Let the world be filled with love and let it begin with me!
This sentiment from the 60’s is still valid today. It is very well to want great things for the world. To want love and peace, what this 60’s saying said truthfully, means that you have to have that love and peace within yourself.
As a freshman at St. Mary’s Seminary I was quite excited about changing the world. I was not nearly as excited about changing myself. Since many of my generation felt the same way, the world really did not change in meaningful ways.
St. John the Baptist knew about this. He knew that for the world to change, individual people needed to change in profound ways.
The Greek word metanoia means a profound change of heart, and that is what it means to repent. This means a 180 degree change. It is difficult and one needs God to complete it. With God all things are possible.
In Vermont they have a writing program for women who are incarcerated. These are women who have done such things as kill, rob, or abuse children. They have real sins. Here is a poem from one of these inmates:
It is me your daughter.
I am here in your light,
broken before you.
Please show me what it is you want from me.
I am at your mercy;
I am on bended knee,
asking for you to hold me,
show me how to control my fear of the world.
I am not imprisoned but can make the same prayer. This is what metanoia looks like.
That is what John the Baptist promised while preparing the way for Jesus Christ. His job was preaching repentance. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” He didn’t just say “repent.” He lived repentance, even in how he dressed and ate. He wore scratchy camel hair clothes, and lived on locusts and honey. He was eventually executed for preaching against King Herod. He not only talked the talk, he walked the walk.
By virtue of our baptism we are called to be like John the Baptist, not in wearing camel hair or eating locusts, but in evangelizing others. In order to evangelize others we need to first evangelize ourselves. We need to work on those parts of our personality that don’t manifest God. We need to work on our prejudices, our addictions, and our resentments. Since God knows we aren’t perfect we don’t need to get everything right before we evangelize. We do need to honestly look at our strengths and weaknesses, and work with God’s grace to make us better. If we don’t, we risk becoming hypocrites, telling people to do things we are unwilling to do.
I imagine all kinds of people streamed to see John the Baptist: men and women, rich and poor. But I think there were two kinds of people who came: those who were broken, and those who were proud.
I know about the broken ones. I spent about twenty years working with alcohol and drug abusers. Once these folks realized they were broken it was easy for them to say I need help. They were in and out of jail living on the street. Their families were dissolving, and their health was horrible. They had ample room to see the need of God in their lives.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were the most observant of Jews. They looked very good. They were generous to the poor and kept every little part of the Law. They probably came to see John to see if they could help, since they were experts. John called them a “brood of vipers.” The Dale Carnegie book on how to win friends and influence people would really really discourage that. Then he challenged them: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” In other words don’t just look good, be good.
It is still a challenge to us today. How many people get bored at Mass? Me too. But just think, in the Mass we encounter our Savior our Creator in the most intimate way possible. We encounter him through each other, through the readings of the Old and New Testaments and the Gospel, and, most significantly, through consuming him in the form of bread and wine. The Mass is one of our greatest vehicles for change if we let ourselves be changed. So, idealistic young people, if you want to change the world, first be united to Christ and change yourself.
—Father Mike Van Cleve
Father Mike is a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.