Time to Place Your Bet

(Homily for Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

Bottom line: As the life of G.K. Chesterton illustrates: Whatever the cost, now is the time to place your bet.

This Sunday's readings speak about repentance. We hear Jonah calling the Assyrians to repentance. Jesus begins his public ministry with similar urgency:

"This is the time of fulfillment.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe in the Gospel."

To illustrate repentance I would like to use a famous twentieth century convert.* He was a journalist, an author of detective fiction and a respected literary critic. His full name is Gilbert Keith Chesterton, but he is more commonly known as G. K. Chesterton. He was brought up in an agnostic home and the Christianity he was exposed to was a watered down version. It emphasized good deeds and saw Jesus as a moral teacher, but nothing else.

As a journalist, Chesterton got involved in controversies and he began opposing the naive optimism of the early twentieth century. That naive optimism included eugenics, evolutionary determinism and the "Superman" philosophy of Nietzsche.

In opposing these movements Chesterton found himself drawn to the Catholic Church. He became convinced that the Catholic Church told the truth about Jesus: That he is the center of history - God in human flesh.

To enter the Catholic Church, however, would have enormous implications - and Chesterton worried how it would affect those close to him. He admitted, "I tried to forget the Catholic Church."

A lot of people are in that position. They want to forget the Catholic Church. But like the Gospel we just heard, it is not so simple. Jesus makes it clear that the moment of decision has arrived - a decision no one can avoid.** At stake is something enormous.

Every day people buy lottery tickets. They hope to win the Super Lotto. But all the Super Lottos together are small potatoes compared to the kingdom of heaven. It is time to make your bet.

People try to avoid this decision by saying things like, "I don't believe in the pope or in priests." Who asked you to? The issue is Jesus. If you accept him and his kingdom, the rest will follow. It's time to place your bet.

A lottery ticket costs a few dollars. The kingdom has a higher price. But do not be afraid. In comparison to the kingdom, any sacrifice is small. It'is time to place your bet.

And how will you know you made the right decision? When G.K. Chesterton finally entered the Catholic Church, people asked him why he did it. He replied, "To get rid of my sins." He added that it made all the difference that confession was for sins of laziness and dishonesty as well as adultery and murder.***

That is the heart of the Gospel. All of us have sins. All of us need forgiveness.

"This is the time of fulfillment.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe in the Gospel."

As the life of G.K. Chesterton illustrates: Whatever the cost, now is the time to place your bet.


*While in Peru, I am reading Ian Ker's magnificent Biography of G.K. Chesterton. The information about Chesterton's conversion is based on that highly recommended book.

**To attempt to remain neutral is itself a decision. For the trimmers - those who stayed aloof from life's battle - Dante reserves the vestibule of hell:

"Not to mar its beauty, heaven expelled them,
Nor will the depths of hell take them in there,
Lest the damned have any glory over them." (see Canto III of the Divine Comedy)

***Chesterton describes three stages of conversion:
1) The future convert "imagines himself to be entirely detached" and anxious "to be fair to the Church of Rome."
2) The convert "begins to be conscious not only of the falsehood of the charges levelled at the Church, but of its truth and is enormously excited to find out that there is far more of it than he would have expected."
3) When the convert "is trying not to be converted." The convert feels threatened with "the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair." Chesterton confessed "that I for one was never less troubled by doubts than in the last phase, when I was troubled by fears."

Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Third Sunday, Year B, 2009: Repent and Believe
2006: Time Is Running Out
2003: The Third Luminous Mystery
2000: The Last Sunrise
1997: My Call to Priesthood

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

SMV Bulletin

Pictures from Peru

(January 2012)

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