|Jose de Ribera - Repentance of St Peter|
Jesus greatly extolled the virtue of John the Baptist saying, “of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen…” John was called by God to be the last prophet that would prepare for the coming Messiah. John exhorted people to repentance, to conversion. The preparation needed was an inner change that would reject sin and embrace belief in the promises of God. This call to conversion is an essential part of the proclamation of the Kingdom, and Jesus exhorted people to “repent, and believe in the gospel”.
Since I left the Church of England and entered the full communion of the Catholic Church, many Catholics refer to me as a ‘convert’. Although as Abbot David explained to us at our Reception, strictly speaking converts are those who convert from one religion to another, or, from no religion to faith. We were not changing our religion; we were being reconciled with the Holy See. Our baptism was valid and good, and after accepting all the Catholic Church proposes for our belief we were then entering into full communion. That was helpful to all of us entering the Catholic Church because it didn’t feel we were denying the good things of our life in the Church of England but embracing a more complete Christian faith. It wasn’t a new faith but it was fuller, more integrated and had a bigger vision than we had known as Anglicans.
However, without contradicting what I had said about converts, there is a sense in which all Christians are converts! Christ’s call to conversion, as the Catechism says (CCC 1427-9), continues to be at play in our lives. The major conversion is our baptism. The ongoing conversion of our lives according to the gospel is what the catechism calls the second conversion. The whole Church is about this and it is an ongoing purification throughout life, and if necessary on into Purgatory. It is cooperation with the grace of Christ in His Church, and most especially through the gift of the Sacrament of Penance.
St Peter, of course, is a very good example of this. For though he had professed Jesus as His Lord and Saviour, and the Son of the Most High, yet Peter denied his Master three times. After repenting with tears, he went on to give a threefold affirmation of love for Christ.
…there are water and tears: the water of Baptism, and the tears of repentance. St Ambrose
So in this season of Advent especially, let us hear and take to heart the exhortation to conversion. Let us make use of the gift of the Sacrament of Penance, and remember we are all, in a sense, converts!