Recently, I've been writing up my vocation story, the story of how I discerned my calling to the priesthood. As I'm writing it down, I hit a point in my life that I really felt was my moment of conversion, that moment when I took the Catholic faith that I had been raised in and made it a part of my life. All of us need to go through this conversion process at some point in our lives.
For many Catholics, the idea of conversion is someone converting from another Christian denomination or non-Christian religion to Catholicism, such as those we'll see in a few moments who are going through the RCIA process here in the parish. While that's true as far as it goes, there is another sense of conversion, that of converting our lives away from ourselves and turning it towards Christ.
Unfortunately, many Catholics haven't consciously made that step, but continue to follow the practices of their parents because “that's what we've always done.” I think if we're honest, we would realize that there are some in this church today who feel this way. We come to Mass on Saturday night or Sunday morning “because we've always done that on the weekends.” We might have a Rosary or crucifix in our houses “because we've always had one.”
While “that's what we've always done” is a good start on the way to conversion, it's not the final goal of a Christian. The purpose of Christianity and being a follower of Christ is to convert our lives away from the things of the world and towards the things of God, and to live with Him in the next life. Jesus came to preach the Gospel of salvation and lead us away from the temptations and condemnation of the world. We are called to follow Him, even to the Cross if necessary.
As followers, we must be open to His word. In the Gospel today, we see that a large crowd had surrounded Him when he arrived at home. Why were they there? The quick answer might be the miracles that He performed, and there is some truth to that. However, the Gospel passage makes it clear that they gathered to hear Him “preach the word”. They had gathered together to hear the Good News, the Gospel, of salvation. Their hearts were open to hear what He had to say and to accept the Truth that He preached.
To determine our openness to the Truth of Christ, there are some questions we have to ask ourselves. How open are our hearts when we come to Our Lord here at Mass? Do we consciously ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to the Truths contained in the Scriptures? How many are listening to me now, trying to find the Truth scattered amongst my homiletic ramblings? Do we receive Our Lord with gratitude and joy when we come forward to receive the Eucharist? We can't have a conversion of heart without an openness to Christ.
Being open to Christ's Truth isn't the only thing we need to have a true conversion. We also need to act on that Truth which we believe. In the case of the paralytic in today's Gospel, it wasn't enough for the four men and the paralytic to just have faith that Jesus would heal him, but they had to act on that faith. They had to climb up to the roof, remove the tile or thatch which made up the roof, and lower the paralytic into the room where Jesus was preaching. Through the act of faith displayed by the actions of the four men, the paralytic was able to be healed.
In our lives as well, it is not enough to have faith in Our Lord, but we also need to act on it. In a true conversion, we will be drawn to spread our faith through living it out in our daily lives. Too often Christians are called hypocrites because they say one thing, but live a life totally separated from it. We must truly be willing to both show our faith in Jesus through both our actions and our words. If anything, it is better to live a Christian life and allow our lives to be examples without saying a word than to talk long and hard about Christian virtue without living it.
When we are open to hearing the Truth that Our Lord proclaimed and live out that Truth in our lives, then we will have a conversion of heart. Isaiah promised the Israelites that God would do something new for them in their exile. We can also take that promise as something new will happen in our lives when we enter into the conversion that we're all called to undertake.