Archive for the ‘Conversion’ category

Conversion in the Year of Faith – 7

December 16, 2012

YoF logo - x-small‘Tis the season of the Advent penance service.  As the liturgy leads us to St John the Baptist, we hear his call to repentance.  Hopefully, our hearts are moved to respond by preparing to make a good Confession, that we may celebrate the birth of our Savior with clean heart and soul.

Traditionally, the Church breaks down the reception of the Sacrament of Penance into five elements, to which I add a sixth.  They are:

1.       Examination of conscience
2.      Sorrow for sins
3.      Firm purpose of amendment
4.      Confession of sins
5.      Do penance
6.      Express gratitude to our Lord

Let’s briefly review each of these. 

1.    Examination of conscience

It would be good to begin with prayer.  Perhaps praying one or two of the Penitential Psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).

We must take the time to make an honest appraisal of our thoughts, words and deeds.  Ideally, we should do this much more often than just prior to our periodic Confession.  You’ll find a reasonably comprehensive tool for examining your conscience, designed to surface actual sins committed, at the conclusion of this post (due to its length).

2.  Sorrow for sins

Our contrition for our sins can serve as an indicator of the depth of our personal relationship with our Lord.  Though this word is not used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the tradition of the Church identifies authentic sorrow for sins with the word “compunction,” which comes from the Latin compungere, meaning “to prick,” as in “a pricking of the conscience.”  We should reflect on how our sins have hurt God and hurt others until true sorrow touches the deepest core of our heart.  This depth of remorse for the offensiveness to God of our wrongdoing is often accompanied by tears.  As one of the Desert Fathers said:

The watchful monk works night and day to pray continually.  But if his heart is broken and lets tears flow, that calls God down from heaven to have mercy.

3.  Firm purpose of amendment

This oft-overlooked element is crucial.  This is where we make a commitment to repent.  To turn around and go the other way (metanoia).  Conversion.  Ongoing conversion.  Jesus calls us to conversion.  His call should be an integral part of your meditation when praying the 3rd Luminous Mystery.  CCC n. 1431 teaches:

Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace.

Pope John Paul I offered some words of hope especially for those who have committed mortal sins:

…the Lord loves humility so much that, sometimes, he permits serious sins. Why? In order that those who committed these sins may, after repenting remain humble. One does not feel inclined to think oneself half a saint, half an angel, when one knows that one has committed serious faults.

Perhaps a prayer like this would also help our purpose of amendment.

4.    Confession of sins

The most relevant instruction I can offer here is to refer you to the ever practical instructions for Confession of Fr Zuhlsdorf, which I reprint here for your convenience:

1)      examine our consciences regularly and thoroughly;
2)      wait our turn in line patiently; [I add:  in silence, praying]
3)      come at the time confessions are scheduled, not a few minutes before they are to end;
4)      speak distinctly but never so loudly that we might be overheard;
5)      state our sins clearly and briefly without rambling;
6)      confess all mortal sins in number and kind;
7)     listen carefully to the advice the priest gives;
8)      confess our own sins and not someone else’s;
9)      carefully listen to and remember the penance and be sure to understand it;
10)  use a regular formula for confession so that it is familiar and comfortable;
11)   never be afraid to say something “embarrassing”… just say it;
12)  never worry that the priest thinks we are jerks…. he is usually impressed by our courage;
13)  never fear that the priest will not keep our confession secret… he is bound by the Seal;
14)  never confess “tendencies” or “struggles”… just sins;
15)  never leave the confessional before the priest has finished giving absolution;
16)  memorize an Act of Contrition;
17)  answer the priest’s questions briefly if he asks for a clarification;
18)  ask questions if we can’t understand what he means when he tells us something;
19)  keep in mind that sometimes priests can have bad days just like we do;
20) remember that priests must go to confession too … they know what we are going through.

Keep in mind this thought that Fr Cantalamessa once shared with the Pope and his household:

Every time I approach the sacrament of reconciliation I have a concrete experience of being justified by grace, “ex opere operato,” as we say in theology. I go out to the temple and say to God: “O God, have mercy on me a sinner” and, like the publican, I return home “justified” (Luke 18:14), forgiven, with a brilliant soul, as at the moment I came out of the baptismal font.

5.  Do penance

It always blows my mind to think that we have just admitted to acts that, unrepented of, might separate us from God for all eternity, causing us to forever endure unimaginable pain and suffering, and the praying of a few Hail Mary’s is all we’re given to do in order to show our sincerity.  The least we can do is perform our penance in a true spirit of penitence.  Not a mindless, mechanical recitation, but one born of the compunction that should still be fresh in our heart:

Blessed Abbot Marmion says that compunction is “an habitual feeling of regret for having offended the divine goodness.” He also says that, “While making us conscious of our offences, compunction gives us also a keen realization of the divine pardon. It is thus a source of peace and confidence — a source likewise of joy, humble but profound.”

6.  Express gratitude to our Lord

This last element seems so logical.  After our cleansing from sin, we should take the time to express our gratitude for this miraculous healing of soul, as Jesus taught in Luke 17:12-19:

And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

And as they went they were cleansed.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.  Now he was a Samaritan.

Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

An Examination of Conscience

I am the Lord your God. You shall not have false gods before me.

· Do I deny or persist in doubt about the existence of God?
· Do I seek to love the Lord with my whole heart?
· Do I frequently give God time in heartfelt prayer?
· Do I take time to read God’s word in Sacred Scripture?
· Do I seek to surrender myself to God’s word as taught by the Church?
· In what areas of my life am I guilty of self-righteousness? (viewing myself as better than others in the sight of God because some aspect(s) of my life seems to me to be well-ordered or aligned with what I think God wants)
· Do I have false gods in my life? (idolatry) (people, pleasure, power, money, security, image, etc.)
· Have I been involved with superstitious practices, magic or sorcery by which one attempts to tame or serve occult powers? (Satanism, horoscopes, palm-reading, ouija board, psychics or mediums, fortune-tellers, tarot cards, witchcraft, seances, reincarnation, clairvoyance, spiritism, omens, charms)
· Have I been seriously involved in New Age philosophies or Eastern religions?
· Have I supported or participated in a schismatic group?
· Have I joined the Masons or any other cult or secret society outlawed by the Church?
· Have I openly dissented from the Church’s teachings? (incredulity, heresy, schism)
· Have I committed apostasy? (leaving the Catholic Church because I no longer believe her teachings)
· Have I received Holy Communion or any other Sacraments unworthily (in a state of mortal sin)?
· Have I deliberately lied in confession?
· Have I knowingly withheld a mortal sin in Confession?
· Have I failed to perform the penance given to me by the priest in my last Confession?
· Have I participated in a “General Absolution” service, with the purposeful intention of avoiding a personal confession to a priest?
· Am I guilty of the sin of despair? (lack of any hope for my personal salvation)
· Have I sinned against the Holy Spirit by stubbornly refusing to accept God’s love, mercy and forgiveness?
· Am I guilty of the sin of presumption? (presuming upon God’s mercy without an appropriate effort at ongoing conversion)
· Is my relationship with God “too friendly”? (not enough reverence for God, or not taking seriously how greatly he hates sin)
· Am I guilty of performing pious acts or works of mercy so that people can see them and think more of me?
· Am I guilty of letting other people know how much money I’ve contributed so they will think more of me?
· Have I kept the required fasts and abstinences?
· Do I regularly do penance and make reparation for my sins especially on Fridays? (Canon 1249-1253)
· Have I committed the sin of indifference by neglecting or refusing to reflect on God’s love? (CCC, n. 2094)
· Have I committed the sin of ingratitude by failing or refusing to acknowledge and return God’s love? (CCC, n. 2094)
· Have I committed the sin of lukewarmness by hesitating or neglecting to respond to God’s love? (CCC, n. 2094) (Rev 3:16)
· Am I guilty of the sin of acedia (spiritual sloth) by refusing the joy that comes from God and being repelled by his divine goodness?
· Do I have a firm desire to work at eliminating sin from my life? (ongoing conversion and amendment)
· Have I failed to make an effort to learn more about my faith?
· Am I guilty of praying mindlessly and mechanically, just reciting words quickly without contemplating the Lord?
· Have I knowingly put myself in danger of losing or weakening my faith by something I’ve read or watched?
· Have I neglected to share my faith in God with others because of fear or embarrassment?
· Am I guilty of the sin of tempting God by putting his goodness and power to a test? (CCC, n. 2119)
· Am I guilty of the sin of sacrilege through profaning or treating unworthily the Sacraments (especially the Holy Eucharist) or other liturgical actions, as well as persons, things or places consecrated to God? (CCC, n. 2120)
· Am I guilty of the sin of simony because I was involved in the buying or selling of spiritual things? (CCC, n. 2121)

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

· Have I used any of God’s names lightly, carelessly or frivolously?
· Have I told any jokes that made fun of God?
· Have I been angry with God?
· Have I spoken any words of hatred or defiance toward God? (blasphemy)
· Have I wished that God would bring evil upon another person?
· Have I used any of God’s names when cursing others?
· Have I abused the names of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Saints?
· Have I insulted a sacred person or abused a sacred object?
· Did I break any vows that I’ve made to the Lord?
· Have I used the Lord’s name in swearing an oath that I had no intention of keeping?
· Have I committed the sin of perjury by lying or making a false promise under an oath sworn to God?
· Have I used vulgar or profane language (especially in the presence of children)?
· Am I embarrassed to refer to the Lord in conversation?

Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.

· Have I missed Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation deliberately or without a legitimate reason?
· Have I carelessly arrived late for Mass or left before it ended?
· Do I concentrate and participate at Mass by praying and singing, and listening to the readings and homily?
· Was I irreverent, silly or carelessly distracting to others during Mass?
· Do I acknowledge the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and receive Holy Communion with reverence and gratitude?
· Have I broken the required one-hour fast from any food and drink (except water and medicine) before receiving Holy Communion?
· Has my behavior in the church before and after Mass reflected reverence for the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle?
· Did I cause others to miss Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation?
· Have I tried to observe Sunday as a day of rest and reflection, of family time or of doing works of mercy and charity?
· Did I do needless work/shopping on Sunday, especially the type of routine work/shopping that could have been done another day?
· Did I selfishly cause someone else to have to work on Sunday?
· Have I fulfilled my Easter Duty? (to worthily receive Holy Communion during the Easter season) (Canon 920)
· Have I fulfilled my yearly Confession duty? (to confess my grave sins at least once a year) (Canon 989)

Honor your father and your mother.

· Do I obey and honor my parents?
· Have I spoken disrespectfully to or about my father or mother?
· Have I neglected my duties as a family member?
· Do I strive to be an example of holiness to the members of my family?
· Do I view and treat my children as God’s children first, who he has entrusted to my care?
· Have I participated in our family prayer with a good attitude and proper behavior?
· Am I significantly involved in the education of my children?
· Have I proactively and aggressively tried to pass our Catholic faith on to my children, especially preparing them for the Sacraments?
· Have I tried to coerce any of my children to choose (or to avoid) a specific vocation?
· Have I been impatient or unloving with members of my family?
· Have I been a cause of disorder or lack of peace in our family?
· Have I brought or allowed inappropriate or disordered media into our home? (TV, movies, books, magazines, websites, video games, etc.)
· As a parent, have I neglected to exercise proper authority over my children?
· When I corrected or disciplined my children, was I loving? Appropriately merciful?
· Have I failed to show appropriate affection and encouragement to the other members of my family?
· Have I done my chores and fulfilled my household responsibilities?
· Have I taken time for substantive communication with the members of my family?
· Has my self-centeredness caused me to be rude, sullen or sulky in my home?
· Do I spend time with (or care for) my aged, sick or lonely relatives?
· Have I failed to carry out the last will of a deceased parent?
· Have I neglected any of the duties of my state in life?
· Do I obey all legitimate authority?
· Do I neglect to exercise my right to vote?
· Do I advocate perverse forms of family structure proffered by the prevailing culture?

You shall not kill.

· Have I harbored anger, hatred or resentment in my heart?
· Am I guilty of judging others?
· Have I abused alcoholic beverages, tobacco or drugs?
· Am I guilty of the sin of gluttony? Purposely under-eating?
· Do I care for my health adequately?
· Have I physically harmed anyone?
· Have I made a serious attempt at suicide, or encouraged someone else to do so?
· Have I verbally abused anyone?
· Do I readily extend mercy and forgive others?
· Have I asked for forgiveness when I should have?
· Have I been patient in the face of sufferings, sorrows and disappointments? Have I united my sufferings to the sufferings of Jesus, and offered them up?
· Am I guilty of malice, treachery, haughtiness, rivalry, discord, quarrels, angry words, insolence, spitefulness, antagonism, tantrums, the “silent treatment,” rebelliousness, selfishness, pride, pettiness, insults, bossiness or being inconsiderate?
· Have I been receptive to lovingly-delivered and properly-ordered correction?
· Do I regularly neglect to express my gratitude to others?
· Did I give scandal to anyone by my attitudes or behavior, thereby leading them into sin?
· Have I had an abortion, or encouraged or helped someone else to have an abortion?
· Have I voted for a non-Pro-Life candidate, when a Pro-Life candidate was also running?
· Have I encouraged or condoned sterilization?
· Have I mutilated myself through any form of sterilization to avoid having children?
· Have I engaged in artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization?
· Have I participated in or approved of euthanasia?
· Have I participated in or supported human cloning?
· Have I advocated or supported an unjust war?
· Do I drive in a safe and courteous manner?
· Have I taken revenge on someone, or taken pleasure in imagining it?
· Have I willfully engaged in an unjust lawsuit?
· Am I guilty of bigotry? (hatred of persons of other races)
· Have I prayed for my enemies and persecutors? (Mt 5:44)
· Have I done anything to pollute or otherwise damage our natural environment?

You shall not commit adultery.

· Have I disrespected members of the opposite sex by thinking of them as mere objects for my pleasure?
· Have I been chaste in thought, word and action?
· Have I dressed immodestly?
· Have I allowed my mind to dwell on impure thoughts?
· Have I caused impure thoughts through reading or pictures? (magazines, television, movies, internet)
· Have I engaged in masturbation?
· Have I been faithful to my marriage vows in thought and action?
· Have I engaged in any sexual activity outside of marriage?
· Have I used any method of contraception or artificial birth control?
· Has each sexual act in my marriage been open to the transmission of new human life?
· Have I engaged in any homosexual activity?
· Have I given impure or pornographic material to someone else?

You shall not steal.

· Do I waste time? (work, school, home, etc.)
· Have I stolen anything?
· Have I failed to return and/or make restitution for anything that I had stolen?
· Have I knowingly accepted or purchased stolen property?
· Have I purposely damaged someone else’s property?
· Have I cheated anyone out of what is justly theirs? (friends, neighbors, workplace, creditors, insurance companies, etc.) (especially by breaking a contract or business agreement)
· Have I cheated? (tests, games, taxes, expense accounts, etc.)
· Have I accepted bribes, or otherwise sold my influence?
· Have I engaged in blackmail, fraud, embezzlement, price-fixing, tax evasion, criminal forgery, or copyright violation?
· Have I been a poor steward of any of the resources with which the Lord has blessed me?
· Do I pay my debts promptly?
· Have I incurred debt that I know is beyond my means?
· Do I regularly support my parish financially?
· Have I given to the poor? (relative to my income)
· Do I gamble excessively?
· Do I pay a fair wage to my employees, and provide good and safe working conditions?
· Have I been guilty of laziness or excessive idleness?
· Have I neglected or abused any animals?

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

· Have I lied?
· Have I gossiped?
· Have I been negative, uncharitable, or too critical of others in my words or thoughts?
· Do I complain too much?
· Do I talk excessively?
· When I have a different opinion, must I always express it?
· Am I boastful or self-aggrandizing in conversation?
· Have I been sincere in my dealings with others?
· Am I guilty of unfairness or persecution?
· Do I keep secret what should be confidential?
· Am I guilty of morbid curiosity?
· Have I injured the reputation of others by speaking about them negatively? Made restitution? Asked their forgiveness?

You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife.

· Have I said or done anything which made a mockery of my wedding vows?
· Have I failed to defend the sanctity of Matrimony in my conversations when it is attacked, ridiculed or belittled?
· Have I weakened my marriage commitment through my obsession with another person?
· Have I behaved in an inappropriate way with members of the opposite sex? (flirting, touching, etc.)
· Have I consented to impure thoughts?
· Am I living in an adulterous situation?
· Have I been obedient to the laws of the Church regarding marriage, or re-marriage to someone who has previously been married?
· Am I guilty of polygamy or polyandry? (having more than one wife or husband)

You shall not desire your neighbor’s goods.

·Am I envious of what other people have? (possessions, successes, families, etc.)
· Am I greedy, miserly, or niggardly?
· Have I placed too high a priority on material possessions?
· Am I consumed by my personal ambitions, to the detriment of my family life and personal spiritual growth?
· Do I try to project a false image of myself through ostentation?
· Do I trust that God will care for all of my material needs?
· Do I live Gospel simplicity and detachment?


Conversion in the Year of Faith – 6

November 17, 2012

In our previous consideration of ongoing conversion in the Year of Faith, we heard this admonishment from the CCC:

The free gift of adoption requires on our part continual conversion and new life.

We already looked at the first of the two “fundamental dispositions” noted by the CCC to which our ongoing conversion should lead us.  Now let’s explore the second, which is presented as follows in CCC n. 2785:

Second, a humble and trusting heart that enables us “to turn and become like children”: for it is to “little children” that the Father is revealed.

  • [The prayer is accomplished] by the contemplation of God alone, and by the warmth of love, through which the soul, molded and directed to love him, speaks very familiarly to God as to its own Father with special devotion.
  • Our Father: at this name love is aroused in us . . . and the confidence of obtaining what we are about to ask. . . . What would he not give to his children who ask, since he has already granted them the gift of being his children?

The encouragement to develop a “humble and trusting heart”   reminds me of the call of the First Beatitude to be “poor in spirit,” to recognize our relative helplessness and live in absolute dependence on the Lord.  We can make progress in this by deepening our personal relationship with God through a faithful prayer life, in which we speak “very familiarly to God as to [our] own Father with special devotion.”

Regarding the Father’s willingness to “give to his children who ask,” I too often focus on the prayers of mine which seem to have gone unanswered, and in self-centered disappointment ask of our Lord “Why have you not granted my request?”  Rather, I should be taking more time to reflect on the ways in which God has indeed been at work in my life, and should profusely offer Him heartfelt gratitude for his generosity and paternal concern for me.  Regarding those seemingly ‘unheard’ prayers, these words of Pope Benedict near the end of his Year of Faith letter, Porta Fidei, provide some perspective:

The life of Christians knows the experience of joy as well as the experience of suffering. How many of the saints have lived in solitude! How many believers, even in our own day, are tested by God’s silence when they would rather hear his consoling voice! The trials of life, while helping us to understand the mystery of the Cross and to participate in the sufferings of Christ (cf. Col 1:24), are a prelude to the joy and hope to which faith leads: “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10)

Conversion in the Year of Faith – 5

November 11, 2012

We are now one full month into the Year of Faith.  How’s it going for you?

Another resource to which Pope Benedict directs us in this Year of Faith is the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), wherein we find this demanding teaching concerning ongoing conversion (in n. 2784):

The free gift of adoption requires on our part continual conversion and new life. Praying to our Father should develop in us two fundamental dispositions:

First, the desire to become like him: though created in his image, we are restored to his likeness by grace; and we must respond to this grace.

  • We must remember . . . and know that when we call God “our Father” we ought to behave as sons of God.
  • You cannot call the God of all kindness your Father if you preserve a cruel and inhuman heart; for in this case you no longer have in you the marks of the heavenly Father’s kindness.
  • We must contemplate the beauty of the Father without ceasing and adorn our own souls accordingly.

Note the importance of grace.  It is so easy, as we endeavor to make changes in our lives, to tend to rely on our own power.  Cooperating with grace is an art, and takes a great deal of personal discipline.  The temptation is so great for us to want to be in control.  Perhaps some reflection on the healing miracles performed by Jesus will help to increase our faith in the ease with which the power of God can effect change in our lives.  Our post-Communion prayer time would be enhanced by taking some time to entreat Jesus for the special grace we need in order to make progress in those areas in which we are striving for conversion.

I was strongly convicted when I read that “We must contemplate the beauty of the Father without ceasing…”  It revealed to me a certain faith-blindness with which I am afflicted.  I have surely taken time now and again to reflect on the beauty of God in nature, in His creation.  But I have difficulty ‘seeing’ the beauty of the Father Himself.  Yet, the CCC challenges us to contemplate it “without ceasing.”  I can see how this is necessary for our ongoing conversion.  Since we, as adopted sons, are called to participate in the eternal exchange of love among the Blessed Trinity, contemplating the various aspects of it will provide us with inspiration, with a vision to pursue, with motivation.

Conversion in the Year of Faith – 4

October 21, 2012

One of the resources to which Pope Benedict points us for inspiration, study and prayer during this Year of Faith is the documents of Vatican II:

It seemed to me that timing the launch of the Year of Faith to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council would provide a good opportunity to help people understand that the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s Tradition …” (Porta Fidei, n. 5)

JP2 taught us that one of the great rediscoveries of Vatican II was the universal call to holiness.  Though he doesn’t expressly use the term “conversion,” it is implicit in his description of what our growth in holiness entails:

It is necessary therefore to rediscover the full practical significance of Chapter 5 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, dedicated to the “universal call to holiness”.  The Council Fathers laid such stress on this point, not just to embellish ecclesiology with a kind of spiritual veneer, but to make the call to holiness an intrinsic and essential aspect of their teaching on the Church…This as it were objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptized. ..But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life: “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Th 4:3). It is a duty which concerns not only certain Christians: “All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity”….It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: “Do you wish to receive Baptism?” means at the same time to ask them: “Do you wish to become holy?” It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few “uncommon heroes” of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual…The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction.

(Novo Millennio Ineunte, nn.30-31)

Having read JP2’s summary/interpretation, here are some of the lines from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) which inspired him:

(n. 11 – Par 3) Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect.

35. Christ, the great Prophet, who proclaimed the Kingdom of His Father both by the testimony of His life and the power of His words, continually fulfills His prophetic office until the complete manifestation of glory. He does this not only through the hierarchy who teach in His name and with His authority, but also through the laity whom He made His witnesses and to whom He gave understanding of the faith (sensu fidei) and an attractiveness in speech so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life. They conduct themselves as children of the promise, and thus strong in faith and in hope they make the most of the present, and with patience await the glory that is to come. Let them not, then, hide this hope in the depths of their hearts, but even in the program of their secular life let them express it by a continual conversion and by wrestling “against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness.

Just as the sacraments of the New Law, by which the life and the apostolate of the faithful are nourished, prefigure a new heaven and a new earth, so too the laity go forth as powerful proclaimers of a faith in things to be hoped for, when they courageously join to their profession of faith a life springing from faith. This evangelization, that is, this announcing of Christ by a living testimony as well as by the spoken word, takes on a specific quality and a special force in that it is carried out in the ordinary surroundings of the world.

You can see from that last paragraph that Vatican II’s hope for a life of ongoing conversion and concomitant growth in holiness is that it will result in a new evangelization.  More LG:

40. The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples of every condition. He Himself stands as the author and consumator of this holiness of life: “Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect”.  Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength and that they might love each other as Christ loves them. The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God’s gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received. They are warned by the Apostle to live “as becomes saints”, and to put on “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience”, and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness. Since truly we all offend in many things  we all need God’s mercies continually and we all must daily pray: “Forgive us our debts”.

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.

Conversion in the Year of Faith – 3

October 18, 2012

If you’ll be meditating on the Mysteries of Light as you pray the Rosary on this October Thursday in the Year of Faith, don’t short-change yourself on the Third Mystery.  Most people aren’t aware that Bd Pope John Paul II included “conversion” as an integral part of the Third ‘Luminous Mystery.’  (It is often excluded from the title of the mystery.  Example:  see here, here and here.) Here’s how he presented it in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 21:

Moving on from the infancy and the hidden life in Nazareth to the public life of Jesus, our contemplation brings us to those mysteries which may be called in a special way “mysteries of light”. Certainly the whole mystery of Christ is a mystery of light. He is the “light of the world” (Jn 8:12). Yet this truth emerges in a special way during the years of his public life, when he proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom. In proposing to the Christian community five significant moments – “luminous” mysteries – during this phase of Christ’s life, I think that the following can be fittingly singled out: (1) his Baptism in the Jordan, (2) his self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana, (3) his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion, (4) his Transfiguration, and finally, (5) his institution of the Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery.

Expanding upon it, he said a few lines later:

Another mystery of light is the preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion (cf. Mk 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust (cf. Mk 2:3-13; Lk 7:47- 48): the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church (cf. Jn 20:22-23).

The praying of this mystery provides us with an excellent opportunity to reflect on the status of our own ongoing conversion.  We can ponder how the call of St John the Baptist to conversion must have affected Jesus and his soon-to-be disciples.  We can review the times when Jesus called for the conversion of his hearers (Mt 4:17)(Mk 1:15).

Pope Benedict XVI was even able to sense the call of Jesus to ongoing conversion in a little phrase from Luke 22:31-32:

Saint Luke has preserved for us one concrete element of Jesus’ prayer for unity: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:31). Today we are once more painfully aware that Satan has been permitted to sift the disciples before the whole world. And we know that Jesus prays for the faith of Peter and his successors. We know that Peter, who walks towards the Lord upon the stormy waters of history and is in danger of sinking, is sustained ever anew by the Lord’s hand and guided over the waves. But Jesus continues with a prediction and a mandate. “When you have turned again…”. Every human being, save Mary, has constant need of conversion. Jesus tells Peter beforehand of his coming betrayal and conversion. But what did Peter need to be converted from? When first called, terrified by the Lord’s divine power and his own weakness, Peter had said: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8). In the light of the Lord, he recognizes his own inadequacy. Precisely in this way, in the humility of one who knows that he is a sinner, is he called. He must discover this humility ever anew. At Caesarea Philippi Peter could not accept that Jesus would have to suffer and be crucified: it did not fit his image of God and the Messiah. In the Upper Room he did not want Jesus to wash his feet: it did not fit his image of the dignity of the Master. In the Garden of Olives he wielded his sword. He wanted to show his courage. Yet before the servant girl he declared that he did not know Jesus. At the time he considered it a little lie which would let him stay close to Jesus. All his heroism collapsed in a shabby bid to be at the centre of things. We too, all of us, need to learn again to accept God and Jesus Christ as he is, and not the way we want him to be. We too find it hard to accept that he bound himself to the limitations of his Church and her ministers. We too do not want to accept that he is powerless in this world. We too find excuses when being his disciples starts becoming too costly, too dangerous. All of us need the conversion which enables us to accept Jesus in his reality as God and man. We need the humility of the disciple who follows the will of his Master. Tonight we want to ask Jesus to look to us, as with kindly eyes he looked to Peter when the time was right, and to convert us.

Conversion in the Year of Faith – 2

October 14, 2012

Before we dive into some of the Church’s teaching on conversion, below are 10 bad attitudes toward conversion that I have either experienced myself or encountered in others.  Can you relate to any of these?  Can you think of any others?

1 – I don’t really care about changing.  It’s not even on my radar.

2 – I feel that I’m good enough already.  The Lord accepts us as we are.  More people should be as good as I am.

3 – I’m too busy!  Too busy with all the things going on in my life to take time to do anything about changing.  The Lord will just have to accept me as I am.

4 – I know I have some weaknesses, maybe even sins.  But, hey!  Nobody’s perfect!

5 – We all have sins and imperfections.  I’ve had mine for so long that I’ve just learned to live with them.

6 – I’m not really interested in surfacing all my “inadvertent sins” (Psalm 19:13 NABRE).  They can’t be that bad if I’m not already aware of them.  Others will just have to endure them!

7 – As long as I’m a good Catholic, God’s grace will change anything in my life that needs to be changed.  God doesn’t need my help.

8 – The way I effect change in my life is “on the fly” or “by the seat of my pants” – if it changes, it changes; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

9 – When I try to make changes in my life, I usually end up bouncing from one thing to another before significant progress is made.  I spend a week or two on one thing, then another area needing change pops up and I switch focus.

10 – I only try to change things in my life if the Spirit leads me to do so, based solely on my own discernment.

What should our attitude toward conversion really be like?

Preparing us for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Bd John Paul II described our human journey in Tertio Millennio Adveniente:

The whole of the Christian life is like a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father, whose unconditional love for every human creature, and in particular for the ‘prodigal son’ (cf. Lk 15:11-32), we discover anew each day.  This pilgrimage takes place in the heart of each person, extends to the believing community and then reaches to the whole of humanity” (n. 49).

This pilgrimage – ongoing conversion – starts in our heart.  The greatest desire of our heart, and the goal of our ongoing conversion is our fulfillment of the greatest commandment:  to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength — in response to his unconditional, merciful love for us.  It is our deep desire for God that will keep us motivated to strive for conversion.  Our level of desire for God should be like that which caused the Psalmist to pray

O God, you are my God – it is you I seek.
For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts…
…For your love is better than life, my lips shall ever praise you! (Ps 63)

Ideally, every thought, word and deed of ours should be born of our love for God, and be a means of showing our love for God.  St John Chrysotom, in a homily on “Prayer,” said this:

Our soul should be directed in God, not merely when we suddenly think of prayer, but even when we are concerned with something else. If we are looking after the poor, if we are busy in some other way, or if we are doing any type of good work, we should season our actions with the desire and the remembrance of God. Through this salt of the love of God we can all become a sweet dish for the Lord.

How do we increase our desire for God so as to stay motivated in our efforts for ongoing conversion?  At Mass on 11-October, the first day of the Year of Faith, we heard Jesus tell us this:

If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”  (Luke 11:13)

We need to ask God each day to pour out his Holy Spirit upon us, the same Spirit that emboldened the Apostles at Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit will be the source of our sustained desire for God.

Conversion in the Year of Faith – 1

October 11, 2012

Today, we in the Catholic Church begin a special “Year of Faith” proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI.  Hopefully by now you’ve already heard something about it.  Our Holy Father issued a document describing why it is needed and how we might celebrate it efficaciously.  The CDF also suggested some ways in which we might observe this year of grace.  I won’t bother to summarize all they’ve said.  Our hope for this Year is that, if properly observed, it will help us to better live through Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus and for Jesus!

In his document, Pope Benedict refers in numerous instances, directly and indirectly, to conversion.  Here are a few examples:  [I’ve emboldened the words indicating conversion]

…the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace…

renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ…

We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the Word of God…

…follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.

…a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion

…calls us to conversion of life

purified and transformed, on a journey that is never completely finished in this life.

…self-abandonment, in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly…

Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified, so as to help all believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel…

…we make it our prayer that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility…

…the action of grace which acts and transforms the person deep within.

…in his sharing our human weakness so as to transform it by the power of his resurrection…

…may this Year of Faith make our relationship with Christ the Lord increasingly firm

Having read this document by our Holy Father, I was convicted by the Holy Spirit about this ‘conversion’ aspect of the “Year of Faith” perhaps because of this:  Each time we receive the Sacrament of Penance (i.e., go to Confession), one of the requirements for a worthy reception of this sacrament is a ‘firm purpose of amendment’ (cf. CCC 1452, 1490).  As I was praying prior to one of my recent Confessions, I was disappointed by the low level of “amendment” exhibited in my life, the indicator being my repetition in Confession of the same sins over the past months, perhaps even years.

Catholic teaching refers to this amendment – or change – as conversion.  Continual change is often referred to as ongoing conversion.  In this year of special graces (and indulgences!), I’m going to strive for conversion in a number of areas of my life.  I’m also going to try to learn more about ongoing conversion.  I hope to be able to share some of what I learn with you via blog posts here.

A Blessed Year of Faith to all !!