Fr. Paul MacNeil
Habit 7: Conversion (7 Habits of Effective Catholics)
A few weeks ago, I referred to a great discussion from "Catholic Christian Outreach" on evangelization. For many people, Jesus is outside of their lives. For some people, many Catholics and Christians, to be sure, Jesus is an important part of our lives. But Jesus wants more; he wants to be the centre of our lives. What is it that allows us to make that transition? This is the 7th habit; we have to change our lives. It's also called "conversion."
I begin with a beautiful quotation from St. Augustine's Confessions: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness, I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you, they would not have been at all.
As I look back at my conversion experience, I see a time in my life when I was running away from God, but God wouldn't have it. I feel like the whole time I ran away from Him, he was behind me, throwing all these little gifts over my head. And I, having no idea where they were coming from just blindly chased after them until suddenly I realized Who was sending them.
Here are a few highlights from my own conversion experience.
I first felt the call of the priesthood in high school; it was a beautiful experience, full of richness and hope and joy. So I entered the seminary (after having to repeat grade 13), but after four years, I finally admitted to myself that I hated it. Part of my realization involved a brief stay in a Trappist monastery. There, they taught me the value and power of love. Love is the most important thing, the only thing. But, hey, I didn't have to be a priest to be a man of love. So I left the seminary and the Church and travelled the world.
Then I found myself working with the missionaries of charity in Calcutta, St. Mother Teresa's order. And in fact, she asked to see me. I wasn't going for all the hype, but when I sat down in her little waiting area, I was getting more nervous. And there she was, suddenly sitting in front of me, just she and I. And her main point to me? "When are you going into the seminary." I gently declined. I told her that I had already been in the seminary and I wasn't planning to go back. Her response? "A vocation is a beautiful gift from God, don't throw it away that easily."
But it wasn't until several years later, on the beach in Busan, South Korea, in fact, that I finally admitted to myself that I needed to get back to. the priesthood. But it wasn't the priesthood that I was thinking about. I needed to make Jesus once again the centre of my life.
What is it that caused that change in me? To move me from someone who knew Jesus to someone for whom Jesus was the centre of my life? Of course, there's no easy answer to that question, but as I think back to that moment, I remember saying to myself and God, "I'm sorry." Not for anything I did wrong (there are lots), but for not having made him the centre of my life. It was a recognition of guilt on a human level. But it was also the experience of Mercy - welcome home. It was this experience that led me to surrender to love, to Jesus.
The grace of forgiveness, at least as I have experienced it, is more beautiful than any love song, deeper than any priceless work of art, and more joyful than any human victory. This is the experience of conversion that I long for, to surrender all your guilt to God and, in his mercy, experience his joy and his peace.
I conclude with the rest of the quotation from St. Augustine:
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! …. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.