Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Conversion is a funny thing: Age 16

I've been thinking a lot about my conversion lately. I was raised Catholic, and apart from a very short period of time when I was 18, I was always Catholic. But not exactly the best Catholic. There were a lot of things I simply did not understand about the Faith. 

I'm not sure why, but my conversion has just really been on my mind a lot recently. I don't really think of it in terms of a knocked-to-the-ground conversion moment. It's really very much a knocked-to-the-ground-repeatedly series of events. Maybe that's why I haven't ever written about it.

It's a really complex story. It takes a lot of twists and turns. It's not a straight line and it's not a moment in time when I knew the Truth. As a matter of fact, God and I have sparred with each other for about 30 years now and he's still not finished with me yet.

Conversion is a funny thing. It's completely individual for each person. Placing a formula on conversion is like trying to buy a wedding dress off the rack at Filene's Basement - and not have any alterations done. It's impossible. Well, at least close to it.

My conversion, for example, has been a case of learning that without God, I am nothing. I am not in control of the world around me, only God is. And furthermore, God can bring great good out of the most tragic evils that we can throw at Him.

I can't really tell my whole story in all it's gory detail.  There's passion, betrayal, joy, suffering, death, despair, triumph and even a few encounters with the voice of God.  But I can share one of the most important things I have learned: Without an encounter, a personal encounter, with Jesus Christ, there is no real conversion.

This series will be kind of catch-as-catch-can. We'll see where this takes us. Today, though, we'll begin at 16.
The "Mother Ship" - Immaculate Conception Church
My native parish.

 - Age 16 - 

I can remember going to spend time in the church in the middle of the night when I was a teenager. Things would get tough at home and I'd go for a walk to clear my head or get some space. Almost every time I would end up sitting in front of the tabernacle at Immaculate Conception. I wasn't sure why, but I knew that it was the right place to be.

The homeless men who took shelter against the elements in the church pews never bothered me. Maybe I was too certain of my invincibility or just too dumb to be afraid (I was a teenager, after all,) or maybe I really had nothing to fear. I remember there being a great deal of dissention within the parish about the dangers of leaving the church unlocked. Regardless of what my pastor's motivation was for keeping the doors of our urban church unlocked day and night, I will always be eternally grateful for the spiritual shelter of the always-open church.

Even at that young age, I would sing to the Lord in the silence of the Church or just sit quietly and contemplate the tabernacle. I had no real understanding of the reality of the Eucharist at the time, mind you. Despite my very expensive Catholic school education, I truly believed that the Eucharist was just a symbol. It was just a piece of bread that represented something that I could never attain.

I knew about the Bible. I read the entire Bible my Third and Fourth grade year. I read a chapter a night until I was finished. Of course, I didn't understand it, but it was a start. And the actual words went to work on my heart - whether or not I knew or understood them. I can see that now. But, I couldn't see it at 16.

Church was just a quiet place to be and the altar of reservation was just so lovely, I couldn't help but be drawn to it. I had no idea that Jesus was actually calling to me. He was wooing me and courting me, just as my husband would a few years later. Jesus wanted so very much to be with me and be my strength and my comfort in my tumultuous life. I wasn't so sure. I was so caught up in finding out who I was, that I neglected to find out who he was. I had no idea that when I took the time to find out who Jesus really was, I would find myself, too.

To me, Jesus was just a nice idea. A nice guy, who never got angry or threw things (I kinda skipped that whole "expelling the money changers from the temple" thing, I guess). Jesus was a perfect person. I would never be a perfect person. Even more remote was the idea of his mother, Mary. How could someone be that perfect? Not me. I was as far from perfect as I could get.

The divine life was a concept for me. It was a construct of harps and angels, and clouds and blue skies that was so far removed from my experience that I could not even conceive of such a place or of such persons. God was just an idea. There was nothing personal about him for me.

It is very hard to have an encounter with an idea. Ideas have no real substance and carry no weight. Part of the beauty of the Incarnation is the fact that through God's revelation of the person of Jesus, we are able to put a face with a name. We are able to touch the face of God. And, in fact, through the sacraments, we do just exactly that. In the Eucharist we touch God and he becomes one with us.

There is a sensual experience of receiving and adoring the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist. There is something tangible in spending time with the Blessed Sacrament. It's not just an idea or a magic trick. It is a reality. It brings us, not just close to God, but we become subsumed into the Body of Christ by receiving Him into our bodies in a real and tangible way.

I am no Theology of the Body expert. Heck, I'm not an expert on anything but liturgical music. I just know what my experience has been.

If you want to get close to the Lord, if you want to have a personal relationship with Jesus, you have to start with the Sacraments. Each one becomes a conduit through which we receive and build Grace and Charity. But there are three, in particular, that specifically speak to my journey.

Through Confession, he speaks to me, personally.
Through the Eucharist, he actively storms the borders of my comfortable little life.
Through Confirmation, he called me to take the light of Grace to the world.

Is Jesus calling to you? Will you let him win your heart?

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