This is a very important sermon that gives, I believe, some keys to the thinking of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, which I promised myself I would read over Lent, slowly.
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
At first sight this is not, in fact, “happy” news, joyful news. It sounds, rather, like a severe call, an austere appeal to change. It is proposed to us in this sense at the beginning of Lent, in the Gospel of the First Sunday, and by some it accompanies the rite of ashes on the head: “Repent and believe in the Gospel!” Therefore, it is vital to understand the true sense of this beginning of the Gospel.
The real meaning of the message of Jesus has been obscured because of an inexact translation of the original Greek word metanoeite. The Latin vulgate translated it withpaenitemini in Mark 1,15, and with paenitentiam agite in Acts 2, 38, that is, do penance. With this ascetic content the term has been received in the common language of the Church and its preaching, while the true meaning of the word is “repent”, “turn your mind around”, be aware of what is happening.
Prior to Jesus, to convert meant always to “go back” (as the term itself indicates, used in Hebrew, for this action, namely the term shub); it meant to return to the violated covenant, through a renewed observance of the law. Through the mouth of the prophet Zechariah: “return to me […] Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds” (Zechariah 1:3-4; Cf. also Jeremiah: 8_4-5). Consequently to be converted had a primarily ascetic, moral and penitential meaning, and it was effected by changing one’s conduct of life. Conversion was seen as a condition for salvation; the meaning was: be converted and you will be saved; be converted and salvation will come to you.
This was, finally, the predominant meaning that the word conversion had on the lips of John the Baptist (Cf. Luke 3:4-6). However, on Jesus’ lips this meaning changed, not because Jesus enjoyed changing the meaning of the words, but because with him the reality changed. The moral meaning becomes secondary (at least at the beginning of his preaching), in regard to a new meaning, unknown until now. To be converted no longer meant to go back; it meant, rather, to take a leap forward and to enter, through faith, in the kingdom of God who came among men. To be converted is to take the so-called “decision of the hour,” in face of the realization of God’s promises.
“Be converted and believe” does not mean two different and successive things, but the same action: be converted, that is, believe; be converted by believing! Saint Thomas Aquinas also affirms this: “Prima conversio fit per fidem,” the first conversion consists in believing.Conversion and salvation have exchanged places. No longer: sin – conversion – salvation(Convert and you will be saved; convert and salvation will come to you”), but, rather: sin – salvation – conversion (Convert because salvation has come to you”). Men have not changed; they are not better or worse than before; it is God who has changed and who, in the fullness of time, sent his Son, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Cf. Galatians 4:4).
This is all very interesting and supported by Scripture, such as Galatians 3, which asks, Who bewitched you?
And in Romans where St. Paul writes of being transformed by the renewing of one’s mind.
However, what is of prime importance is believing the Truth, and of the Catholic Church’s perpetually passing on the Truth of the Gospel. This is why it is so disturbing to see bishops treating the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel so cavalierly, as in the indissolubility of marriage, or the words of St. Paul on receiving the Holy Eucharist unworthily.
Also, the verses about how we receive the faith—we receive it by hearing—and for that we need preachers.
May our bishops and priests be faithful to preach the Gospel, without editing out parts they do not feel today’s world can understand.
Also, I believe that truly encountering Jesus, means that He repents us, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, when we truly believe and encounter the love of Jesus Christ, we at the same time experience our utter unworthiness and helplessness in the face of evil without Him.
What a gift to experience this abject contrition and the sweet tears of repentance and joy that comes from knowing He first loved us, even when we were yet sinners.