Conversion, Reconciliation, and Transformation

“And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

This is an excerpt from the Prayer of Absolution that the priest says at the end of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At this point, you’ve confessed your sins to the priest in persona Christi (ie, in the person of Christ; read: you’re really confessing your sins to Jesus). This prayer washes you clean of your sins, lets you start anew, lets you move on, makes you know and feel the mercy of Christ.

When I’m at college, I spend most of my social time around other Catholics, so I’m basically immersed in Catholic thought. It’s always striking when I get home and notice the stark contrasts between secular and Catholic thought. (No one else in my immediate family (or even extended family, really) is a practicing Catholic–read about my conversion story here.)

Secular and Catholic thought really diverge on the subject of reconciliation. Most notably, Catholic thought asserts that people can change. I’ve observed that many (though not all, of course) in the secular realm seem to think that someone with a troubled past could not possibly have changed. These people continue to be labeled by the sins of their past. This is entirely unfair, as people can change, especially with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

So many of the Church’s saints were extreme sinners at one time, and then drastically changed when their hearts were converted to Christ. Take St. Augustine, for example. Pre-conversion Augustine was, in today’s terminology, a playboy. Then, when he converted to Christ, he changed drastically and eventually became a saint. St. Augustine understood how people could change because he experienced it himself. He said,

“There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”

Today’s world seems not to know what St. Augustine knew. I think that anyone who has experienced first-hand the transformative power of the Holy Spirit knows that people change. I think that the secular world copes with this misunderstanding in two ways (of course, generalizations are never entirely accurate; not everyone with a secular mindset has this ideology):

  1. When people recognize others as sinners, they label them as such (because radical change seems impossible).
  2. When people sin, they try to convince themselves that they actually haven’t sinned (because there’s no mode of redemption).

I think the mainstream culture would be shocked to know that Catholicism advocates moving on from the sins of our past. Everyone always talks about “Catholic guilt” which, tbh, I don’t understand. Yes, we’re all sinners, but we are redeemed in Christ, which we experience first hand through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sure, we should be horrified by our sins, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we should also know that we are made new and that we can change with God’s help.

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Challenge Yourself Spiritually!

When we experience personal growth in any facet of life, that growth didn’t just come out of nowhere.

“I was passing the days solely sleeping, watching TV, playing video games, and hanging out with friends, you know, all the things that bring me personal comfort. Didn’t do anything I didn’t feel like doing. And then as a result of this careful preparation, I discovered the meaning of life as I sat on my couch eating Doritos and watching ‘The Hangover,'”

SAID NO ONE EVER!

Growth is usually the result of some sort of challenge in our life. Let’s look at it from a non-religious angle:

When I was 11, my dad said we had to move 7 hours away! It was a really, really difficult time for me. In retrospect, I see that this change in my life helped me to be more adaptable. It also helped me to realize that the “unknown” isn’t that scary after all.

There are so many challenges that pop up in the lives of teens today. Examples include: moving, death of a loved one, divorce of parents, academics, drama with friends, bullying, body image, etc.
Usually these challenges ultimately lead to some sort of personal growth after some reflection.

So, if we want to advance in our spiritual lives, what are doing just staying in our comfort zones!? We need to challenge ourselves! And I think Catholicism offers so many excellent challenges that lead to spiritual growth.

Reconciliation. Is that comfortable? No– admitting sins isn’t terribly comfortable. But we grow so much when we realize God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness. We realize how much we need Him in our lives. Sounds like growth!

The Real Presence. Comfortable? No– you saw how so many people left Jesus in John 6 when He was basically like, “Guys, you gotta eat me if you want life in you. No, seriously. For the third time, I mean it.” But through receiving Christ in the Eucharist and resting in His presence at Eucharistic Adoration, we come to understand how amazing He is. Growth- check!

The Obligation to go to Mass every week and on days of Holy Obligation. Comfortable? Not 100% of the time. Some days we just don’t FEEL like going to Mass. But by going, we commit ourselves to God. We suppress our human desire to be lazy, realizing that God is more important. Yay growth!

Required days of fasting (Ash Wed and Good Fri for Catholics 18 and over) and abstinence (no meat on Fridays during Lent and on Ash Wed). Comfortable? No– Most people love eating. But by following what the Church has outlined for us, we understand that our carnal desires aren’t everything and that God is worth the suffering (even though it’s actually not TOO much suffering when you consider that people go hungry EVERY day of their lives in third world countries). Growth: now dat’s what I’m talkin’ about!

The list continues.

Sometimes things like fasting and the obligation to go to Mass get dismissed as unnecessary “works.”

James 2:17–
“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

AMEN! You say it James!

You can have faith in Christ, but if you aren’t doing things to show it and further it…sounds like a pretty dead spiritual life with a paucity of personal growth on the side.

So go out there and challenge yourself this summer!!

“The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness.”
~Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI