Conversion

I write this on the feast of St. Paul’s conversion, January 25. And what a conversion was that!

It’s my opinion, produced by experience, that I am repeatedly called to conversion. For me, there was one very big one, so big that I remember the date, place and hour. It was October 4, 1998, in Santa Fe (Holy Faith) at the noon Mass being celebrated at the Diocesan cathedral of Saint Francis. It was the fourth centenary of the Franciscans in the New World. The large number of Latinos at this Mass guaranteed that the liturgy’s music would indeed be celebratory. The contagious joy and enthusiasm of the parishioners acted upon me like Paul’s blinding light: powerfully and instantly converting me, bringing me back to the Faith that I had abandoned 21 years earlier.

Let me say it again: we are repeatedly called to conversion — not necessarily in a grand fashion, but in small doses, mini lights that invite us to make Gospel decisions.

  • Shall I respond harshly to this person to let her know I don’t appreciate her criticism of me?
  • Shall I turn a punishing frown at the guy who practically knocks me over with his shopping cart?
  • Shall I get out of bed for weekday Mass, tired as I am from staying up late to watch a movie?
  • Shall I give in to the “sadness of the noonday devil,”* or will I accept the call to bravery in performing those uninspiring tasks that wait for no one but me to finish?

These are the little conversions, the tiny steps that follow at a great distance from the footsteps of Christ. These are the mustard seeds, the tiniest available, that I’m invited to plant and tend carefully and steadily until they explode into trees, housing flocks of birds.

The Gospel call of the Apostles has always intrigued me. I used to lament that I was not around to be called to discipleship (not that as a woman I’d have been called anyway). There was a kind of magnificence to being called, to being lifted out of the drab dullness of daily drudgery to follow this great healer, preacher, teacher; to view the wonderment of the crowds and to be so intimately connected with the greatness of this man! For me, discipleship represented the best kind of greatness.

Before his call, Saul too had a kind of greatness. He was a leader in the gradual but persistent elimination of heretics who arrogantly claimed fellowship with a blasphemous criminal (as if this were something to be proud of!). Saul’s task: bring them back in chains, let them imitate their master, even to submitting to the same end and manner of execution.

Given his powerful personality, this saint-in-the-making required a proportionately powerful show of God’s great mercy. A mere hint or two wouldn’t be enough. Saul needed a blinding light, a certitude that would impel him to undertake the most trying conditions. In spite of all his sufferings – he recounts shipwrecks, imprisonments, beatings – he considered them as nothing, and himself as the least of the Apostles. Indeed, his new name – Paul – means poor and small. Only in his acceptance of this smallness and the cross could he find true glory.

No wonder “little” Thérèse’s doctrine set the world on fire. Goodness, even holiness, was now presented to the hoi polloi as readily available even to the least of us. This young woman, formally educated only to the sixth-grade level, was named a Doctor of the Church for having taught this humble approach to God. Her longing to be a missionary, even to be a priest, was far beyond the possibilities of her circumstances. She recognized that all God wanted of her was fidelity to what was right in front of her: undramatic daily chores; crabby people; simple prayer which she often slept through. Each choice brought her one step closer to the One she loved “madly!”

How simple are my choices! Not easy, and certainly no longer grandiose as I grow slowly but surely into the reality of insignificance. All that remains is to be totally focused on the desire for the one thing necessary and a dogged determination to live the Gospel.


acedia.jpg* The “sadness of the noonday devil,” a spiritual condition called acedia is a gloomy combination of weariness, sadness, and a lack of purposefulness. It robs a person of his capacity for joy and leaves him feeling empty, or void of meaning.

New Year Inventory

Different peoples celebrate their New Year on dates other than January 1. To my way of thinking, every day starts a new year. We who are Christians are invited to constant conversion. For most of us, a new start – whenever it occurs – brings back hope and confidence.

I won’t go into all of last year’s situations that required hope. Probably if we did a bit of research, we’d find that just about any year in the world’s existence was full of incidents that made us relieved and happy to have the year end, along with the hope for improvement during the coming year.

I’ve now reached the age where some New Year’s “resolutions” are passé. I most likely won’t lose those 10 (or more) pounds in 2018. Nor will I spend a faithful half-hour a day on the stationary bike downstairs. Discipline! What a harsh word! And anyway, resolutions like the ones just mentioned are inspired mostly by my vanity.

This year I’m in an anti-clutter mood. Taking inventory of excess material possessions has inspired me to reduce the contents of my basement storage cabinets. You know the adage, “If you have the space, you’ll fill it!” The pledge to cut down on unnecessary things comes from compassion for my future survivors who will have the burden of disposing of so much stuff after my passing.

The stuff in the basement includes literally hundreds of slides of places visited with my husband. Let’s be honest: for the most part I can find pictures of France, Italy, England, etc., that are more professionally photographed. So one easy decision: those are out. Photos of family get-togethers are harder to revisit, prompting more emotion than I really want to deal with. It’s much more difficult to throw those out, so the kids will simply have to deal with them.

At this point, I’m happy to report that several large trash bags and a few trips to our local charities have helped me keep this resolution. But the other and more difficult inventory has to do with my inner life, my spiritual journey: my relationship with God, family, friends, directees.

Clutter. Just as having more material stuff than we need creates clutter in our home, there’s other stuff that clutters my soul.

Some of the clutter is comparable to my cupboards. There’s stuff in my life that, while certainly not bad (like the photos of our travels) take up space that can be used for better purposes. The real problem with clutter, whether material or spiritual, is that it prevents us from seeing what we need at this moment, or finding what is really important. (I challenge you to find the ordinary house key in the messy drawer pictured below.)

Clutter

For me, interior clutter consists of an excess of wants. “Want” doesn’t only mean “desire”. It also means a lack, something missing from my life. Maybe that something is an absent person; maybe it applies to me wanting to be a person that other people will like and admire. It can be so many things, situations or even persons. If the Lord were truly my Shepherd, I would want for nothing. So clearly, what I want and what’s missing is more of the Lord.

The presence of the Lord fills the empty space of want but only for as long as I invite and prefer it. As soon as I dismiss the presence of Christ, I find nothing but emptiness.

Nowadays, people refer to the ultimate of emptiness as a “black hole.” Oddly enough, a black hole (so Google tells us) is a superabundance of matter, the very opposite of emptiness. “It is a place in space where gravity pulls in so much that even light can not get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space. Because no light can get out, people can’t see black holes. They are invisible.”

Isn’t it great to discover that science of the universe conforms to discoveries about the Creator of the universe? At the spiritual level, a black hole is a heart so full of other things, other thoughts, other desires, that even light, i.e. the Supreme Light that is God, remains trapped and invisible to us.

So my clutter, I discover, is ironically an emptiness: wanting that which is withheld from me at this moment, even if they’re good things in themselves. Its opposite is accepting what IS – i.e. Light, God, and what is right in front of me now. What IS, is reality: fatigue when I’d prefer to be energetic; answering the phone when I really don’t want to speak to that caller; accepting the apparent rudeness of a friend, which is really my own thin skin (I know how to behave so much better!); and so on and so on and so on. So much trash in there, so much wasted space hiding God!

But the most cluttering of all desires is the desire to be what only God is and what I’m not: perfect. Awareness of my failure to be perfect is the best gift of all. It keeps me grounded in the reality of accepting this incomplete thing that is my self.

Unlike the black hole, God is total light and draws us, along with all our imperfections, into the total brightness of his loving Being. God is the God of transformation Who ultimately gives us what we lack, what we want, which is God Himself.

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p. s. And here’s the key we were looking for: Clutter-key