“When it’s right, you know it’s right.” That’s how one person described her reason for returning to her Catholic faith. She and her husband had been members of a nondenominational church, but her father, a staunch Catholic, had been talking to her about her faith while she had been gone, encouraging her to listen to her heart, to continue to be open.
At this year’s Easter Vigil, her husband will join the Catholic Church, and she will be by his side, returning to the church of her birth. Her father can hardly describe his joy, not only because this daughter and her husband will be coming home, but also because his other three daughters’ husbands will be joining the Catholic Church, too.
Describing this group’s call to conversion of heart a “family affair” is truly an understatement. Conversion, in fact, for all of us, can be a process of awakening to a new way of looking at our lives, not only our “church” life but our entire existence, all of our waking hours.
This awakening or conversion can help us to see the people we know or those we meet in a different way, a clearer way, as God’s children who must be treated with respect and dignity.
Conversion gives us the opportunity not only to be a teacher of others, our children for instance, but also students of life who learn from others.
For example, recently I talked to a deacon who ministers to the sick and aged. When he stood at the bedside of a dying friend, he discovered his friend, in her dying, could teach him more about pastoral ministry than he could ever dream was possible. Not an easy lesson; the deacon said the woman’s struggles to accept death and look forward to her next step when she would be with God gave him an example he will never forget.
We must constantly be on the lookout for those teachable moments, when we can open our minds and our hearts to accept the “lesson” God has prepared for us.
This, then, is part of our conversion, our journey to becoming more of what God wants us to be. We must always be ready to recognize that lesson or opportunity for conversion because it sometimes comes disguised as a person or event we might not associate with a move closer to God.
When my mother was in the last months of her life, my sister and I adjusted our schedules so that we could care for her. It was not easy, but we decided this is what we wanted to do.
I am so grateful for that time with her, a gentle, loving woman who always put her children and her family ahead of everything else. In those last months, she taught me patience, perseverance and the value of presence.
I don’t sit still for long periods of time, but I learned that being still, being quiet, being present was all that was required of me. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift than that time with her.
In a very personal way, I experienced a kind of conversion, a chance to be a child to her once more, if only briefly. Again, she taught me by her example, her acceptance of whatever was asked of her. Whenever we asked something of her, she always said, “I’ll try.” Even when she no longer spoke, she responded to us with that same willingness to try, to be open, to be our teacher once again. It was her last gift to us.
The only way we can truly accept her gift is to pass it on, to be open to the experiences of conversion that continue to present themselves to us, to live as examples to the people we meet, knowing that God works in our lives to bring us closer, to convert us each and every day.
Liz Quirin is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.