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

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Something about conversion stories... and the danger of relapse.



When you find unchanging peace on your way, then fear; because you are far from the right path by which the righteous go with suffering feet. - St. Isaac the Syrian

Conversion stories are edifying and oftentimes amazing.  Sensational sinners repent and come into the Church and the world stands in awe before the grace and mercy of God.  Frequently they demonstrate the efficacy of prayer and sacrifice, the sacraments, to effect such conversions.  Christ tells us in the Gospel heaven itself erupts in joy over just one sinner who repents.
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We must not be too ready to trust young men who have great devotion; we must wait till their wings are grown, and then see what sort of a flight they make. - St. Philip Neri

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In our times, the idea of conversion sometimes carries with it an expectation of honors - like the Prodigal Son's homecoming - celebrated with parties and gifts and even celebrity.  I sometimes get the impression that some Catholics have adopted the Protestant attitude of born-again Christians as regards the grace of conversion.  Many think you do it once and you are saved for life - and there is some sort of immediate reward, as least something as pleasant as a good 'approval rating'.  Especially when they write a blog or a book about it.  That can be a lot to live up to.
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A virtuous life consists in mortifying vices, sins, bad thoughts, and evil affections, and in exercising ourselves in the acquisition of holy virtues. - St. Philip Neri

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The reality is that conversion is an ongoing process wherein one never is immune from backsliding or relapse - especially when one's sin was habitual and sensual - Philip Neri said sins of sensuality and avarice are particularly hard to cure.  The Gospel tells us, 'how narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life', and that is just the road, the way that leads to life.  Thus one never arrives at some point in one's journey where one can say, "I'm healed and okay now.  I've arrived.  I will not fall back."  For many of us the struggle never ends.  Through the action of grace we may go 'from strength to strength' but we are always dependent upon God's grace and mercy, and we must deny ourselves each day and take up our cross to follow Christ, who was hassled and harried, scoffed at and despised and all of that stuff we think we know about him.
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We must never trust ourselves, for it is the devil’s way first to get us to feel secure, and then to make us fall. - St. Philip Neri

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Moral conversions which involve recovery from substance abuse or sexual addiction are not only hard fought, they can be very difficult to verify.  For example, the penitent St. Margaret Cortona was refused entrance into the Third Order of St. Francis for three years while the friars tested her virtue - and then suspicion of her virtue never ceased to plague her.  Another example, in our day, rarely if ever are moral cures recognized or accepted in the process for the canonization of saints.  This is no more evident than in the cause for Matt Talbot.  Numerous claims of moral cures and conversions (from addiction) are attributed to Talbot, yet none have been accepted as miraculous.  Perhaps a few could be accepted now if it could be established that a person persevered without relapse until death, but I don't know if any such case has been postulated so far.
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All sins are highly displeasing to God, but above all sensuality and avarice, which are very difficult to cure. - St. Philip Neri

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My point is that the devil delights in pulling us back into sin - the more dramatic the conversion, the bigger the convert, the greater the effort to snare him back - to make him 'return to his vomit' so that his 'last sin may be worse than the first'.  I sometimes think that is why the Lord permits some of us to keep falling into our former sins, so that we may become more and more humble, and by repenting, glorify his mercy that never gives up on us, 'for he knows we are but dust', weak and inconstant - our only constancy being our need for his mercy, for our conversion and our salvation is so unstable.  We need patience to do God's will.  Patience involves suffering.  And perseverance.
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He who cannot put up with the loss of his honour, can never make any advance in spiritual things. - St. Philip Neri

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Art: St. Dismas' deathbed conversion.  I have no information on the artist or the painting.

20 comments:

  1. One day at a time!
    “We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”
    What is true for alcoholics is true for all of us: without continued efforts to maintain our spiritual condition we will return to our old way of life.

    http://www.nacronline.com/articles-on-the-twelve-steps/an-introduction-to-the-twelve-steps/step-ten

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  2. That's the ticket Shadowlands! Thanks for adding that.

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  3. Magnificent post! St Philip Neri puts it wonderfully...sometimes i'm so smug I think what an amazingly humble confession I just made! So you can see I haven't got started! Or we can think what a great recovery we have made...much to ponder..thanks Terry

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  4. I have always wanted to write a blog post about Conversion Diary (Jennifer Fulweiler) and the rush for all these publishers and radio shows to publish her and host her. Especially since a HUGE portion of her "fan" base is Protestant. To me, 5-6 years into conversion isn't wise to bank money on her story. We just don't know yet. But I have refrained out of charity.

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  5. +JMJ+

    Dare I comment, Terry? ;-)

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  6. "Christ and the Good Thief"; Titian, 1566 A.D.

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  7. Mr. Nelson,

    thank you for a very good catechism post.

    Very edifying.

    *

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  8. My conversion story has a chapter added every day of my life. Thanks for this.

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  9. I find it passing strange that Catholicism,as represented by the Catholic/blogger celebreties on the internet, and EWTN, seems to be largely commandeered by Protestants who have converted. What a wacky world in which we all now live...

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  10. Cathy - Thanks very much!

    Enbrethiliel - you may always comment.

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  11. Only Cathy and Enbrethiliel, Terry? Oh, dear.

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  12. Maria - I see nothing odd about it. A lot of converts have done the dirty work, the soul-searching, the agonizing hours of study. Some of them know more than a lot of cradle Catholics, I suspect.

    The problem is with anyone, whether convert, revert, or alwayshasbeenvert, who becomes a superstar and who seems "unassailable". Also with those who command their own "corner" and their own followers. I bet Mark Shea or Jimmy Akin would be the very first to admit that.

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  13. Hi Maria - Sorry! - I'm not the best conversationalist in the com box. I think the converts from Protestantism make good Catholics, I do not envy their celebrity however - mean comments hurt. I do agree it is a wacky world we live in though. I'm not sure I trust anyone online, especially myself. ;)

    Char - I've never read Conversion Diary.

    Jackie - thanks - I get real smug at times too - and so I fall at every step.

    Thanks to you too St. Michael.

    And you too Thom.

    Hi Merc.

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  14. Thanks Mercury. Maybe we all need to pretend we wish to covert so someone will teach us the faith, lol.

    Terry-Just kidding. Their mean comments or ours, lol? Lord, I can be mean. "My sin is always before me"

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  15. Maria - My mean comments. You are never mean.

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  16. I agree, sometimes converts know more about our faith and have deeper appreciation for it. Maybe we should try walking on their shoes.

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  17. I don't really see myself as a "convert" from Protestant Presbyterianism to Catholicism. My faith and belief inthe Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was already firmly established. I read my Bible and went to church and religious education regularly. The Catholic faith was kind of a "next level" in spirituality. I can't really say I've rejected my Protestant roots, because they were the basis and foundation of my faith today. Like learning basic math in K-12 school, then going on to Calculus and higher level math in college. Youdon't discard your lower level math because nowyou're in Calculus. In fct, it is necessary to make your understanding of Calculus more complete.

    And yes I studied the Catholic faith for many years. It just took a long while to fit RCIA into my hectic personal and work life.

    Sara

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  18. Interesting POV Sara - thanks - I always forget you were raised Protestant.

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  19. I bet Mark Shea or Jimmy Akin would be the very first to admit that.

    Damn right.

    The reason Protestant converts get heard from a lot is simple: our native Evangelical culture tends to select for yakky talky types. So when we become Catholic, we become yakky talky Catholics. Grace builds nature. So we start blabbing about the Catholic faith a lot. It's not really an attempt to dominate the conversation. It's just, well, we've been taught "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so" and "Always give an answer" and a whole culture that tends to encourage the belief that you *must* be able to articulate your faith. It has it's advantages and drawbacks. Advantage: you can articulate your faith. Drawback: people can easily assume that a gift of the gab is a sign of sanctity. It's not. It's just an ability to talk about the faith. Verbal skill, like motor coordination, or the ability to huck a football, or Mel Gibson's skill as a filmmaker, proves nothing about the quality of one's interior life. Don't fall for celebrity worship.

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  20. Part of my thinking in this post was the Corapi conversion and other conversions from a sinful life - I wasn't even thinking of conversion from Protestant roots - like Sara I don't see that in the same way.

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