Worth Revisiting: Conformity or Conversion

“Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.” Luke 5:33-39

This Gospel reading really struck home as just moments before I had received an unexpected call from someone about to enter a mandated rehab program. Knowing that I was to speak with this young man later, I found myself considering both the change offered in the new wine and the comfort he has found in the old wineskin. Was he really ready to accept a dissimilar mode of intoxication, a radical way of moving through the life he had been accustomed to?  Or was this opportunity to be lost, unable to be readily accepted in the worn and toughened shell he conveyed?

Whether we choose to admit it or not, his story is not unlike our own. For, so too our daily choices in life help to fashion the shape and degree of flexibility of our own wineskins to accept the transformative message of the Gospel.  The constricting nature of many of our decisions can leave us feeling either trapped in a life not of our choosing or content with an accustomed conformity with what is known.

And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new,
for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

And yet, how much sweeter is the promised new wine that Christ has in store for each of us! Even though spiritual conditioning, prayer and reflection may have softened the skin, we may not be ready to accept the total conversion of heart that is required. Instead we seem perplexed when seeking to take a bit of new wine and mix it with the old it does not blend well.  Leaving us dissatisfied and wondering if we should have tried to change at all. Why is this? Well, quite simply, the life altering message of Christ does not fit into old destructive behaviors, or is it content with half-hearted measures with no conviction.  This new wine holds the assurance of new life and new possibilities that can only be received when we are willing to give up conformity for conversion.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” Blessed Mother Teresa

 †     Where in my life have I become stiffened and resistant to change? Is the pull of temptation, addictions, or conformity to the world keeping me from even desiring the new life God has waiting for me? Am I satisfied with observing empty practices or am I seeking greater meaning in my life today? 

Peace,

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Conformity Or Conversion

“Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.” Luke 5:33-39

This Gospel reading really struck home as just moments before I had received an unexpected call from someone about to enter a mandated rehab program. Knowing that I was to speak with this young man later, I found myself considering both the change offered in the new wine and the comfort he has found in the old wineskin. Was he really ready to accept a dissimilar mode of intoxication, a radical way of moving through the life he had been accustomed to?  Or was this opportunity to be lost, unable to be readily accepted in the worn and toughened shell he conveyed?

Whether we choose to admit it or not, his story is not unlike our own. For, so too our daily choices in life help to fashion the shape and degree of flexibility of our own wineskins to accept the transformative message of the Gospel.  The constricting nature of many of our decisions can leave us feeling either trapped in a life not of our choosing or content with an accustomed conformity with what is known.

And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new,
for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

And yet, how much sweeter is the promised new wine that Christ has in store for each of us! Even though spiritual conditioning, prayer and reflection may have softened the skin, we may not be ready to accept the total conversion of heart that is required. Instead we seem perplexed when seeking to take a bit of new wine and mix it with the old it does not blend well.  Leaving us dissatisfied and wondering if we should have tried to change at all. Why is this? Well, quite simply, the life altering message of Christ does not fit into old destructive behaviors, or is it content with half-hearted measures with no conviction.  This new wine holds the assurance of new life and new possibilities that can only be received when we are willing to give up conformity for conversion.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” Blessed Mother Teresa

 †     Where in my life have I become stiffened and resistant to change? Is the pull of temptation, addictions, or conformity to the world keeping me from even desiring the new life God has waiting for me? Am I satisfied with observing empty practices or am I seeking greater meaning in my life today? 

Peace,

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Worth Revisting: Conversion-This Journey of a Lifetime

Some time ago, I had promised to share my own story of conversion to the Catholic faith. The anecdote, if you will, of how a young Southern Baptist girl found herself walking in the doors of a Catholic church and leaving forever changed…


Freshman year at Mount Holyoke College was an exciting time of rigorous study, new friendships, challenging adjustments and unbelievable growth. Over 1,200 miles away from home, I found myself both seeking comfort in the familiar but also joy in discovering who I was to become. Though I studied hard and partied equally so, I still made time to attend church either on campus or locally in town with a classmate. Yet, I was noticing that something was missing, something I couldn’t define but leaving me incomplete. Perhaps the experience of worship service had changed, or I had –even a bit of both.

Then one Sunday as the minister spoke of metaphorically of finding one’s center, I realized that was it! While I knew my center was Christ, I could no longer feel his presence as near and tangible. My soul yearned for so much more. This internal pull was intense, and over the course of the proceeding months I truly felt God working within asking me to let go and let Him lead.

That morning getting myself ready after a late night out had caused me to miss the first half of service.

I could just go back to my dorm room I thought.. but wait, there is a Catholic mass starting soon. Rather than being uncomfortably late, I could be on-time. Yet, I know so little of Catholic practices…will my unfamiliarity be too easily distinguishable? What I heard in response within my heart, was “This is an opportunity, to find what you have been searching for.  God is here.”

As I turned the handle on the door of the chapel and took my seat towards the middle of the church, I knelt before God for the first time. In this silence before mass began I found such peace and comfort in my anonymity. Here in this sacred time and place, I whispered  “I am here too Father”. Admittedly, as mass began it was all too obvious as I looked to my left and right for guidance, that I was a newcomer. Yet, just when I started questioning the reasoning that had brought me here, God reached out and drew me close. On either side hands outstretched were the beautiful recognizable words of the Our Father echoing throughout the chapel space. I was home.

Soon thereafter, I was to discover the love of my life in the deep friendship that had begun previously that fall. (That story featured here) A Catholic and sophomore at UMass Amherst, I couldn’t believe how blessed I was that God had planned it all! Though we frequently attended mass together I still held back, for some time, in telling him how God was moving me ever closer to conversion. With prayer and discernment so significant in my life, I was cautious and wanted to be certain that this was indeed where God was leading me to go.

Yet, when that moment did arrive, there was no looking back. My searching heart had been filled with a fullness of faith, joy and love. And to my surprise, my family not only respected my faith decision, but prayed and supported me throughout it all. To this day, I still remember the phone call to my mother. After sharing the events that had brought me to this place, there was a long pause for what seemed like an eternity.

“It all makes sense now” was her response.

“What makes sense?”, I curiously asked.

“Before you were born I had a dream that you would be a Catholic. Standing before a multitude of others gathered, you then spoke passionately of your love and faith in God. I know now that God was preparing me for this day.”

“Mom, why have you never told me this before?

“Well, I didn’t want to persuade you should that not be God’s will. I knew that if it was, that God would certainly lead you there.”

 :
Fr. Joe and my fellow RCIA candidates and sponsors

 

Twenty one years have passed since this conversation, yet I thought of this moment again this weekend as I was asked to speak at St. Patrick’s in Wareham. Through these years, I have been blessed with countless invitations to serve, witness and grow in my faith. For me, it is the journey of a lifetime-one I joyously embrace and continuously seek each day.

Peace,

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A Belated Thank You :Thief on the Cross

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In reading the passages from Luke today on the way of the cross and crucifixion of Jesus, (Lk 23: 26-49) I was struck with gratitude for the thief on the cross beside Christ. Mocked, insulted and shamed- Jesus endured not only the painful, sorrowful physical pain of the cross but rejection of the people that he loved and came to save. There were those like Simeon, Veronica and of course his mother Mary who were present along the way of the cross to offer strength, tenderness, and comfort. Yet, it was the unexpected conversion of the thief that was there beside Christ in those last moments. His witness of faith is to me a gift to our Savior, a beautiful reminder of the redeeming potential of mankind.

Over the years, I have heard many scoff at the thief on the cross, as I am sure they would have done in his day. “So sad to see how his life turned out, he was brought up in the faith you know. I heard he asked the priest to come at the end…guess that is between him and God.” Yes,  and still this holds true for each and every one of us. One glimpse at the story at the woman to be stoned and the heaviness of the stone in our hands, the weight of our sins, should remind us of the profound unmerited gift of salvation.

So what differentiated the thief on the cross and the other criminal hanging there? Awareness and Repentance.

First, the thief on the cross was attentive to who he believed Jesus to be- in light of an intimate unique relationship to God. Saying to the other criminal beside him, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?” (Lk 23:40) Here too, the thief acknowledges his own sin, unworthiness, and deserved punishment. In the considered opinion of the world, there was no redemption, no more chances, this was the end. Yet, the thief also confesses an understanding that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world and a new desire to belong to Christ. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Lk 23:42)

Wait..there was still hope? Was it truly possible to trade the consequences for his decisions, the weight of his shame for a place in God’s kingdom that very day? And, “He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”(Lk 23:43) The beauty of Christ’s victory over death reminds us of the ever present reality of the eternal promise of life.  Yet, as God’s divine love and mercy are always more than we could ever conceive, gratefully we are reminded that God has yet to give up on any of us. So, to the thief on the cross I would like to say thank you.

“Thank you for witnessing that not one spiritual journey is ever the same. Called to conversion, continually, we are a people always in need of a Savior. Though in mankind’s eyes your profession of faith might be considered last minute… it is in truth timeless. It is truly a graced beneficiary of the unrestrained and limitless love of a Father- who time has no hold upon.”

Peace,

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Wit & Wisdom:Be Transformed

“The saints are living and practical proof that Christ’s philosophy works. The saints show us that it is possible for a human to be fully transformed in Christ” 

 Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly

This Lent we are asked to engage in a transformation, a continual conversion of heart. To do so, however, we must become vulnerable- recognizing and forgoing our attachment to sins, habits, and impediments to change. Then we are better able, as Richard Rohr, OFM would say, to “get out of the way enough” as to be influenced by God’s will for our lives. The grandest works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are worth little if done without an inner turning to God. Likewise, once we experience the profound love and mercy for our repentance and  take on a “radical reorientation of our whole life”(1431 CCC) it is very difficult for this transformation not to overflow. For, all those we encounter- our families, co-workers, neighbors, and even strangers can then be witnesses to God’s love in our lives.

Take a moment today to consider what this transformation in Christ might look like, by listening to the saints and soon-to-be saints in their walk of discipleship.

“Your first task is to be dissatisfied with yourself, fight sin, and transform yourself into something better. Your second task is to put up with the trials and temptations of this world that will be brought on by the change in your life and to persevere to the very end in the midst of these things.”
St. Augustine

“There are in truth three states of the converted: the beginning, the middle, and the perfection. In the beginning they experience the charms of sweetness; in the middle the contests of temptation; and in the end the fullness of perfection.” Pope St. Gregory the Great

“First let a little love find entrance into their hearts, and the rest will follow.”
St. Philip Neri

“We need silence to be alone with God, to speak to him, to listen to him, to ponder his words deep in our hearts.  We need to be alone with God in silence to be renewed and transformed.  Silence gives us a new outlook on life.  In it we are filled with the energy of God himself that makes us do all things with joy.”  Blessed Mother Teresa

“Let us allow ourselves to be touched by this love, to be transformed, so that the resurrection may really be realized in us. I invite you, therefore, to live the Paschal Triduum intensely.” Pope Emeritus Benedict

“Breathe that in: the doorway to joy is GIVING.Give whatever. Many give for the purpose of holding the title in giving. Yet there are those who give nothing of material yet give a smile from their heart, for it is the energy within you that are giving that matters most – not the form, what comes from your heart in that moment of your giving, that is what touches life, that is what will transform your world.” St. Germain

“Everything in life especially the things we like least about ourselves and our life situation become, from God’s perspective, the place of divine transformation and an invitation to intimacy with God who is present to all that is human..The abuse we may have suffered, and the difficult situations we face daily are the places where glory works itself out in us. Our specific woundedness is integral to the unique image of God that each of us is.” St. Thérèse

“We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others. ”
St. Clare of Assisi

“While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice…” Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium 201)

“And do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
so that you may prove what the will of God is,
that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” St. Paul (Romans 12:2)

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Can I hear my Father’s Voice?

Can we even imagine a world where none of these exist? In small ways, I believe that we can, because we know the existence of good in knowing God. We have witnessed kindness and compassion, and instances whereby goodness has triumphed over evil. Yet in the kingdom of God, God’s goodness and reign is completely sovereign. I am not ready, however,  to give up the dream, and diligence toward a world where justice and goodness prevail. In fact, it is in posing this question that I am reminding myself again of that ideal that the kingdom of God reveals to us. In imagining it, it provides the vision to hope for, and the desire to work towards fulfilling it.

With the approach of Lent, I have been giving much thought to our journey of faith as a community, the lifelong invitation of dying to self and accepting a life transformed. The most striking reality is that Jesus also underwent this ongoing transformation of mind, heart, and action (metanoia) in becoming more and more who he was intended to be. We know that Jesus spent countless hours in prayer, and this was time spent in getting to know Abba more intimately, reconnecting with the Spirit, and redirecting his life towards infinite love. In doing so, he could see beyond himself to the poor, oppressed, and those in need of healing. Consciously he then answered God’s call to make a transformation not only within himself but in the world.

In understanding the dynamic, ongoing, and transformative conversion of life, we too need to make the necessary connection to one’s lived experience of faith- as a project of life integration.  Simply stated, as Christians our lived experience of faith in the Spirit calls us to continually redirect our hearts, minds and steps towards the values and actions necessary in being followers of Christ and in building the kingdom of God. Beautifully, I do believe we see metanoia in community in partaking in the Eucharist. For, here we are invited to bring our brokenness, recommit ourselves to God and the community, and are sent forth to be Eucharist to the world.

Even so, Lent gives us a period of time to reflect on our own desires, to surrender ourselves, and better discern where and who God is calling us to be. Do you feel a spiritual dryness in prayer? Is your day consumed with a laundry list of essential to-do’s with your energy and time in short supply? Like Jesus, we need this time with God to hear and become familiar with the voice of our loving Father.

So, in this way, I invite you to consider carving out quiet time and space this Lent to do just that. It needn’t be vast, but a committed time each day just to sit, “be still and know that He is God”. Pay attention to the stillness, to the absence of your voice, and the freedom found in just being present with God. Feel the Holy Spirit’s constant reminder of life in every breath you take.

Thank you God for the gift in rediscovering You. Here in your presence, I know that your love, truth and guidance both for me and for the world are always there to be found..if we truly seek to hear your voice!

Peace,

Signature

Conformity or Conversion

“Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.” Luke 5:33-39

Friday’s Gospel reading really struck home as just moments before I had received an unexpected call from someone about to enter a mandated rehab program. Knowing that I was to speak with this young man later, I found myself considering both the change offered in the new wine and the comfort he has found in the old wineskin. Was he really ready to accept a dissimilar mode of intoxication, a radical way of moving through the life he had been accustomed to?  Or was this opportunity to be lost, unable to be readily accepted in the worn and toughened shell he conveyed?

Whether we choose to admit it or not, his story is not unlike our own. For, so too our daily choices in life help to fashion the shape and degree of flexibility of our own wineskins to accept the transformative message of the Gospel.  The constricting nature of many of our decisions can leave us feeling either trapped in a life not of our choosing or content with an accustomed conformity with what is known.

And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new,
for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

And yet, how much sweeter is the promised new wine that Christ has in store for each of us! Even though spiritual conditioning, prayer and reflection may have softened the skin, we may not be ready to accept the total conversion of heart that is required. Instead we seem perplexed when seeking to take a bit of new wine and mix it with the old it does not blend well.  Leaving us dissatisfied and wondering if we should have tried to change at all. Why is this? Well, quite simply, the life altering message of Christ does not fit into old destructive behaviors, or is it content with half-hearted measures with no conviction.  This new wine holds the assurance of new life and new possibilities that can only be received when we are willing to give up conformity for conversion.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” Blessed Mother Teresa

 †     Where in my life have I become stiffened and resistant to change? Is the pull of temptation, addictions, or conformity to the world keeping me from even desiring the new life God has waiting for me? Am I satisfied with observing empty practices or am I seeking greater meaning in my life today? 

Peace,

Signature

Worth Revisiting: With Open Mind, Eyes and Heart

It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday! A place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link-up with fellow bloggers! Co-Hosted with Allison Gingras at Reconciled To You.

Though written originally for Advent, the call to reexamine our focus as we seek to live out our discipleship is our continuous invitation to conversion. This past Saturday my son and I spent the morning with our local homeless community through Matthew’s Kitchen. I am reminded that while so many have so little..God’s love and mercy for the least of these is so great!


With Open Mind, Eyes and Heart

(Originally posted December 11, 2014)

This Advent season, I find myself disenchanted with the stores, and the constant promotion of items to be bought in order to win smiles and love. Some years are like that we say to ourselves, and yet I know that there is something much profound at work. Searching, I recognize that while society hasn’t necessarily changed, I have.

The other day, I took a moment with a local homeless man just to talk. As he stood there, leaning uncomfortably against my church, I could not pass him by. That is, without sharing a smile and asking him how he was doing. Even from a distance, I noticed that the cold weather had left his skin and lips weathered, and reddened.  I suddenly realized that I had come prepared. For, inside my car were a new pair of tube socks with lotion, wipes, chap stick, toothbrush and toothpaste enclosed. Gladly, but a bit surprised, he accepted the gift.

Examples of items to include in a care kit..

This morning on my way to take my son to school again I saw him, with a huge smile on his face walking with a couple of other men. What a gift he had given me to see him enjoying a bit of happiness and company. The homeless life can be so very isolating, for mental illness and addictions have often served to distance them from relationships and even recognition. In our hurry and perhaps even fearful, we are accustomed to look straight ahead towards our destination.

Where are our eyes focused ? Upwards toward heaven, forward in completing the day’s events, or all around seeking God in everything? Are we, as Mother Teresa observed, “seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor”?  [1] Times have been difficult in my suburban community, and many more families are either finding themselves cutting back, overextended, or without.  Yet, while we can’t do or be everything to everyone we can greet, love, and support one another in whatever way we can. Today, an invitation was extended for more volunteers at our parish food pantry in order to serve more people, and provide rest for regular helpers. Maybe an hour this Advent season is a gift you too can give.

How are our hearts? If we are serious about preparing for Christ’s coming, it’s time now to think about the condition of our hearts. Are we hardened by our own circumstances, and the pitfalls we have found ourselves in? Where are my thoughts? Trusting the path and journey we are on isn’t easy to do alone, for the temptation is to seek control.

Prayer and the Eucharist– are for me the most transforming corrections for my squinted vision, stiffening heart,  and human tendencies to control my world.  In quiet prayer, I can silence the noise and hear Jesus’ voice once again. All my pretences fall away, as I stand like a child at his feet. Feeling his embrace, my heart melts and I long to stay with him. His smile reminds me who and whose I am. Created and loved I am asked to see as he does. His daughter, I am called to be ever close to him. This intimacy of the Eucharist draws me not inward but outward.

 I am called to be more than I could have ever imagined, and all that you know I can be.  “Let faith arise..open my eyes!” 

[1] Mother TeresaIn the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers