Tag Archives: conversion

Conversion is a process

In the Byzantine Church today the gospel passage is that of Zacchaeus. He is re-purposed by the Lord for something great, something new, something never felt before. The newness is that of Grace transforming the darkness of our lives into some thing that God can use for the up-building of His Kingdom, for the bringing of the Hundredfold. As with Zacchaeus, so with us. Here is a brief meditation:

The process of conversion begins with genuine openness to change: openness to the possibility that just as natural life evolves, so too the spiritual life evolves. Our psychological world is the result of natural growth, events over which we had no control in early childhood, and grace.

Grace is the presence and action of Christ in our lives inviting us to let go of where we are now and to be open to the new values that are born every time we penetrate to a new understanding of the Gospel. Moreover, Jesus calls us to repent not just once; it is an invitation that keeps recurring.

In the liturgy it recurs several times a year, especially during Advent and Lent. It may also come at other times through circumstances: disappointments, personal tragedy, or the bursting into consciousness of some compulsion or secret motive. that we were not aware of.

A crisis in our lives is not a reason to run away; it is the voice of Christ inviting us to accept more of the divine light. More of the divine light means more of what the divine light reveals, which is divine life. And the more divine life we receive, the more we perceive that divine life is pure love.

Thomas Keating, OCSO

Choose life

The news these past days about bishops being deposed, investigated or admitting to affairs with women is rather distressing. Whether we are in Paraguay, Kansas City, Limburg, or Arundel and Brighton or anywhere else on the globe, or an average Catholic we need to adhere to Christ. To be human is to acknowledge our need for forgiveness; that we are all sinners, that is, redeemed sinners. What do we need to know? How are we to act as Christians?

Precisely because are sinners made in God’s image and likeness and that we receive the sacraments we sinners  have a Savior and a Church whose nature is mercy.  Too often in parish life or in the broader Church one can recognize the experience that there is too much gossip, faithlessness, nihilism and dysfunctional behavior. No gloating in the sin of another; no putting on aires. But let us pray for the grace of conversion and the grace to sin no more.

Being merciful and just does not mean we do nothing and sit complacent. The Church and all that we are and have are given to us by God Himself. The charitable work we are to do is to educate our hearts and minds and to keep steadfast in building the Body of Christ, the Church.

Lastly, I encourage all of us to go to confession. Examine your own consciences, and not other people’s consciences. we need to do penance. Perhaps even observe the First Friday devotion with sincerity. But we don’t need to be self-righteous and accusatory. The book of Deuteronomy exhorts us to choose life: for the Christian choosing life means to do what Jesus did with the woman at the well. The spiritual life requires our clear attention to the points of sin and grace and to move on the path to a grace-filled life.

Conversion of Saint Paul

Conversion of St PaulWith the Church we pray,

O God, who taught the whole world through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Paul, draw us, we pray, nearer to you through the example of him whose conversion we celebrate today, and so make us witnesses to your truth in the world.

As the Mass prayer illustrates for us, Saint Paul, the once persecutor of Christians, is now called by Christ to preach the Good News, to heal people, and to give witness to the Truth of Jesus to the world.

As our first theologian we learn from Saint Paul of the newness generated by the Lord in the heart of each person who places his or her trust in Him.

I am remind today that one of the aims of Pope Benedict in calling for the Year of Faith which Saint Paul indicates with key tools for conversion:

is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world. In the mystery of his death and resurrection, God has revealed in its fullness the Love that saves and calls us to conversion of life through the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 5:31). For Saint Paul, this Love ushers us into a new life: “We were buried … with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Through faith, this new life shapes the whole of human existence according to the radical new reality of the resurrection. To the extent that he freely cooperates, man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed, on a journey that is never completely finished in this life. “Faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of man’s life (cf. Rom 12:2; Col 3:9-10; Eph 4:20-29; 2 Cor 5:17).

Why Zacchaeus is important for Christians

zacchaeusDo we know about Jesus, or have we met him? If we have met Jesus, where was (is) that?

Do you ever wonder about the small man Zacchaeus, the tax collector, we hear about in the gospel? Is there something important that we ought to hear anew with the biblical narrative of Zacchaeus? What’s the point? Doing lectio divina and working on my spiritual life I have come realize it is not enough to know about Jesus, but like Zacchaeus to want to see the Lord. He wanted to meet Jesus. Little Zacchaeus wanted to meet the Person who answered the needs of his human heart.

The desire to see Jesus of Nazareth moves the heart in a most deep way even to the point of confusing us at times. Even to the point of climbing a tree, a childish behavior, Zacchaeus had to see Jesus pass by.

Obstacles in meeting the Lord are always present: family, friends, church and societal leaders, addictions, sin, a divided heart, ideology, etc. But the obstacles are not the final answer, nor a barrier that is insurmountable. God’s grace is available.

Jesus loved Zacchaeus when virtually no one loved him. Hence, the radical change in life for Zacchaeus; recall that he gave much of his assets away and followed Jesus. We ought to be eager as Zacchaeus was to make amends, to make a conversion of heart (that is, to confess our sin and life differently) and Jesus draws sinners to himself. I think of the Jews who just celebrated on Saturday the feast of Yom Kippur, a day of repentance and the conversion, recognizing the need to draw closer to God and to allow to draw closer to us.

Can we show the same mercy the Lord showed to Zacchaeus to others? In fact, this is the mission we have because of our Baptism and because we profess to be disciples of Him whose gaze upon us by changing us. Do I shield my gaze from the Lord and give it to distractions?

Zacchaeus hears Jesus’s words: TODAY, I must stay with you. In other words, Jesus says to him, and thus to us, can I show you love? Can I give you the words of repentance and new life? Can I walk, build and confess the Lord? The Lord tells us in this narrative that anything, really anything, is possible if you allow Him into your life.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria offers us a keen reflection:

“Zacchaeus was leader of the tax collectors, a man entirely abandoned to greed, whose only goal was the increase of his gains. This was the practice of the tax collectors, although Paul calls it idolatry, possibly as being suitable only for those who have no knowledge of God. Since they shamelessly, openly professed this vice, the Lord very justly joined them with the prostitutes, saying ‘The prostitutes and the tax collectors go before you into the kingdom of God.’ Zacchaeus did not continue to be among them, but he was found worthy of mercy at Christ’s hands. He calls near those who are far away and gives light to those who are in darkness.”

Our Lord teaches us to love and what it means to love; can Jesus be our guest? Is he allowed to enter our house? Can I build with a unified heart a “civilization of love”?

I heard the talk of Christians: why Saint Pelagia once the Harlot is important

At this morning’s Mass we heard from the Prophet Malachi. If you don’t know about this minor prophet, I would spend some time with today’s first reading but also do some research to know more about Malachi. He’s a compelling voice.

Dominican Father Jordan from New Haven’s Priory preached on the life of a favor saint of his, Saint Pelagia once the Harlot. An unknown saint of the Antiochene Church whose life clearly illustrates what Malachi is getting at, and opens up for us in the Mass prayers. The Church puts on our lips these ideas found in the Collect by addressing God the Father: “pour out your mercy upon us,” “pardon what conscience dreads,” and “give what prayer does not dare to ask.”

When the Communion rite is finished, the Prayer after Communion asks God for the grace to be “refreshed and nourished by the Sacrament … so as to be transformed into what we consume.”

Pelagia was dancer and actress known for her beauty. Tradition tells us that her early life was none-too-moral. But her story ends as you would expect: in the arms of the Lord. Let me say up front: Pelagia’s life is a narrative of mercy.

Where the majority of the bishops of the region wouldn’t speak with Pelagia but a bishop known for wisdom and holiness, Saint Nonnus, was willing get out of his comfort zone. Imagine that a bishop would recognize a woman’s natural beauty, and be able to admit it. But I digress. Key for me is what Pelagia said, “I heard the talk of Christians and I want to follow Christ.”

The hagiography reports a letter Pelagia sent to Bishop Nonnus that moved him. She writes,

To Christ’s holy disciple from the devil’s disciple, a sinful woman. I have heard that your God has bowed the heavens and come down to earth, not to save the righteous but sinners. Such was His humility, that He ate with publicans, and He upon Whom the cherubim dare not gaze lived among sinners and spoke with harlots. Therefore, my lord, since you are a true servant of Christ (as I hear from the Christians), do not spurn me who with your help seek to draw near the Savior of the world and to behold His most holy countenance.

[The saint’s biography (at the link above) is taken from The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Volume 2: October, compiled by St. Demetrius of Rostov.]

Pelagia’s story is our story, but in truth, the narrative that all the saints give is our story. Hagiography shows the contours of grace and sin and final redemption (communion) by Christ Jesus and that it is possible to live by what the New Testament (indeed, the whole Bible) reveals. Let me say that Pelagia  is a model of recognizing in the witness of others (“heard the talk of Christians”) her own call from the Lord to be His disciple. AND being a student of Jesus’ is our aim, isn’t it? Where Pelagia was in her life so where we might have been, or may end up. Mercy was recognized and given and received and given to others. The text of The Life of St. Pelagia the Harlot is given to monks and nuns to encourage them in their life of conversion. The life of the saints is always formative and it opens a new door in evangelization. If it’s good for the monastics it’s gotta be good for the laity.

The saint’s life was first written by Deacon James who, in his Preface, tells us what we ought to glean from Pelagia’s life:

We should always have in mind the great mercy of our Lord who does not will the death of sinners but rather that all should be converted to repentance and live (1 Tim. 2). So, listen to a wonder that happened in our times. It has seemed good to me, James, to write this to you, holy brothers, so that by hearing or reading it you may gain the greatest possible aid for your souls. For the merciful God, who wills that no one should perish, has given us these days for the forgiveness of our sins, since in the time to come He will judge justly and reward everyone according to his works. Now be silent, and listen to me with all the care of which you are capable because what I have to tell you is very rich in compunction for us all.

Deacon James puts his finger on the matter at hand: to always have in mind the great mercy of God who saves sinners. Does this sound familiar? Pope Francis has emphasized this point of departure. Mercy.

Will I convert someone today by my talk? Will someone recognize me as a Christian by what I say and by what I do???

In Orthodoxy Saint Pelagia is honored on October 8 and in Catholicism she’s liturgically honored on May 4.

The relics are located in the Milan Cathedral and have been there for centuries.

[The Life of Saint Pelagia the Harlot was translated by Sr. Benedicta Ward, S.L.G., “Pelagia, Beauty Riding By” in Harlots of the Desert, a study of repentance in early monastic sources (Cistercian Publications, Inc., Kalamazoo, 1986): Latin Text in PL 73, 663-672).]

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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