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Make Change

“Be the change you want to see in the world”

“Never change who you are”

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, No one thinks of changing himself.”

“You were born this way”

These are all familiar quotes to us. We hear them in music, in movies, and see them on cheesy prints they sell at gift stores. One challenges us to change ourselves for the good of the world,  while the other embraces comfort in not changing at all.

Often people assume they can change the world by giving in to who they feel they are. This means embracing all faults and making them excusable by thinking that removing those faults would be dishonest to who they are. For example, I really struggle reaching out to people. I am shy about meeting new people, and often I make excuses for myself because I am too afraid to get out of my comfort zone. I found out there is another new mom not far from me and I was so afraid to reach out to her. I made excuses like “she’s a bit older than me”, “she won’t like me” , “she is a stranger”, and “I’m too shy”. I convinced myself it was okay to just keep to myself because of my introverted nature. It took several weeks for me to just send her an e-mail.

Fear to change is also an excuse.

Fear to change is also an excuse.

It seems more apparent that people would rather change their surroundings than change who they are internally. We may challenge ourselves to do good deeds, which in turn can make an impact on ourselves, but it is only temporary if it isn’t pursued and ultimately will yield little or no fruit if we do not continue to change ourselves.

We may need to reflect on the little things we do and ask ourselves some hard questions. Am I humble? Am I modest in dress? Do I love selflessly? Do I always expect something in return when I do something kind for someone else? Do I really put God first?

The change we embrace must not be solely fuelled by the desire for what we wish to see happen in the word nor in what the world wants from us. Instead, any change we make must be rooted in Christ, who is truth and love. It is only by Him that we can be made perfect. This conversion is about seeking holiness rather than temporary happiness.

Christianity calls us to change the world by changing ourselves daily by picking up our cross and conforming out lives to Christ. It means turning away from sins that we may have allowed to become habits in our daily lives. It requires repentance. A murderer can become a capuchin, but it requires a change of heart through conversion, not just once, but daily.

As the Christmas season draws near, let us prepare our hearts for the celebration of the Incarnation. Let us change our ways and continue to pursue a real relationship with Christ, one that requires us to change and to grow. Let us change into the people of God, not of the world.

 

 

The Courage of Conversion

St. John the Apostle has really become one of my favourite Saints. I like to say that he was “quietly faithful” to the Lord, in his humility and love for Jesus. John is known to us as the “disciple whom Jesus loved. (John 20:2)” One of my favourite parts in scripture is where he leans his head against the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper. After Jesus said he would be betrayed, John leaned against Jesus, asking who it would be: “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus…so lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?”” (John 13:23,25). John had such great love for our Lord that upon hearing that he would be betrayed, leaned his head against him, probably to be close to his aching heart.

This same disciple, who loved the Lord so deeply, was the one to whom the book of Revelation was given to while exiled on the Island of Patmos. In this book, John is told to write to the Church in Ephesus (Italics mine) “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false;  I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s  sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelations 2:2-5).

St. John loved the Lord so much, and this is the same love that we should also have for our Lord. John had experienced conversion and thus came to love the Lord with a filial yet intense love. All of us need continual conversion. It is not a one-time event. Conversion is about encountering the real love of god and responding to that love.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St Ambrose who says that there are two types of conversion in the Church, “there are water and tears: the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance.”

The Sacrament of Baptism is the principal place for our first and fundamental conversion. For many of us, thanks to our parents, we were given this incredible grace as infants  and should be very thankful for that great gift. It is by this wonderful gift of Baptism that we primarily renounce evil and gain salvation, that is, the forgiveness of our sins, most importantly Original Sin, and promised the gift of eternal life. That being said, conversion does not and cannot end there. We are called to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” as St. Paul commands us. Jesus said in Mark 1:15 that, “the time is accomplished and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that ,”It is in discovering the greatness of God’s love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced.” It is in this that we are all called to continually experience “second conversion.”

One of my favourite images to spend time in prayer and in front of is the Sacred Heart of Jesus, particularly the image which reads at the bottom “Sic Deus Dilexit Mundum,” meaning, “God so loved the world.” This image brings me to tears every time I spend time in prayer in front of it, drawing close to Jesus breast as St. John did, because of everything that it contains. Jesus said to St. Margaret Mary Alocoque “Behold this Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this Sacrament of Love. But what I feel most keenly is that it is hearts which are consecrated to Me, that treat Me thus.”

sic deus

It is we, the baptized Catholics, who Our Lord is speaking about. We are those who are consecrated to Him through Baptism and who reject him day after day, in our words, thought, and actions. We reject Him when we choose sin over Him. Our God is a jealous God who desires our love so deeply that He would die to win our love, and it breaks His Sacred Heart when we turn to the counterfeit instead of real love, especially if we have experienced this real love of God before.

We all need renewal in our lives, which the Church calls a “second conversion.” The Catechism says that “This is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, ‘clasping sinners to her bosom is at once holy and always in need of purification, and follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.’ This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a ‘contrite heart,’ drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loves us first.”

When we fail in our human relationships, it is only right that we first resolve to never hurt that person again, and to go and apologize for our wrong doing. The same should go for our Lord, the one who first loved us. What does this mean for us and how do we accomplish this? We do this by gestures of reconciliation, flowing from a conversion of heart. This conversion happens through “affliction of spirit” for what we have done and a “repentance of heart” following this realization. We make penance for what we have done, out of Love for God, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

The Catechism says that “daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist.” The Council of Trent says the Eucharist does two thing for us. First it is a remedy to free us for our daily faults and second that it preserves us from mortal sins. In the Tridentine Rite of Mass, just before the communicant receives the Eucharist, the Priest says to each of them in Latin, “May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul unto life everlasting. Amen.” Every sincere act of our worship and devotion revives in us the spirit of conversion and repentance, and contributes to the forgiveness of our sins.

Contrition is the sorrow of the soul, the detestation for the sin committed, and resolution not to sin again. We cannot change on our own, though we naturally desire to change. We are in need of grace and redemption, and are called by God to change. All we need is the readiness to change. Some lack this readiness, to let go of all natural tendencies, the bad, mediocre, and those that are already good, much like the rich man in scripture, not being willing to let go of this possessions. Our possessions can be physical, but they are in fact that which possess us, which is really everything that is  preventing us from a whole hearted surrender to the Lord, including our own personal beliefs that are not in line with Him and that of His Church. We need to say with Mary, who was perfect in letting everything go, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word.” The Virgin Mary, though sinless as she was, knew how truly little she was before the greatness of God, and lived in total surrender to Him. She is the perfect model for us who need to truly surrender all to the Lord, so that He may do in us what He wills.

Without returning to our real first love (God), our lampstand (the light we received at Baptism), slowly extinguishes, and can be suffocated. In our to keep the fire burning brightly, we need to return to Christ in order to have our oil refilled. We cannot convert by our own power. In order to keep our lamp burning, we need to regularly encounter Him. King David says in the Psalms, “In my meditation a fire shall flame out.” In the Sermons of St. Alphonsus Liguori, he says that “Meditation is the blessed furnace in which the holy fire of divine love is kindled.” It is from this love that our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving comes. It is a natural fruit of our Love for God, which is born through an encounter with the fire of His Divine Love.

Aside from Sunday mass, there are many ways you can encounter the Lord. Firstly, you have to pray. Pray daily and simply talk to the Lord and ask Him to take you deeper into His Love. Ask Him to reveal His Sacred Heart to you. Make a spiritual communion regularly. If you need something to meditate on, use an image or statue that helps to raise your mind and heart to God, and light some candles. You can even do some spiritual reading and then spend time letting God speak to you about what you read. You can use a prayer journal to write down what you feel God is saying to you. Do whatever may help you to enter into a spirit of prayer. Apart from personal, mental prayer in the comfort of your own home, if you have never been to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, ask your Parish Priest where you can go. Go and be with Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. If you can’t get to Adoration, just go and be with Him in the Tabernacle at your local parish. Also go to daily Mass when you can. Since the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life”, it is primarily there that we will encounter God, but that is not the only place, so I encourage you to truly enter into a real daily personal relationship with God through prayer.

The bottom line is that the world is dying for the Truth. They are fed up with counterfeits. They are fed up with fake Christians who have drained the Gospel of its power. The world has chosen relativism as its primary philosophy because the so-called “faithful” have not given them a reason to believe otherwise. The world is looking for authentic witnesses who know without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is alive and live in His love in a real concrete way. Are we going to have the courage to change; to passionately pursue a real relationship with God, and to lay aside all that holds us back from that? Do we truly have the courage to convert?

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