See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Saturday, June 06, 2009

12 steps, 18 steps, how many steps are there in a conversion?

Courage
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I've never been through a 12 step program, although I'm familiar with the steps and the process. In a way, the steps seem to be a sort of conversion process away from alcohol or other addictions, although it should be noted that alcoholism is no longer considered a moral issue, but a disease. Like I said - I've never gone through it, so I can't speak to that - yet I would think the will must be involved some how. I've had friends and family who have been in treatment and so the only thing I can say for sure about it is that the steps are not worked out over night, nor are they limited to a treatment program, indeed, some people work it their entire lives, which may account for their identifying themselves as recovering.
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Conversion is like that. Many of us may have had dramatic experiences wherein we realized our sinfulness and turned to the mercy of God, but normally such epiphanies were simply the catalyst which turned us away from our self-delusion towards the truth. Hence we can perhaps date the moment of our conversion, but we know from experience it was only the beginning of the process - it doesn't happen over night. "The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by storm" or something like that. Conversion is the work of a lifetime.
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Blessed Angela of Foligno begins her Book of Consolations with the 18 steps of her conversion - the figurative 18 steps she climbed in her conversion process. It didn't happen in a short time, and she certainly did not become perfect over night. In fact her first 12 steps were constant reminders of the Holy Spirit's "convincing concerning sin" in her soul. The blessed Angela suffered many tears and painful sufferings throughout these stages of her conversion. The only relief she found was the contemplation of Jesus and him crucified, which became the one 'book' from whence she found consolation, with the love necessary to do "penance, as long and as hard as life itself" as she so often phrased it.
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I mention this today since many of us can come to expect that we, as well as others, should be converted all at once and just be happy 'praise the Lord' Catholics the rest of our life - once forgiven, we go and sin no more, as Christ said to the woman caught in adultery. However, what isn't related in that Gospel story is the sacrifice and suffering it most likely took to avoid that sin - especially if she had been a prostitute - the cash flow stopped. (Which is why the testimony of the saints is so important, they fill in the details lacking from the Gospel if you will.)
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Anyway, after we covert, confess our sins and pray our penance and do as we please, we sometimes surprise ourselves when we fall into a sin we always had a particular weakness for. Likewise, we get ourselves all verklempft if we go through those dark arid spiritual passageways that make us cranky and mean - why do bad things happen to good people? Perhaps worst of all, we freak the moment if and when we discover we can be hypocrites too. You see, we are all sinners, and we cannot begin to fathom the depth of what that means without the Holy Spirit who searches the depths of our soul, even as he searches the depths of God - deep calling unto deep.
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The conversion of Angela, like that of Margaret of Cortona and all of the other penitents was long and arduous, lasting many years. They didn't become saints over night.

6 comments:

  1. Very good post, Terry. It is totally true that "...conversion is the work of a lifetime."

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  2. I keep thinking about a thoughtful post that Cathy of Alex posted a few days ago where she wrote about how we can become smug. I sure could relate to what she wrote.

    Sometimes the Holy Spirit puts a mirror up to my face, and what I see is unsettling, and so destressing that it nearly puts me into a depression. Then that voice says's "it's only by my grace that you could ever make it." There is nothing that you can do to repair, or heal anything. It's not about you Belinda it's about me, and what I am willing to do for you.
    Then my smugness , haughtyness,and any sort of better than thou attitude disapears, and a real humility sets in. There is no way that I could ever attain heaven but through Christ's grace.

    I finally understood that a short while back when I came to the conclusion that I couldn't ever become good enough.
    I have been a sinner, I am a sinner, and I will always be a sinner , and even though I have the free will to do what's right I often don't. The closer that I grow to God the more that I can clearly- plainly see that I suck beyond belief, but Christ still wants me anyway.


    I could never repair the situation of my soul, and all of the confession , and adoration and holy activities that I participate in should be done for the glory of God , and not because they might benefit me in some way. These things that I do don't make me a better person, and only a foolish smug person believes that they do.

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  3. Multiply 365 days by 44 years, add 11 months and someodd days, factor in leap years - and that's the number of the day in my conversion.

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  4. "However, what isn't related in that Gospel story is the sacrifice and suffering it most likey took to avoid that sin - especially if she had been a prostitute - the cash flow stopped. (Which is why the testimony of the saints is so important, they fill in the details lacking from the Gospel if you will.)"

    That's a great insight - thanks, Terry.

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  5. Thanks y'all - especially you Larry because I discovered a spelling error.

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