Anatomy of Conversion
Each person is drawn to God in slightly different ways. There are probably as many “motives of credibility” in the Catholic Church as there are personality types. But as I mentioned yesterday (see It is a failure of mercy to deny sin), most conversion stories turn on a moment when the person becomes powerfully aware of the love and mercy of God. The person finally discovers hope in the midst of his own brokenness.
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This is true even for those of us who have been raised Catholic. At some point, our Catholicism ceases to be merely an accepted way of life and becomes for us an astonishing gift which we have not earned. This is certainly true in my own experience. There was a time when I came very close to thinking of myself as doing God a favor by my unflagging advocacy of the truth, for I at least strongly suspected that I was not like other men (Lk 18:11). (This may well be a common temptation of cradle Catholics who are instinctively and self-consciously orthodox.)
But at a certain point, sorely pressed on all sides (as it seemed at the time), both interiorly and exteriorly, I began to discern how weak I was, and how inescapably dependent on God. The measure of faith, hope and love in me was substantially deepened by this discovery of my own need for mercy. I had simply never thought much about myself in these terms before. And that, for all the good which had taken root in me, was a grave failing.
This seems like yesterday, though it goes back over thirty years. Once you realize your wretchedness without God, you don’t forget it. But before we realize this, we exhibit a strong tendency to help others by offering ourselves as a model, rather than by serving as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20).
Now, a case in point for my theory of conversion—or perhaps of deeper conversion—is the testimony of Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, in her new little book Loved as I Am, published by Ave Maria Press. You can probably guess the subtitle, “An invitation to conversion, healing, and freedom through Jesus.” This, after all, is how conversion is most frequently experienced—as healing and freedom and, of course, gratitude.
Reeling inside from the knowledge that she was adopted, from sexual abuse as a child, from the failed satisfactions of sports, parties and men, and from alcoholism, Sr. Miriam was desperate to find a fulfilling purpose in life. She was not, in fact, unlike huge numbers of young people in our culture today. She had a serious need to be “fathered” into wholeness, a process which continued through Divine and human help even after her initial response to Christ and her vocation to consecrated life.
Since 1998, Sr. Miriam has been a missionary in the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. Her book is short, about a hundred fairly light pages, and includes questions for reflection after she recounts each stage of her Christian journey. It can be read easily in a single evening. And since we all face a sort of brokenness in one form or another (think Original Sin), Sr. Miriam’s story may resonate out of all proportion to its length. At the very least it illustrates the very thesis I have been exploring of late, that conversion ultimately depends on an experience of the mercy of God.
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