HIGHWAY TO TRANSFORMATION

Rev. John Kha Tran

Zake and Clem, the two brothers, decided to go into the business of painting houses. On their first job everything was going along nicely until they realized that they did not have enough paint to finish the job. They decided to add thinner to the paint to make it stretch over the whole building. Nobody complained and nobody noticed. They made this their practice: thin the paint and make a few extra dollars for themselves. It worked until they were painting the parsonage of the local church.

One morning Zake came to work, pale as a ghost.
"What's wrong?" asked Clem.
"I had a scary dream last night. An angel stood at the foot of my bed, pointed a long, skinny finger at me, and growled: "Repaint, you thinner." 1

We might have been thinning our relationship with God and our relationship with others as well. The voices of Isaiah, Peter, and John the Baptist are also alerting us: “Repaint your life and thin no more.” Isaiah calls people to conform their life to God, make the path of their life a highway for the Lord. Peter reminds us that God wants none to perish, but all to come to repentance. The Gospel describes that "John the Baptizer appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance, urging people to repent their lives.

What is repentance?

Repentance means to make decision to change. Once we realize that we have made a mistake, we have done something wrong, we apologize, turn around and go in a new direction. It means to think again, to have second thought, to let go of our past and turn to God, renew the way we think, the way we act, the way we love. In her book, Beverly Engel offers “three R’s” that are key to giving a meaningful apology:

  • Regret: This includes an expression of empathy toward the other person, including an acknowledgment of the inconvenience, hurt or damage that you caused the other person . . . If you don’t have empathy, your apology will sound and feel empty.
  • Responsibility: This means not blaming anyone else for what you did and not making excuses for your action but instead accepting full responsibility for what you did and for the consequences of your actions.
  • Remedy: A statement of your willingness to take action to remedy the situation – either by promising not to repeat your action, promising to work toward not making the same mistake again, stating how you are going to remedy the situation . . . or making restitution for damages you caused. 2

Commercialized or Evangelize

All three readings call us to the spirit of repentance. We repent and prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. We repent because our relationship with God is the number one priority, and because we have not always been conformed our life to doing God’s will. We are in the season of Advent, but the secular world skips Advent and jump right into the Christmas season. Many of us have been commercialized by the secular “Christmas Season.” For many people, their focus and preparation are heading toward a different direction: For business owners and merchants, this is a time to make big profit. For many others, this is a time for shopping, buying gifts, preparing and planning for Christmas parties. For us, however, this is a time to remember the basic value of life. It is a time for us to remember God's tremendous love for us. It is a time to recall the mystery of the incarnation, Jesus Christ the Son of God who came to be with us.

One way to repent from is not to let ourselves being commercialized by the world. Instead, we can make a conscious decision to evangelize the world. We do not let the business world to commercialize us, but we will evangelize them. We will “Christmastime” them. We will help them to understand the meaning of the mystery of the incarnation. We will help them to learn and know about the meaning of Emmanuel, God is with us.

Evidences of Repentance

All three readings tell us that we can change our way. We can change the way we live our life. If our lives are not what they should be, then we can do something about it. If we have strayed from the basics, then today's reading invites us to return to the principals. If we have placed our work ahead of our families, then today's readings invite us to correct this situation. If we have placed success ahead of our personal relationship with God, then today's readings invite us to change this. If we have allowed other activities in our daily life to control us, and have neglected our spiritual life, then today we decide to take better care of our spiritual life and give specific attention to our souls. It is time for us to take action to correct whatever is not right in our life.

Isaiah singled out the hindrances to be eliminated from our lives. The mountains must be leveled. We can see them as the high peaks of selfishness and greed which hem us in, and cut off the view of God and of all whom we want to love more faithfully. We can blast away our selfishness with prayer and generosity. The valleys of neglect of duties we can fill them in by acts of faithfulness and love. The rough ways of wasted time and excess TV, internet chatting,  and all the junk-activities we have admitted into our lives can be replaced with a smooth path of new schedule to allow the Lord to enter into the activities of our lives.

A man repented and converted to Christ and was challenged by his friend.
"So you have been converted to Christ?"
"Yes."
"Then you must know a great deal about him. Tell me: what country was he born in?"
"I don't know."
"What was his age when he died?"
"I don't know."
"How many sermons did he preach?"
"I don't know."
"How many disciples did he have?"
"I don't know."
"You certainly know very little for a man who claims to be converted to Christ."
"You are right. I am ashamed at how little I know about Him. But this much I do know: Three years ago I was a drunkard. I was in debt. My family was falling to pieces. My wife and children would dread my return home each evening. But now I have given up drink; we are out of debt; our home now is a happy home. All this Christ has done for me. This much I know of him." 3

That is the spirit of true repentance to return to what is essential and to make a straight highway for the coming of our Lord. We can start the process of repenting and reforming, and God will do the transformation.

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1 Msgr. Arthur Tonne. Jokes Priests Can Tell. Vol. 2, # 427. (Kansas 1984).
2 Beverly Engel. The Power of Apology: Heading Steps to Transform All Your Relationships (New York, N.Y.: John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2001).
3 Anthony de Mello. The Song of the Bird .(New York: Doubleday, p. 112, 1982).