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Monday, September 15, 2008

Conversion

There's a priest I know whose query to me one evening when I asked for a moment of his time was, "What has God put on your heart tonight?"

It was such a good question, especially considering that it pointed to something far beyond me, straight to the heart (no pun intended) of why I wanted to speak with him. And tonight, although I considered writing about the Exultation of the Cross and the Sorrows of Mary, well, Our Lord has placed something else on my heart, and the title says it all.

What do you think of when you hear or read the word "Conversion"?

Typically, it brings to mind ideas of people leaving one faith and coming to another, or going through a drastic life change as they respond in action to God's gift of Grace...or maybe you're a computer geek and you think about converting files or systems or codes. (That one's for my brother...who doesn't read my blog because I won't tell him where it is. But that's what he'd think about.)

In reality, though, we are all in a constant state of conversion. If we're not, well, then, we're ignoring God.

There is a cycle that takes place, for God never stops reaching out to us. He never abandons us, and even when we flee Him, He follows. When we come to Him to receive the Sacraments, we are further empowered to continue to seek Him and bring Him to the world. And at a deep level, if we are truly seeking the face of God...we are recognizing who we are in relation to who God is...and we are humbled.

We are forever changed by the encounter, if our hearts are open to Him. Humility is the foundation of this change, recognizing that we are not worthy, and we can NEVER be worthy to take God into ourselves in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and we aren't even worthy to kneel at His feet in Confession, and yet He invites us to enter into the depths of his mercy and love. It is there, in this Divine embrace that we find the personal connection and personal love for each of us. Such an encounter demands change, for we cannot experience this without realizing that anything that keeps us from our beloved Savior has to be eliminated from our lives.

And that's the hard part. But that's conversion; it doesn't happen overnight. We can't go from being partygirls and playboys to Saints in an instant. Can it happen? Sure! But does it happen a lot? Nope. It takes work. It goes back to my familiar story of the 12 year Confession...I thought I had to become a Saint in an instant, but no, I needed Confession, over and over again, to help me to both realize what was wrong, and allow Jesus to enter into my pain...and bring me into His glory. As I revealed my woundedness to Him, He revealed His love, over and over again.

I'm still in that process.

The Agony versus the Ecstasy of Conversion

It's a lot like a burn victim who comes to the Burn Unit, desperately wanting and needing healing, but the treatment can be worse than the burn itself. And the healing! It consists of an ongoing agony of debridement, of skin grafting, of rehab, or even the awful humiliation of baring one's body to perfect strangers! Yet the patient realizes the necessity in his helplessness and woundedness; for he realizes he may die without this ongoing cycle of agony. So he or she submits to what needs to be done trusting out of necessity.

So it is with conversion.

We have this idea that conversion is supposed to be a pleasant experience. It's not. It may have its pleasant moments, ecstasies, if you will, but those are short-lived and more often, we are confronted by the Cross that we carry, often of our own making. That isn't supposed to be comfortable; it is only through our pain that we come to recognize that we need help, and that our help is found in God. It is only when our Cross knocks us to the ground and we are on our knees in the dirt that we can see God face-to-face in the suffering countenance of our Savior who bore His Cross (OUR sin) in order to enter into our own pain. And there...we can be drawn towards Him, and we can be converted.

This doesn't happen just once, but over and over again.

Sure, we might have an incredible "conversion experience" and I can name a few of my own. But that just makes my point: it wasn't "one moment". I can't give you a testimony of a second in time in which God revealed Himself to me. I can give highlights, but those weren't the conversion itself. The process isn't finished. I am not yet what God wants me to be. Even if I've met what some may consider to be the proper "status quo" of what they define as a "good Catholic", that's not the yardstick. God has a plan; and it is only HIS standard that matters.

He defines His standard through scripture, through the Magisterial teaching authority of the Church (i.e. the Pope throughout the centuries and the college of Bishops), and I can tell you...I'm falling short. But there's comfort in knowing that Our Lord is not expecting perfection...it is He who perfects us. We are only asked to cooperate with His Grace, respond to His call, and continuously work to conform ourselves to Him.

Conversion is lifelong. Having a conversion experience that brings us to desire to attend Mass each week when we hadn't been before...that's a step. It's a big one, but only a step. We can't stagnate there and say, "I'm a good Catholic because I try to go to Mass each week."

A lot of people do that, but they're the same people who say, "I don't get anything out of Mass" or "Sometimes we as a family think that it's a personal choice to attend Mass when we get around to it."

That's not acceptable to God. He calls us to more, to something greater. We are called to HOLINESS. Holiness starts with attending Mass each Sunday in accordance with the Ten Commandments to keep Holy the Sabbath. But it continues, to each and every nook and cranny of our lives.

Conversion shines a light on those areas of darkness in our lives, those dark corners that maybe we'd prefer remain hidden, for we are ashamed of the reality of our lived existence. Conversion, utilizing the Sacrament of Confession, lifts up the rugs to expose the dirt we've swept underneath, and the cobwebs in the corners behind the computer that maybe we don't want to look at because we're ashamed. But God sees it, and through conversion, we see it as well. We become compelled to get rid of the filth. All we have to do is identify it and renounce it...but Jesus hauls it away.

It might take a long time, and indeed, we can never be perfected here on earth. We are only called to continue to respond to God's grace, to walk towards Him step by step. Conversion isn't instant perfection; it is the world used to describe the process that brings us to holiness. If we aren't moving forward, then we are falling behind. If the presence of our Savior is not our goal, then we are lost.

Conversion, then, properly defined, is the process through which we are drawn into loving conformity with Christ.

Are YOU experiencing conversion...or have you lost your way?

That is the question. Never fear, for Christ is with you as long as you seek Him.
*

3 comments:

justme said...

never ending. it's called the human condition. great blog.

uncle jim said...

and i concur with your comments re the recurring nature of conversion.

so, how does this stack-up next to the 'conversion' charges the police want to file against me [just joking - looking at the 'root' of the word and comparing usage]

talk to you later, sis

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Superb post. I wish our Protestant brothers and sister who think that once you accept Christ that's it would read this. That's not it.