There is still time:
come back to me with all your heart.
(from the Latin America lectionary)
The English lectionary begins today’s first reading differently:
Even now, says the Lord,
return to me with your whole heart…
There is still time.
Conversion can happen at any moment in our lives. In fact, the life of faith is one of constant conversion, continuing opening ourselves to God’s call to be one with God, to be reconciled with God and with others.
Today Thursday March 6 is the fortieth anniversary of the death of the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, who is most known for this quote:
When the Nazis came to get the Communists, I was silent. When they came to get the Socialists, I was silent. When they came to get the Catholics, I was silent. When they came to get the Jews, I was silent. And when they came to get me, there was no one left to speak.
Reading about him this morning in Robert Ellserg’s All Saints and in Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday’s Cloud of Witnesses, I realized that here was a man who went through a whole series of conversions.
He was a German U-boat commander in World War I. He was disillusioned by the treaty of Versailles and was found Hitler’s critique appealing. Even though he became a Lutheran pastor, following his father’s example, he was still an ardent German nationalist.
But Hitler’s taking over the German Lutheran Church and the banning of Lutheran pastors of Jewish ancestry, moved him to untie with other pastors in a protest, that developed into the Confessing Church.
Niemöller was arrested in 1937 and spent almost eight years in German concentration camps – as Hitler’s personal prisoner!
But after the war, he recognized the real evil that was Hitler and Nazism and helped formulate a Declaration of Guilt. The evil was more than Hitler’s takeover of the church. As Niemöller said, “The issue was whether one saw Jesus as the highest authority, or Hitler.”
But, as the Cold War heated up, Niemöller had a further conversion – against nuclear weapons and against all war. He became a prominent pacifist leader in Germany and throughout the world.
Not one conversions but many.
Yet, in an interview two years before his death, he shared the root of his life of conversions.
I was a schoolboy of eight when my father often took me along in the afternoons when he went around to visit the sick. One day we went to see a weaver who was dying of tuberculosis. Downstairs was his loo, and my father parked me there while he went upstairs to the sick man’s bedroom. I took in the bare room with nothing but the loom and whitewashed walls.
In one corner I noticed something framed and under glass which was embroidered in pearls – nothing but the question, “What would Jesus say?” I’ve never forgotten it – never. And that’s the sum of Christian ethics.
Robert Ellberg gives March 5 as the date for Niemoeller’s death, while almost all other sources say March 6.