Brookline Carmel Bulletin
January 8, 1961
It is the common teaching of spiritual writers that we enter the path of perfection by undergoing a ‘conversion’. Obviously, this doesn’t mean the conversion from heresy to the true faith, nor from a life of serious sin to a life of virtue, though in rare cases these accompany it. Rather, it is the firm determination to become a Saint at any cost. When many of the Saints spoke of their ‘conversion’, they meant exactly that: turning from a path leading to mediocrity to one leading to outstanding holiness. It involves the inauguration of a ‘new’ way of life designed to implement the firm determination.
The genesis of conversion is not the same in everyone. In one person it may be occasioned by some tragedy, which profoundly impresses him with the fickleness and ephemeral quality of happiness founded upon mere creatures. In another it may be the cumulative effect of spiritual reading. In still another, the fruit of a Retreat or a Novena. Conversion may also be the result of spiritual exercises and devotions: attendance at Mass daily, frequent reception of Holy Communion, tender devotion to, say, the Sacred Heart or to the Blessed Virgin, the practice of the Spiritual and corporal works of mercy, or even just plain generosity in all things. But whatever the origin, it is the same, psychologically, in all: a strong and efficacious act of the will, which marshals all the forces of body and soul and coordinates them in an organized, sustained attack upon the desired goal.
The soul that experiences the conversion will also find itself to be captivated by some incidental but exceedingly desirable aspect of holiness, one which exerts a powerful attraction upon it, and which is, in fact, largely responsible for the conversion. Great variety is found here, too. For example: A Saint practices all the virtues perfectly, heroically, making him resplendent with moral beauty (a Light of revelation to the Gentles, and the Glory of my people Israel); a Saint enjoys a state of uninterrupted interior peace and joy, and silence, i.e., absence of turmoil, in its appetites; a Saint enjoys perfect liberty of spirit, untrammeled freedom (love God and do as you please!). All the spiritual delights of Holiness are summed up in the expression, ‘juge convivium!: eternal banquet (i.e., the banquet of ancient Rome and the East), which, in the drawing of St. John of the Cross, is placed at the summit of the mount of perfection. Or else, instead of viewing sanctity in terms of personal benefits, one may see it in its relation to Jesus Christ (a far better way): Every Saint, emptied of self can say, “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me”; Sanctity satisfies one’s desire to belong entirely to Jesus Christ, to make Him a gift of every atom of our being; the soul of a Saint ravishes the Heart of Jesus; therefore, Sanctity is the only adequate proof of one’s love and gratitude for the love He first bestowed (and bestows) on us. Again, Sanctity alone satisfies one’s thirst to give souls to Jesus Christ: one act of pure love of God, posited by a Saint, gathers them in ‘wholesale’.
It follows from this that the mode of life one enters upon following his ‘conversion’ is largely determined by his personal view of the accidental features of holiness. Even when, which is frequently, it induces one to embrace the state of evangelical perfection, there remain a galaxy of orders and congregations to choose from, each with its own specific scope.
The strength and efficacy of the conversion enables it to produce its effects for a long time, but not forever. And so the firm determination must be nourished and renewed. This is especially true when the person who has undergone it has had only a vague idea of what it must pass through on its road to spiritual perfection, what great things it must suffer for Jesus’ Name’s sake. When God begins to plunge his soul now and then into dark, purifying fire, he falls into great danger of abandoning the struggle completely. Precious and desirable as the state of holiness seems, he wonders now if it is really worth the cost.
We may well make the acquaintance, some day, of a poor tortured soul, a would-be-saint who cannot relinquish some trifle. “Why”, we might say, “I surrendered that long ago, with scarcely a second thought. Poor, unfortunate thing!” Then suddenly God asks us to give up something we never knew we were attached to. We love it so dearly we identify ourselves with it. To give it up is tantamount to annihilation, a kind of psychic suicide. Then we begin to wonder if Sanctity is worth the price. Like the rich young man in the Gospels, we may, after making a fine, generous start, turn away at a time of spiritual crisis and become one more (alas! how many there are) monument of unrealized potential, of promise unfulfilled.
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