Tag Archives: conversion

The Baptist calls us recognize the voice in desert

St John the Baptist Pellegrino da San Daniele.jpg

Advent is time of hope and expectation, it is also a time of repentance and conversion. Today’s readings in the Liturgy orient our attention to changing our life’s to reflect more and more the Lord’s. And the Baptist is the amazing and stirring Advent proponents to follow Jesus more closely. What is more identifiable than the Baptist’s exhortation: Prepare the way of the Lord?

St. Augustine on the gift of conversion: “What, then?
It is perhaps dependant on you, O man, if converted to God once you have earned
his mercy, while on the contrary those who have not converted have not obtained
mercy but have encountered the wrath of God? But you what resources available
to convert, if you had not been called? Was it not He who called you when you
were the enemy, to grant you the grace of repentance? So do not ascribe to
yourself the merit of your conversion: why, if God had not intervened to call
you when you fled from him, you would not have been able to look back.” St.
Augustine Expositionson the Psalmi, 84, 8-9.

Pilgrimage to Chartres

Pilgrimage 2009.jpgGoing from point A to point B whether it is a physical move or a spiritual one is a pilgrimage. Something happens to the person making the move between points. Traditionally speaking a pilgrimage is not a tourist event nor is a undertaken for frivolous reasons. Tourism is fine and necessary but I want to think about a different type physical and spiritual journey not often talked about in Catholic circles today. It is a journey; it’s a path walked; it is a time to review your life. A pilgrimage is time spent either alone or with others on a path to a change of heart, a conversion. Often we take on the burdens and the delights of a pilgrimage to gain a deeper insight into our lives as Christians asking questions about how the experience of Christ has changed me, or where I need to change based on what I discern the Lord to be asking.

Saints have made pilgrimages, sinners have made and continue to make pilgrimages. My own home parish priest just led a very beautiful pilgrimage to the Lourdes Shrine and other religious places in France this past April. Members of the lay movement Communion and Liberation makes an annual pilgrimage to the famous Marian shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa (also here) or to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loretto and the Conventual Franciscans (and the Capuchins, CFRs and Dominicans [to sights related to Saint Dominic] do the similarly) often lead pilgrims to Assisi in order to be faithful to the path set out by Saint Francis of Assisi. The Benedictines of Saint John’s Abbey sponsor a regular pilgrimage to religious shrines and monastic foundations in Europe related to Saint Benedict and the Benedictine patrimony. OK, the point is not to catalog the pilgrimage possibilities but to give examples of current types of pilgrimages and to say that making a pilgrimage is not a dead, outmoded pious gesture. Real, good stuff happens to people on pilgrimage!

Chartres pilgrimage 2009.jpg

One such pilgrimage taking place on annual basis is the Pilgrimage to Chartres by an international group of young people numbering in the neighborhood of 10-15k. Their form of prayer is Catholic: rosary, litany, mortification, acts of asceticism, confession of sins and the Mass according to the missal of Blessed John XXIII.

Watch a most fascinating video on the experience… and the 2009 photo album …and the report with pictures of the 2010 pilgrimage in 4 installments from The Society of St. Hugh of Cluny.

Internal Forum: the priest’s confessional as a dialogue with salvation

Benedict XVI
addressed participants in a short course on the internal forum on March 11 hosted and organized by Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli and Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, OFM Conv., of the Apostolic Penitentiary. Next
to the celebration of the Mass, there is likely no other important work of a
priest than to reconcile sinners to God. This is a helpful teaching of the Pope’s since at the seminary dinner table these days there’s much conversation about the priest’s ministry of forgiveness. Note what I think are the important
points the Holy Father makes regarding the dialogue of salvation.

Your course is placed, providentially, in the Year for Priests, which I
proclaimed for the 150th anniversary of the birth in heaven of St. John Mary
Vianney, who exercised in a heroic and fruitful way the ministry of
reconciliation. As stated in the letter of proclamation: “All of us
priests must hear those words which regard us personally that he (the Curé
d’Ars) put in Christ’s mouth: ‘I will charge my ministers with proclaiming to
sinners, whom I am always ready to receive, that my Mercy is infinite.’ From
the Holy Curé d’Ars
we priests can learn not only an inexhaustible trust in the
sacrament of penance, which drives us to put it at the center of our pastoral
concerns, but also the method of the ‘dialogue of salvation’ that should be
carried out in it

hearing confession.jpg

Where do the roots of heroism and fruitfulness sink,
with which St. John Mary Vianney lived his own ministry of confessor? First of
all in an intense personal penitential dimension. The awareness of one’s own
limits and the need to take recourse to Divine Mercy to ask for pardon, to
convert the heart and to be sustained on the path of sanctity, are essential in
the life of the priest
: Only one who has first experienced its greatness can be
a convinced herald and administrator of the Mercy of God. Every priest becomes
minister of penance
by his ontological configuration to Christ, High and
Eternal Priest, who reconciles humanity with the Father; however, fidelity in
administering the sacrament of reconciliation is entrusted to the responsibility
of the presbyter.

We live in a cultural context marked by a hedonistic and
relativistic mentality, which tends to cancel God from the horizon of life,
does not favor the acquisition of a clear picture of values of reference and
does not help to discern good from the evil and to mature a correct sense of
sin. This situation makes even more urgent the service of administrators of
Divine Mercy.

We must not forget, in fact, that there is a sort of vicious
circle between obfuscation of the experience of God and the loss of the sense
of sin. However, if we look at the cultural context in which St. John Mary
Vianney lived, we see that, in several aspects, it was not so dissimilar from
. Also in his time, in fact, a hostile mentality to faith existed,
expressed by forces that sought actually to impede the exercise of the
ministry. In such circumstances, the Holy Curé d’Ars made “the church his
home,” to lead men to God. He lived radically the spirit of prayer, the
personal and intimate relationship with Christ, the celebration of Mass,
Eucharistic adoration and evangelical poverty, appearing to his contemporaries
as such an evident sign of the presence of God, as to drive so many penitents
to approach his confessional.

In the conditions of liberty in which it is
possible to exercise today the priestly ministry, it is necessary that the
presbyters live in a “lofty way” their own response to their
vocation, because only one who becomes every day the living and clear presence
of the Lord can arouse in the faithful the sense of sin, give courage and have
the desire born for the forgiveness of God.

Dear brothers, it is necessary to
turn to the confessional, as place in which to celebrate the sacrament of
reconciliation, but also as place in which to “dwell” more often, so
that the faithful can find mercy, counsel and comfort, feel loved and
understood by God and experience the presence of Divine Mercy, close to the real
Presence in the Eucharist.

The “crisis” of the Sacrament of Penance,
so often talked about, is a question that faces first of all priests and their
great responsibility to educate the People of God to the radical demands of the
Gospel. In particular, it asks them to dedicate themselves generously to the
listening of sacramental confessions
; to guide the flock with courage, so that
it will not be conformed to the mentality of this world (cf. Romans 12:2), but
will be able to make choices also against the current, avoiding accommodations
and compromises. Because of this it is important that the priest have a
permanent ascetic tension, nourished by communion with God, and that he
dedicate himself to a constant updating in the study of moral theology and of
human sciences.

St. John Mary
Vianney was able to establish with penitents a real and proper “dialogue
of salvation,” showing the beauty and greatness of the Lord’s goodness and
arousing that desire for God and heaven, of which the saints are the first
bearers. He affirmed: “The good God knows everything. Before you even
confess, he knows that you will sin again and yet he forgives you. How great is
the love of our God, which drives him to willingly forget the future, so as to
forgive us” (Monnin A., Il Curato d’Ars. Vita di Gian-Battista-Maria
, Vol. 1, Turin, 1870, p. 130). 

It is the priest’s task to foster
that experience of “dialogue of salvation,” which, born of the
certainty of being loved by God, helps man to acknowledge his own sin and to
introduce himself, progressively, into that stable dynamic of conversion of
, which leads to the radical renunciation of evil and to a life according
to God (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1431).

Dear priests, what an
extraordinary ministry the Lord has entrusted to us! As in the Eucharistic
Celebration he puts himself in the hands of the priest to continue to be
present in the midst of his people, similarly, in the sacrament of
reconciliation he entrusts himself to the priest so that men will have the
experience of the embrace with which the Father receives the prodigal son,
restoring him the filial dignity and reconstituting him fully heir
(cf. Luke

Aroused by the presence of Christ

conversion (and let me echo the words of St Augustine used speaking about his
own conversion) is simply the passage from his dedication to God to recognition
of what God has done and does in Jesus.

Augustine describes his conversion
thus: “When I read the apostle Paul [and immediately afterwards -because it is
not enough to the Scriptures–he adds:] and when Your hand healed the sadness of
my heart, then I understood the difference inter praesumptionem et confessionem
/ between dedication and recognition.” Praesumptio does not indicate a bad
thing. In the long term it decays into bad presumption, but initially it
indicates a person’s attempt to achieve the good ideal intuited. Christian
conversion is the passage from this attempt to do good (good works, said Pope
Benedict) to the simple recognition of the presence of Jesus
. From praesumptio,
dedication, to confessio, recognition. The confessio, recognition, is like when
the child says, ‘Mamma.” As when the mother comes towards the child and it
says, ‘Mamma.”

Christian conversion, for Augustine and Paul, is (let me use the
image of Don Giussani’s that, in my opinion, has no equivalent) the transition
from the enthusiasm of dedication to the enthusiasm of beauty; from the
enthusiasm of one’s own dedication, which in itself is good, to the enthusiasm
aroused by a presence that attracts the heart, a presence which gratuitously
comes forward and gratuitously makes itself recognized. Paul had done nothing
to meet Him. His gratuitous coming forwards accomplishes the transition from
our dedication to the beauty of His presence that makes itself recognized
through attraction. And between recognition and dedication there is no
contradiction. Giussani says simply that “enthusiasm of dedication is
incomparable with the enthusiasm of beauty.” It is the same term St Augustine
uses when he describes the relationship between the virtue of men and the first
steps of those who put their hope in the grace and mercy of God.

We might also
say that when by grace a person happens to live the same experience that Paul
went through, his same experience, in the infinite remove from him, it is as if
all the Christian words, the word of faith, the word salvation, the word
Church, were transparent of the initiative of Jesus Christ. It is He who stirs
, Faith is His working. It is He who saves. Bestowing salvation is His
initiative. It is He who builds His Church. “Aedifcabo ecclesiam meam” (Mt
16:18). Aedificabo is a future tense [verb]: “I will build my Church” on the
profession of faith of Peter, on the grace of faith given to Peter (cf. Mt
16:18). It is He who builds personally, in the present, His Church on a gift of

Giussani was speaking to a group of young people. At a certain point he
asked: “What puts us in relationship with Jesus Christ? What, now, puts us in
relationship with Jesus Christ?” People said: “The Church,” “The community,”
“Our friendship,” and so on. At the end of all the suggestions, Giussani
repeated the question: “What puts us in relationship with Jesus Christ?” And
then gave the answer himself: “The fact that He is risen.” Because were He not
risen, were He not alive, the Church would be a merely human institution, like
so many others. One burden more. All things merely human in the become a
burden. The Church is the visible term of the gesture of the living Jesus who
meets the heart and attracts it.

Don Giacomo Tartandini, 30 Days, no. 6/7 2009

Saint Paul’s conversion: in weakness we are thus strong

“Hear the signs of true believers–
Satan cast out in my name,
Unknown tongues are clearly spoken,
And the sick their health reclaim!
Go and tell the world my gospel;
Those denying, faith have waived.
Washed in waters of baptism,
Those believing will be saved.”

For the deed of Paul’s conversion,
Thanks and praise we render you,
That your mercy, not our merit,
Brings salvation strong and true.
As you called him from his sinning
To a new, abundant life,
Teach us self to now abandon,
Thus forsaking sin and strife.

Glory to the God and Father
Of Christ Jesus, living Lord;
Glory to the Son, our Savior,
Risen Victor, e’er adored;
Glory to the Holy Spirit,
Moving us with one accord
Thus to shout with hearts and voices
“Yes! Christ Jesus is the Lord!”

J. Michael Thompson
Copyright © 2009, World Library Publications

The image of Saint Paul is by Catarino


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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