This week, in the Catholic Mom.com Lawn Chair Catechism series, we are considering the Fruits of Discipleship. In Chapter 3, Weddell takes a look at two parishes that are relatively small, but are bursting with life and bringing many vocations to their dioceses. Weddell tells us that she believes that true discipleship in parishes is not realized because the individuals who are put in charge of parish ministries have not really experienced a true conversion of heart. Weddell asks us to consider the fruits of discipleship and in doing so to consider our own conversion experience. Feel free to hop over to CatholicMom to join the discussion there, leave a comment here, or even share in the discussion over on your own blog.
My conversion is really a process, not a moment in time and I suspect this is a common experience of conversion for most people. I can point to a few "conversion experience" moments in my journey where I had breakthroughs that formed me into a more intentional Catholic rather than a passive one. Most of those moment involve the Sacraments and really encountering Jesus, in person.
It is no accident that within the rites of most of the Sacraments touch is involved. When the priest stands in persona Christi, it is Jesus touching the recipient, not in a symbolic way, but in a very real and life-changing way. When we are properly prepared and disposed toward reception of the Sacraments, there is great power in the touch of His hand.
We use the word "personal" a lot in these discussions, but really, the experience we have in the sacraments is much more accurately described as intimacy.
Surrendering yourself to God's will for your life (which is what the Sacrament of Penance is all about) is a very intimate act. The laying on of hands in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick are also very intimate ways to experience God's grace in our lives. And certainly, one cannot forget the intimacy of Marriage which mirrors the triune nature of God. Here, we even become cooperators in God's creation by bringing forth new life. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist we take the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus into ourselves and become one with Him, allowing Him to transform our lives and our souls to be like Him. How much more intimate can we get?
One of the differences that strikes me between the Anglo parishioners and the Latino parishioners where I work is the use of touch in interpersonal relationships. Midwestern to the core, the Anglos will shake your hand the first time they meet you, but after that it's a nod and smile as greeting. In the Latino community there is a handshake each time you meet. It is expected. And if you have become close enough, there is a hug and kiss each time you see each other. It took me a while to get used to. I always felt uncomfortable with that level of touch. But truly, as I share in the Eucharist with the people each week, I have come to realize that this is real and necessary intimacy. We are one body, in Christ, after all.
As I was driving to work today and turning these questions over in my head, I got a real sense of being a child of God and what that means. I had a sense of God's hand on my shoulder directing me where He wanted me to go next. I can remember as a child, having my mom or dad put their hand on my shoulder. It meant direction. It meant protection. We have to make the choice to shake off God's hand or to allow it to guide and protect us. And, like the children that we are, we make that choice each day, and from moment to moment.
Allowing that hand to stay there gives us the Christian Joy and Peace that we seek. Joy doesn't mean giddy, Snoopy-dancing, happiness. Peace doesn't mean the absence of strife. Peace and Joy mean that you know who you are and where you are going, and you are not afraid - even when there is strife. I'm not quite there, yet - that's for sure. Every now and then I quake in my boots over the changes happening in my parish. Then I remember that God has a plan and it's my job to cooperate with it.
Jesus didn't promise that it would be easy to be His disciple. He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us. The conduit to that comfort and guidance is active, well-prepared participation in the Sacraments where we intimately encounter God and allow Him to shape us.