How do we deal with anxiety? If it is mild anxiety, we might just turn on the television or play a game on our smart phone. If it is more intense, we might call a friend or pour a drink. If things are really out of control we go to a shrink to get pills or start going to transcendental meditation. Have we ever considered praying? We have a problem, and the problem is that most of the time we are just going through the motions in our life of faith. We should not be surprised that we spend much of our days feeling like it is all we can do to stay one step ahead of life.
We need to repent, to experience conversion. This is the only way that we will know true peace.
Sacraments are important for us Catholics. They should be because these externals come directly from Christ. But if we are brutally honest with ourselves, how much do these sacraments change us? When we receive communion, do we spend the rest of the week loving others as Christ has loved us?
Almost none of us do a particularly good job of this. Even the best of us, could do a much better job of getting out of God’s way and letting Christ live in us. Almost every one of us, if not every one of us, need to experience a kind of interior earthquake so that God is at the center of our universe, rather than our egos.
This interior earthquake is precisely what the Church calls conversion. Without it, it is impossible to know true happiness, neither in this life, nor in the world to come. The story of Jonah’s preaching to Nineveh gives us a good example the dynamics of conversion. After Jonah’s preaching, the people Nineveh believed in God and proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth and ashes.
If we want to walk in God’s ways, it is the same for us today.
Conversion, while being a completely free grace from Almighty God, has two observable aspects. One has to do with interior dispositions, and this is faith. The other has to do with exterior actions, and this is what we call good works.
All of us, whether we say so or not, believe in something. Here I am not talking about intellectual convictions about evidence for the existence of God. There is plenty of evidence out there, but being a good Christian is not the same as recognizing the obvious. All of us have something or some things that are the foundation of our search for happiness. These are the things in which we have faith. A good test of this would be the following questions. Where do we go when we want to find comfort? What do we do with our free time?
The answers to these two questions show us the things in which we believe. If the answer is not God to both questions, our answers give us the name of the idols that we worship.
If believing in God means anything, it means that in difficult times our comfort comes from Him. Believing in God means that we spend time every day in dialogue with Him in prayer and by reading good Catholic books. If we are dedicating less than an hour a day to being in conversation with God we have a serious time management problem.
In the electronic world in which we live, it can be difficult to set aside an hour for prayer. Perhaps we could start with a half hour and then keep track of how much time we spend using the internet, watching television and talking on our cell phone and see if our problem really is that we can’t find an hour to talk with God every day?
If we give your lives to God, we will know great peace. God will bless us in ways that we could never imagine. How do we put our lives entirely in God’s hands? We make a complete and searching confession of our sins, we resolve to obey God’s will in all things and we commit ourselves to spend an extended period of time every day in prayer. Our heavenly Father wants to fill our hearts with the blessings of His peace. And what do we do? We slumber in the anxiety that comes from our sins and spiritual laziness, almost as if we prefer the slavery of our inner frenzy to the gentle rest that comes from God’s love.
Putting our lives in God’s hands is not easy. It cost the Son of God His life on the Cross just to make it possible. For this reason, we call conversion an earthquake of the soul. In conversion, we rise from our spiritual sleep by means of penance. The people of Nineveh proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth at Jonah’s preaching. Exterior penance facilitates the destruction of our personal idols. In the ancient world, in addition to worshiping false gods, it was very easy to make fine clothing and food into idols. Remember that an idol is something other than God that takes the primary place in our thoughts and actions. It is just as easy to have money as an idol as it is to worship a false god. For post-modern man, it is probably easier.
Our idols are the things in which we seek comfort and on which focus during our free time. God invites us to practice exterior penance so that we are set free from our idols. For example, if we were to watch the television two hours a day, doing penance would mean that we watch it less, perhaps only for an hour. Or if we spend time every day using facebook, penance would mean that we would only use facebook on odd days of the week, namely Monday, Wednesday and Friday. As thus we could go on with anything that takes the time we owe to our relationship with God.
All of us want to feel peace rather than to be enslaved to our anxieties. While the sacraments are important, they are not magical. Peace of soul comes through being open to the grace of conversion one day at a time. While the grace is an entirely free gift that depends on God’s initiative, we can dispose ourselves to receive it through personal faith in God and penitential practices. These two spiritual exercises will show us the idols that we worship, and, at the same time, will give us an escape from our slavery to them.
Right now, our heavenly Father is offering us the grace of conversion and asking us to take hold of it through prayer and frequent exterior penance. If we say yes, we will know peace in this life and the next. If we say no, our destiny is anxiety in this life and much worse in the life to come. The choice is ours. Which will it be?