The path to conversion for each one of us is a process. Most of us do not have experiences where we are struck blind, like Saul, and come out of it with the zeal of St. Paul. We are often not like the Apostles who leave their nets and follow Christ immediately. We tend to dither and procrastinate quite a bit.
Although, even though the Apostles followed Christ when He called them, they too underwent conversion as they learned what discipleship was going to cost them. They even ran and abandoned Christ at the most difficult point, but by the power of an encounter with the Risen Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit they embraced the full requirements of discipleship and all of them except for St. John saw a martyr’s death in the image of Our Lord’s death on the Cross.
Don’t be Jonah
In our daily lives, we too struggle to understand and accept the full cost of discipleship. We battle the desire for comfort and ease against the call Christ gives to us to follow Him all the way to Calvary. We have moments when we know He is asking something very specific of us, and like Jonah, we hitch a ride to Tarshish in the opposite direction of God’s directive. And what ends up happening? The God who loves and who has calls us to be His own sends a “great fish” into our own lives that will spit us out on the shores we were supposed to be on in the first place. Part of the path to holiness is realizing that God is going to lead us where He wants us to go and we can chose the easy way or the hard way.
The ironic part of our own story is we think by avoiding the path God is calling us to that we can avoid His will. For a time, He may allow us to wander away from where He is calling us, but He will pull us back gently, or at times, with no uncertain terms He will tell us what He requires of us and tell us to get to work. It’s similar to our experiences in Confession. Sometimes we need to hear the gentle words of God’s loving mercy and other times we need a stern lecture in order to progress in our battle against sin.
As we grow in our relationship with Christ, He will begin to expect more of us. As the graces He pours into our lives increase, so do the costs associated with those graces. The greater our experiences of God, the more significant our mission moving forward becomes. The graces he gives to us through the Sacraments and prayer are meant to conform us to Himself and then to send us out into the world in order to draw others to Christ. He has made each one of us to participate in His divine plan.
The need for constant conversion
As the demands He places upon us increase, the more our need for conversion. When we start to see what He is asking and we are seized with fear or uncertainty, He is giving us a choice: To look at the storm and allow it to overtake us or turn to Him in trust, faith, hope, and love. That storm may include being mocked, derided, betrayed, abandoned, rejected, imprisoned, or even martyred. It may cost us relationships with family, friends, and even our brothers and sisters in Christ. Like the Apostles, we struggle to stand fast when God asks us to do things that will cost us in ways that cause us pain and suffering.
The path to holiness is a slow dying to self. This will necessarily be difficult for us and there will be times when we walk alone with Christ as He leads us by faith onward towards Him and as He asks us to live the mission He gives to each one of us. In times like these, when the Church is marred by so much darkness, the mission to grow in holiness and to follow where God is asking us to work in His vineyard may be difficult, lonely, painful, and cause us fear. Regardless of what is asked of us, we are to rely on Him in confident hope, sure faith, and the unquenchable fire of holy love.
Suffering in love
It is often after we have walked arduous paths, suffered falls, setbacks, or suffered at the hands of others that we begin to see where God is leading us and why. We also begin to see that the sacrifices we are asked to make are worth the joy and peace we attain in following Christ. The path is never entirely clear and we walk much of it while it is obscured from view with only our faith in Christ as our guide. It is through these difficulties that we are strengthened, prepared for greater struggles, tested, refined, and taught to grow in love. It is through growing in love that the sacrifices become less burdensome and even lighten over time. As we are perfected in love, our fear dissipates and the desire to follow God completely is enkindled in our hearts. He always makes up for where we are lacking.
Things are not going to get any easier in the Church. They are going to get harder and God is going to require more and more of each one of us. We can cling to our comfort or an untenable status quo or we can allow God to spit us out of the “great fish” we may be in and get to work serving Him and His Kingdom. Even though He will ask things of us that are hard, we know that He is always working towards our salvation, that He is conforming us to Himself, and that one day all will be made new.
We wear a Crown of Thorns in this life, but through giving our lives over to Christ and becoming a saint, we will be given a Crown of Glory and dwell in eternity with the Most Holy Trinity and with one another forever. It’s difficult in this vale of tears to always see why the battle is worth it, but the more we give ourselves to Christ, the more we will understand that it is in fact worth every battle and sacrifice. Let us ask God for the grace to abandon ourselves over fully to His Divine will.
“There are very few men who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves entirely to his hands, and let themselves be formed by His Grace.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola