When Is the Right Time To Change Your Heart?
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
January 22, 2018

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B) on January 21, 2018, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 25; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; and Mark 1:14-20.

All three of our readings today speak with urgency. Even though the city of Nineveh takes three days to cross, Jonah’s message somehow reaches the whole city in only one day. Paul says that time is running out. According to Mark, the very first words that Jesus preaches are, “This is the time of fulfillment.”

All of our readings are also about repentance, and about the urgency of repentance. 

We take a moment to acknowledge our ongoing need for God’s mercy.

The gospel of Mark is a fast-paced story, a breathless, non-stop rush of events. One of Mark’s favorite words is “immediately.” Bing, bam, boom: this is what Jesus did, and this is what he said. It’s up to us to interpret what it means.

The first command that Jesus gives in the gospel of Mark is one of the options that we can say when imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” But the English verb repent fails to capture the fullness of the Greek word used by Mark, metanoien. In its noun form, we usually translate metanoia as “conversion.” The second half of the word, noia, means mind. But meta has quite a range of meaning. It can mean “outside of” (as in “metaphysics”) or “beyond” (as in “metamorphosis”). And hipsters currently use “meta” to mean “hyper-self-aware.” So, what is Jesus calling us to when he calls us to metanoia? It’s a big idea: change of mind, change of heart, a new way of understanding what it means to be a child of God.

Conversion, or metanoia, is a life-long process. It doesn’t happen instantaneously. Even St. Paul – the example par excellence for having an instantaneous, lightning-bolt moment of conversion to a new way of life – experienced a life-long call to conversion. Before that moment on the road to Damascus, he had zealously dedicated his life to living in right relationship with God. And once he got over the shock of his Damascus experience, Paul realized that he already had the right skill set to carry out the Christian mission. He already knew the scriptures forwards and backwards. He could still use his gift for rhetoric, and now he could better draw on his Greco-Roman upbringing while still being a dedicated Jew. By the time Ananias came to Paul three days later, it was clear that he was ready to be baptized. 

Conversion is a life-long process. Paul was being prepared for this mission by God from before he “was knit in his mother’s womb” (Psalm 139). The Damascus experience was the moment where something new clicked into place in his understanding of his mission… but the apostles still sent him down to “the minor leagues” in Tarsus for perhaps as long as a decade before he had mellowed out and matured enough to be a successful missionary. I think Paul had countless small changes of heart over his lifetime, quanta of metanoia, if you will.

So, what do we make of the stories of conversion in our readings today? I think that before Jonah got to Nineveh, God had already prepared the city for this dramatic moment of metanoia.

Our gospel passage from Mark, where the apostles leave their fishing nets when Jesus says “Come after me,” seems much too sudden. Is it realistic for them to abandon their livelihoods, just like that? Or has Mark left out other details?

When I tell my story of how I felt the call to become a priest, I often tell it as a “lightning bolt” experience. But I’ve come to recognize that God had been inviting me to metanoia in the previous 27 years, moments that were absolutely essential for me to have been capable of hearing God’s call that day. And God has continually invited me to metanoia in the 16+ years since then.

How about you? Are you open to having new moments of metanoia? Are you open to changing your mind, changing your heart, or being more self-aware of your status as a child of God?

If you are open, and if you’re between the ages of 16 and 45 and still wondering about your life’s purpose, I have some invitations for you. The Diocese of Austin is hosting an event at the cathedral on Saturday, February 17 called “Project Andrew.” It’s for men open to learning a little bit more about priesthood and religious life. The following Saturday, February 24, the diocese will host a similar event for women called “Project Miriam.” The Diocese also has “Project Stephen” for men interested in becoming deacons, to attend together with their wives. This group meets monthly; ask Fr. Chuck for permission to go if you’re interested. We’re not asking you to leave your nets, just to see if the Holy Spirit could stir in your heart in as unexpected a way as it did in the hearts of the people of Nineveh.

The number of religious sisters, brothers, and priests is definitely going to go a lot lower over the next two decades as the baby boomers retire. (For example, only one of the three priests currently serving at St. Austin – and only 30 of the 108 living Paulist priests – will be under the age of 70 in four years.) I think the Holy Spirit still calls young people to religious life and priesthood, but sometimes people don’t have the support, the courage, or the freedom to pursue the invitation.

And that’s where you come in, folks. If there’s one place in the whole world that should be able to produce vocations to the Paulist Fathers, it’s right here: St. Austin Parish. You know the Paulists well, you identify with our mission, and you want us to succeed. And yet, in nearly 110 years of this parish, we have only produced two vocations to the Paulists. William Blakeslee was a 9-year-old boy when the Paulists arrived here in 1908, and Ben Hunt was born 99 years ago. What’s happened since then?

Well, in the past year, I’ve met two women in this parish who insisted that God wasn’t allowed to call their sons to the priesthood, because they wanted grandchildren. I’ve met plenty of guys in this parish who insist that can’t be priests because they’re not holy enough… or that they can’t imagine themselves living a life of celibacy. 

When I pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, I pray that young men and women will have the support, the courage, and the freedom to respond to God’s invitation. Please join me in praying fervently for vocations from St. Austin Parish to the Paulist Fathers!

And just in case you or someone you know might be hearing the Holy Spirit inviting them to learn more about the Paulists, we’re hosting a retreat called “Come and See” – yes, the title is taken from Jesus’ invitation last week to John’s disciples. It’s going to be February 2-4 in Washington, DC. Two young men from Austin are going up to see what life with the Paulist Fathers is like, and I have an airfare budget to help any young man who’d like to join them. All the guys I’ve known who’ve gone on a “Come and See” weekend in the past 13 years have found it helpful in discerning their ongoing call to metanoia.

This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Won’t you join me in building up this part of the kingdom?