Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
One of the major themes of the Scripture passages of today is that of conversion, or turning one’s life around.
In the selection from Ezekiel (18: 25-28), for example, we hear that it is virtuous to turn our life from wickedness to doing what is right. Furthermore, when we do turn our lives around, we shall live.
And in the Gospel of Matthew (21: 28-32), we hear the story of two sons. When their father asked them both to go out into his vineyard to work, one son said, “I will not.” Later, however, he changed his mind and went into the vineyard to work. The second son, upon hearing his father’s request to go into the vineyard, immediately said, “Yes, sir,” but did not go. The moral of this story is that actions speak louder than words.
The son who said “no” to his father’s order to go into the vineyard, but later changed his mind and did go to work, is a model of conversion. He went from disobedience to obedience, from vice to virtue.
Today, we look at the story of a man who had such an experience. His name is John Pridmore.
John Pridmore was born in a Salvation Army hospital in the East End of London, England.
As a baby, his parents had him baptized as a Catholic Christian, but they never took him to church or sent him to a Catholic school.
When he John was only 10-years old, his parents divorced. This hurt John very much because he loved them both. John reports that deep down, on an unconscious level, he made up his mind to never love anyone again. If he did not love anyone, no one could ever hurt him again.
John then began a life as a juvenile delinquent, stealing and acting aggressively towards others. When he was 15-years old, he was sent to a juvenile detention center. He became sick of his life, and his inner anger grew.
John dropped out of school and began stealing all the time. He began using mind-altering substances such as alcohol and other drugs to numb his pain. His life got so out of control that he ended up in prison. At one point, the prison officials had to put him in solitary confinement because of his violence.
When he was 19, John contemplated suicide. When he was released from prison, he was more bitter and violent than ever. He got a job as a bouncer in the East End and West End clubs of London. There, he met some men who ran the majority of organized crime in London and began working for them. John developed a massive distrust of the world, and he believed that whatever he wanted from the world, he would have to take.
John discovered, however, that all the possessions, relationships, and drugs did not make him happy. Instead, they made him feel sick inside because his lifestyle was slowly killing his spirit.
One night, after injuring a man in a fight, John began to reflect on his life. He began to see the selfishness of his life. But one night, he heard a voice inside him, and for the first time, he began to pray. John told God how he had taken so much from others, and now all he wanted to do was to give to others. Suddenly, John felt the Holy Spirit come upon him and the love of God enter into him. He realized that God had a plan for him.
Excited by this spiritual experience, John went to tell his mother, the only religious person he knew. John was shocked to learn that his mother had just finished a novena – a nine-day prayer – and it was on the ninth day that John had experienced his conversion experience. At his mother’s advice, John went on his own retreat. On the ninth day of the retreat, John celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Today, John gives inspirational talks throughout the world about how one can change the course of one’s life. He wrote a book about his life called, From Gangland to Promised Land. As John now says, “Life is meaningless until you are close to Jesus.”
From the Scripture passages of today, and from the inspirational story of John Pridmore, we can learn many things. Here are just three.
First, nobody is perfect. Even the greatest of saints have had flaws. Some were notorious sinners such as the blood-thirsty St. Olga of Russia who killed many men, and Blessed Bartolo Longo who went from being a Satanic priest to man beatified by the Catholic Church, while others were known to have only minor flaws throughout their lives such as St. Therese, the Little Flower.
Second, it is never too late to change. There is no such thing as being “too far gone” to achieve holiness. After all, who was the only man Jesus himself declared would be with him in heaven? Yes, the “good thief” who suffered from capital punishment with Jesus.
And third, it is important to remember that actions speak louder than words. Every adult, I imagine, knows certain people who are quick to volunteer to help with a project or serve on a committee. But, just as certain as the sun will rise in the East and set in the West, they will call at the last minute with some excuse why they can’t make it.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on our own life journeys. How have we changed directions from bad to good in our lives?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story source: Clare Murphy. “The conversion of John Pridmore, a former gang member
from the East End of London.” Prezi, 17 September 2012.