5th Sunday of Lent (March 22, 2015)
I want to share with you a true story that I shared with our youth group a few years ago. It’s the story of a boy named Peregrine. He was born in the Italian city of Forli about the year 1260. He was an only child and his parents were very wealthy and heavily involved in politics. Unfortunately, the politics they aligned with were anti-Catholic. Their political party was so powerful that they were able to ban Catholics from celebrating Mass and the Sacraments within the city. The Pope, trying to help the situation, sent a holy priest named Fr. Philip Benizi to the city. Fr. Philip’s job was to try and heal the hatred and anti-church political fury that was rampart in Forli in hopes to allow the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments once again. One day, Fr. Philip was in the town publicly preaching forgiveness and reconciliation when Peregrine and some of his friends, all teenagers at the time, started heckling Fr. Philip. Apparently Peregrine inherited his parent’s very anti-Catholic political beliefs. Fr. Philip ignored the heckling so Peregrine started tossing stones at the priest. When the stones failed to silence the priest, Peregrine approached him and sucker punched Fr. Philip right in the face. The response from the holy priest was to literally turn the other check to Peregrine. This action floored Peregrine and he immediately sought forgiveness from Fr. Philip. From that moment forward, Peregrine’s life went a completely different direction. He became Catholic and went on to join the Order of Servites who dedicate their lives to prayer and service. At the age of 30, Peregrine founded a Servite house in his hometown of Forli. This once confrontational, cocky mouthed, anti-Catholic teenager was now using all of his energy for the glory of God. Peregrine was eventually canonized a Saint on December 27, 1726. Interestingly enough, Fr. Philip, the priest St. Peregrine punched in the face, was also canonized a Saint.
I love this story because it teaches us about the power of transformation. If St. Peregrine did not transform his life, if he did not die to his old self, we probably would not be referring to him as a Saint. This is exactly what we hear in today’s Gospel from John. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” This death can be a figurative or literal one. In the case of St. Peregrine, his conversion didn’t take place from a literal death, but from a death to his sinful and worldly ways that were keeping him away from God. This transformation allowed him to live a life for God and he is now a powerful intercessor in heaven as the patron Saint of cancer patients.
As incredible as this transformation story is, there is one even more powerful, which involved a literal death. As you very well know, Adam and Eve’s original sin broke our perfect communion with God. This one event led us to be slaves to sin…constantly struggling to decide between doing good or doing evil, following God’s will or following our own. God Himself saw that the only way to make things right again was through His own intervention. So to ransom a slave (us), He gave away His only Son who “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). But this could only take place after Jesus conquered sin and death for us. As the Easter Proclamation that is chanted at the Easter Vigil so beautifully puts it, Jesus “Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father and pouring out His own dear blood, wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.” It took a literal death of God’s only Son to open the gates of Heaven offering us salvation. Jesus Christ transformed death by being lifted up on the cross on Good Friday, dying and resurrecting on Easter Sunday. Where original sin pulled us away from God, Jesus’ death on the cross brought us all back.
But here’s the catch, as Christians, we must be willing to follow His example if we hope to walk through those pearly gates one day. You must be willing to transform your life…to turn away from sin here and now. Jesus tells us, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” The phrase “Hates his life” is a Semitic idiom for “is willing to give up his life.” Jesus is telling us that if you love this earthly life more than heaven, you can keep it. He’s not going to force you to do something you don’t want to do. But if you desire heaven so much that you’re willing to do whatever it takes, even be willing to die for Christ, then you will live an incredible life with Him in heaven for all eternity. This is the ultimate transformation experience that we all need to be striving for.
So I challenge you, take these last two weeks of Lent to root out all the sin in your life. Pray for God to help you get over any addictions you are struggling with. Then take these sins and struggles to the sacrament of reconciliation and ask God to help you avoid committing them again. But most importantly, take time to sit in silence and pray for God to transform your life. This is probably the scariest thing that anyone can pray for…transformation. Because transformation will quite often lead you to do God’s will rather than your own. It will often lead you to die to yourself.
Do not be afraid.
Remember, Christ already did the hard part. He was raised up on the cross so that He could raise you up to His Father in heaven. Please don’t miss out on the opportunity of allowing this ultimate act of love to transform your life.