By Fr. Glenn Jones
Was scrolling through Facebook the other day and came across a post from one of my former parishioners announcing that yet another one of her young ones was learning to drive. Well, that darn ol’ teasing self came out and I couldn’t help but reply: “Okay, I’ll stay off the sidewalk.”
But, regardless of sarcasm, inside there truly WAS a tinge of surprise: “Is she old enough to drive … already?!”… for etched deep in cherished memory are the many times that “little one”—with brothers and sisters—virtually gang-tackled ol’ Fr. Glenn in group hug as they exited IHM on Sundays. Heavy sigh.
No longer the gangly little girl, she is indeed becoming the young woman … more independent … the young lads jockeying for her attention. Alas … soon there will be the going off to college and/or career … wedding invitations … birth announcements, baptism invitations … etc., … all joyful in themselves, yet we who are older cannot but remember them as “little ones”. For instance, my oldest niece is forty-four and a grandmother, but ever remains the little red-haired girl in braids picking flowers in my parents’ yard … to whom I call out as they depart those words heard so many times from my own elders: “Be careful.” “Call me when you get there.”
Ah, cursed—and yet blessed—change. With change is growth, and as in a line from “Dune”: “Without change, something sleeps within us. The sleeper must awaken.”
That “sleeper” is our own potential. Whether it being learning to drive, learning difficult subjects in school, learning anything good at all, change unleashes potential—very often that which we did not realize we held within. Such is often seen in the military in young people who come from distressed areas of the inner cities … having been looked down upon and/or oppressed all of their lives … and yet would come to realize their potential and discover their joy in their ability to “do”… and to do well. We certainly see such potential realized not infrequently in churches when we find those theretofore unknown excellent preachers, teachers or counselors … having needed just a bit of encouragement to dare to step forward.
But with all change comes necessary self-evaluation of one’s values—sort of the Star Wars “Skywalker” moment when one chooses the good or the dark side of “the force”, except that this “force” is quite real in the conscious decision—the willing—to do the selfless good, or to regress toward the selfish evil. Decay, too, is change.
Change is, of course, the focus of religious conversion—to act upon an evaluation of oneself in light of the teaching of that religion. The Lent and Easter seasons are a primary time for emphasizing such conversion in the Christian faith not only for converts, but even for the long-practicing faithful … that all make an unvarnished self-evaluation in light of the teachings of Jesus and to seek to conform more perfectly to them. After all, what more beneficial philosophy is there than Jesus own teaching: “This I command you, to love one another. (John 15:17).
Alas, as one Christian pundit has said: “The best argument against Christianity is Christians themselves”… echoing St. Paul’s recollection of Isaiah: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:24) This is why that re-evaluation of the Christian self is an annual—better, daily—exercise, for it is very easy to regress and retreat into the selfishness and self-interest that the world often promotes—the “get what you can when you can” mentality, with little thought to the good of the other. Thus we Christians are wise to have a daily reading of the Gospels most of all, to remind us of the rule and ideal by which our conduct is measured in both Heaven and earth, and to effect beneficial change. We inescapably swim upstream against the never-relenting current of selfishness, and it is through God’s grace and strength that we keep from being swept out to the consuming sea.
But … such change takes resilience and even courage. With such Christian persecutions as we are now witnessing around the world—the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, the killing of Christians in the Middle East and Nigeria and other places in the world, the burning of hundreds of Christian churches in Europe and some even here in America—that resilience and courage take on a renewed importance. When hearing of such things, the Christian can be strengthened in remembering: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” (Matthew 5:11-12)
Yes, with change comes growth, but that growth can be fruit which gives of itself, or it can be the parasitical which only takes for itself. It is the choice of each person to decide which he will be—the wheat, or the weed. As we read in Sirach: “Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.” (Sirach 15:17) Yet, as the old saying goes, “Today’s sinner is tomorrow’s saint”. Such conversion—such change—simply requires the recognition of the good, and the integrity and the wherewithal to seek it.
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.