Conversion as a Resurrection Experience

'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "  Luke 15:31-32

In the story of the prodigal son, we have two sons who make drastically different life decisions.  One stays and works on his father’s farm, while the other takes his inheritance and goes away from his father.  After ‘experiencing’ the world and finding it wanting, he returns to his father, not expecting forgiveness, but merely the safety of the farm and employment.
This is a story of our relationship with God.  In the Garden, Adam and Eve took their inheritance early by eating from the tree and separated themselves from God.  As children of the Fall, we have all found ourselves in the stress and sin of the world.  Deep within there is a longing to come back into our Father’s protection.  Just like the prodigal son, when we return to God, we find not only peace in our heart, but forgiveness from our sins.
Conversion is a turning toward God.  In the Christian faith, it is acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior and following the will of the Father through the aid of the Holy Spirit.  Cradle Catholics can make the mistake of thinking this is an experience for those who have never been in the Church, or have never believed in God. 
In fact, each one of us who believe and follow Christ must share in this experience.  At some point in our lives we make a decision to turn towards God with our whole heart, mind, and soul.  Whether this looks like a dramatic moment in time, or a slower, less poignant moment, the conversion experience has the same power.
When we give our lives to Christ, we share in His resurrection power.  We who were dead in sin become alive again in Christ.  Through the power of Christ, death is conquered in our lives and we become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).          

Believers focus on strengthening their relationship with God during Lent.  This may mean repentance from sins that are keeping them from a full life with God.  This repentance, or turning away from sin and back towards God are smaller conversion experiences.  Even after our initial conversion experience, there are times that we lose focus and become once again consumed by the world.  During these times it is important to not only look upon the cross, but also to remember the power of the Resurrection.  Turn once again towards God and reclaim yourself for your God this Lent.     

“I am the resurrection and the life.”  John 11:25

**This article was written for Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church). 

Personal Faith and Spreading the Faith

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

When I was twelve years old I remember sitting in church on Sunday and it hit me that there was something big going on in this place.  For the first time I began to make my faith my own.  It was something I wanted in my life, not just an event that happened once a week.  In fact, I joke with my friends that one of my “rebellious” actions as a teenager was my strong desire to attend church by myself. 

In college I had a crisis in my faith. A friend was challenging me about why I believed what I believed.  She grew up Southern Baptist and had a lot of questions.  God broke me through this experience.  At the same time He used my brokenness to grow my faith.  I finally understood the “whys” behind all the doctrines I had been taught growing up. 

God gave me plenty of opportunities to share my faith after this experience.  I had to practice putting 1 Peter 3:15 in my life.  Learning to share my faith with compassion.  Learning to speak in love and not worry about winning the argument. 

We are each called to come to Christ in a personal relationship.  Once there, we join the Communion of Saints in growing closer to our Lord and King.  Part of growing closer to Christ is joining in His mission to spread the Good News, to share our faith.  Jesus commands us to  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19)  We are all called to evangelize the mission field God has placed us in.

John Paul II stated in Redemptoris Missio that “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”  In our lives we are to proclaim Christ through words and deeds.  Evangelization is not reserved to the street preacher or the foreign missionary.  We are all called to “give the reason for the hope” we have. 

Sharing your faith can be as simple as telling others about how God has worked in your life.  You can also share your faith through your actions; how you treat your co-workers, your family, and the strangers you encounter during your day. 

For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! (1 Cor 9: 16) 

**This article was written for Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church). 

Mary: Our Model Evangelizer

 Mary is not counted among the apostles. She is not a Doctor of the Church. She did not write a book in scripture. Despite these, she is our great example of discipleship, faithfulness, and evangelization. She was the first to say yes to the call of bringing the good news to the world. In a most literal sense, she carried the Good News for nine months in her womb. She remained at the foot of the cross while the apostles fled in fear. After her time on earth, she has come back in different times and places with one mission, to call people to her son.
More than anyone, Mary’s life is focused on pointing the world to the message of Christ. She follows Paul’s command “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31). Unfortunately, throughout Church history, people have been attracted to Mary and stopped there. They have admired her role as the Mother of God, but have forgotten her purpose. In her revelations around the world, her continual message is for people to turn to her son, to worship him, and to believe in his everlasting mercy.
At the wedding at Cana, when the servants did not know what to do about the wine she told them, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). With that declaration she set into motion Christ’s public ministry. This strength to submit to God’s will and cooperate with Christ’s mission of salvation for all did not come from quick decisions. Several times we are given of glimpse of how she lived out her faith and was able to trust in events unfolding during her life on earth. As events to place she “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). She hid Gods word in her heart (Psalm 119:11) and through that was able to witness to the world with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).
What does this all mean for us? How does it affect our faith journeys? We are all called in baptism to be priests, prophets, and kings. As we look at Mary’s role as the great evangelizer, we are given an example of our role as prophets. Whether we are sent to proclaim the Good News on a street corner, or quietly writing letters to friends who may not yet believe, we are all called to always point to Christ. Learn to say yes to God, trust in his provisions to help us in the mission he gives, and declare through our lives the reason for our hope.

**This article was written for Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church). 

Practicing Justice Through Mercy and Forgiveness

Jimmy Buffet once wrote in a song, “Relationships, we all got ‘em, we all want ‘em.  What do we do with ‘em?”  While he was talking specifically about romantic relationships, I think his sentiments could be pointed at the root desire of everyone, which is being in communion with others.  God created us to be in communion, so it is no surprise that all of our struggles contain a dimension of relationship issues.

One answer in relieving the struggles is to understand God’s justice and how it relates to our relationships.  Our society today conditions us to make judgments first and then perhaps later find out the truth behind a person.  Along with that it seems like somewhere in our middle school years we learn to judge first has a defense, or social survival method.  If we never move beyond influences like these in our life, and look at relationships with God’s justice, I think we are destined to struggle.

Justice here is defined as “a moral quality or habit, which perfects the will and inclines it to render to each and to all what belongs to them” (Catholic Encyclopedia). That which most certainly belongs to each person is the dignity and worth given to them by God. That does not render them faultless, nor sinless. It does place upon us the responsibility in our relationships of practicing justice towards them. In doing so, we may be bringing them, and ourselves, closer in relationship with Christ.

All of us have made decisions in our past that we would rather not let people know about because they may reject us.  On the other side, there have been people in our lives who have revealed parts of their lives, which made us want to reject them.  God’s justice asks us to show mercy and forgiveness towards others and ourselves.  Lack of forgiveness traps a person within a space in time.  Showing justice through God’s mercy, we can help set that person free from that decision or habit, and allow them to move on to truly live in the dignity God gave them.

In order to practice God's justice we need to begin by suspending judgment on others. This is difficult in a world where, whether we publicly subscribe to it or not, our society trains us to make a judgment first, and perhaps show mercy later.  One of the most telling scriptures showing God’s justice through mercy is the woman caught in adultery (John 8).   The people were quick to judge her and dispense worldly justice.  Christ never said she was not committing a sin.  In fact, he ends by telling her to go and sin no more.  His justice requires mercy.  In our relationships we to need to practice God’s justice by first showing God’s mercy.

Ask yourself these questions:  Do I show God’s justice to others?  Am I willing to look beyond where a person has been to where they are and want to be?  What are some common judgments I pass on others?

**This article was written for Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church).  

Hope for the Human Heart

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”
-St. Augustine

Thomas Merton wrote that faith talks when reason can say no more. While it is true that some people’s faith journey begins with reason, there always comes a time when what we know becomes what we believe and finally what we follow. It is here that our heart speaks and understands. Scripture tells us that the demons believe in Jesus, but they do not follow him. It is our hearts that Jesus’ touches. When he gathered the apostles, they did not leave everything because of head knowledge of Jesus, they left because their hearts found their rest. After the crucifixion the disciples’ hearts were broken, they thought their hope was gone. When Jesus appeared in the Upper Room after the Resurrection, their hope was restored.
The Good News of Jesus penetrates the human heart. In him all our dreams, desires, and passions find their purpose. When we try to find them in other things they leave us wanting more because they do not satisfy. The woman at the well understood this after talking with Jesus. He is the Living Water of which our heart drinks. So many of the analogies Jesus gave about our created connection with him were in relationship with him. The greatest relationship we have in this life and the next is with Jesus. That relationship connects us with others as well.  At Pentecost the barriers of language were broken, the consequence of Babel was lifted for a brief moment, and we were given a glimpse of the power of the Gospel. It quite often baffles our reason as it talks to the heart.
The foundation of Jesus in our lives connects us not only to God the Father, but also to the communion of saints past and present. In the midst of all the craziness of our personal lives and the world, we find rest in Jesus. He conquered death and sin. He gave us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Let us celebrate this Easter season by showing those who have not found rest, the hope for which their heart is searching.

**This article was written for the Spring 2011 issue of Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church).