitate Christ’s sacrifices and devoted service. We need to rid ourselves of self-centeredness, greed and dishonesty to serve people better.

We urge our public servants to strip themselves of self-interest, especially if it pushes them to commit corruption and dishonesty. They should be guided by moral responsibility and orientation towards common good (cf: SolicitudoReiSocialis #28). We further challenge our leaders to submit always to public trust. Their policies and programs should respond to the demands and aspirations of their constituents. Concretely, government programs and services should attain the basic needs of food, shelter, job, education, health and justice.

Pope John Paul II said “It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed better when it is directed to “having” rather than “being” and which wants more not in order to be more, but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself” (Centisimusannus #136).

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