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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 8 - Degrees of depth of conversion

http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA29&lpg=PP1&output=html_text

I'm beginning to really like this retreat material we are using titled Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer by Thomas DuBay because I'm learning new things. For instance, I didn't know there are degrees of holiness to be pursued in the spiritual life, at least not in Fr. DuBay's categorization. He says these categories are:

1. Basic Conversion: "Freedom from mortal sins"
2. Advancing Level: "Giving up of willed venial sins"
3. Consummate or Perfect Level: "the totality of heroic goodness, going all the way with God, loving without limits"

My initial reaction to this list was to be tickled pink. It tickled me to think that I might have moved on to a higher place of spirituality, judging from too much familiarity with #1 and #2 and an emerging acquaintance with #3. You want proof? Alright, let me convince you, I mean, myself, even more: When I finally got to read Therese of Liseaux's famed autobiography, upon somebody's recommendatioon, I was blown away, not only by the knowledge that my spirituality was lightyears away from the young French nun's when I was hitting 40, but also because of the realization that her degree of faith was in fact so simple that it is achievable, by anyone anytime, anywhere, such that there's really no excuse for the rest of us because, after all, that's what Christianity demands. Christianity, I am reminded of now, thanks to Fr. DuBay, is an all-or-nothing thing in this regard. It's either I strive to be a saint, or not, because when I am half-hearted, I risk hell, I risk acquiring the identity of an future demon.

But I'll be honest by saying I find myself mostly treading the three categories at the same time. That's right: I feel more like I'm going through the three degrees of depth simultaneously. No, to be more accurate, the movement may not be linear, but it is more of spiral. If I fall down hard, I strive to rise up quickly, and if I fall down again, I rise up again.

While I may have forsaken serious sins and certainly have resolved never to reject God or volunteer some travel time to hell, I know that sinning seriously is still possible, at least a threat, if I'm not careful, what with great opportunities to sinning offered by the world right where I am hunched and right outside my window. With just a click on the mouse, a lingering gaze that's unseemly, a stray malicious thought entertained upon reading an article, a closed mind upon hearing a report of gossip, and so on, it's so easy to be a willing prey.

As for venial matters, I can't be too complacent either. It's easy for me to give in to fear, insecurity, anger, doubt, vanity, gluttony, discouragement, lust, rash judgment, recklessness, curiosity, if I let loose these evils inside of me.

Despite these struggles, however, I also can't deny the fact that I, too, am capable of diving into the deeper waters of conversion, especially since my present circumstances (joblessness [so suddenly and right in the middle of serving God 101%]  and illness [hypertension, panic attacks, including some hypochondria]) force me into it. Yesterday, I encountered this Henri Nouwen 'saying,' which I found 'coincidentally' apt:

The Basis of Our Security

What is the basis of our security? When we start thinking about that question, we may give many answers: success, money, friends, property, popularity, family, connections, insurance, and so on. We may not always think that any of these forms the basis of our security, but our actions or feelings may tell us otherwise. When we start losing our money, our friends, or our popularity, our anxiety often reveals how deeply our sense of security is rooted in these things.

A spiritual life is a life in which our security is based not in any created things, good as they may be, but in God, who is everlasting love. We probably will never be completely free from our attachment to the temporal world, but if we want to live in that world in a truly free way, we'd better not belong to it. "You cannot be the slave both of God and of money" (Luke 16:13).

Just like Nouwen states above, intellectually, I know I am counting on God for everything, but why did I panic at the mere thought of losing my job, my health, my few personal things and my very life (as when a fire engulfed the neighborhood next to ours recently)? Shouldn't I panic at the mere thought of losing God instead? My mind is telling me the right thing, but my body can't lie: it's telling me a different story.

My somatic reflex reaction is very telling, and for me that's more than enough to convict me of who I really am deep inside. I am a ball of nerves because I am really placing my sense of security in what the world dictates should be my identity: success in career, titles, advanced education, material acquisitions, stability, normalcy (a typical life with a wife and kids), and so on. If push comes to shove, these are my real gods/Baals/idols even though I profess to believe in and love God.

With my recent illness and bad 'luck', I was forced to confront the question: Will I still embrace God despite losing almost everything (save my life)?

From this otherwise sordid episode in my life, I've learned that, yes, there remains a choice in moments like this, despite my inner conflicts. After clarifying what those conflicts are, I've found that, if push comes to shove, even if, God forbid, my 'entire house burns down' as in the story of Job*, I will choose to believe in His unconditional love for me, "I will joy in the Lord, my God," to quote a charismatic song that is based on this Biblical passage (Habakkuk 3):

17 For the fig tree shall not blossom: and there shall be no spring in the vines. The labour of the olive tree shall fail: and the fields shall yield no food: the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls.
18 But I will rejoice in the Lord: and I will joy in God my Jesus.
At this point, I am reduced to prayer.

Dear God,

May You be my true and only treasure. May You be more than enough to me. May the prayer of St. Teresa de Avila be my prayer too: "Solo Dios basta." (God alone suffices).


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*Alright, I'm exaggerating. No, I don't really mean Job, for I still can write this, thus I am still able to work, and I still have my parents, siblings, relatives, Catholic community, and friends.

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