by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This past Saturday, Patty Schneier spoke at A Day of Boundless Joy — the annual day of reflection for women, sponsored by our archdiocesan family life office. She also spoke at two other gatherings in the Archdiocese this past weekend.
Patty Schneier, by most measures, was an active, practicing Catholic. She not only attended Mass every Sunday, but was very involved in the liturgical music ministry in her parish. In part because of her music ministry, she participated in a mission at her parish conducted by the Apostles of the Interior Life. In the course of that mission, she was exposed to Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the theology of the body.
Patty was confronted with the disparity of her use of contraceptives and the clear teaching of the church presented to her for the first time in a way that was clear and compelling. It was frightening for her, the change that was required of her by her new understanding of the fullness and beauty of marital love.
In some ways, that parish mission changed the course of her life. It resulted in Patty and her husband taking, what at the time, was the frightening step to cease using contraceptives. The result of this act of faith on the part of Patty and her husband was a deepening of their love for each other and a renewal of their marriage. Eventually, Patty would be led to a new ministry of public speaking, sharing her testimony about the beauty and fullness of the church’s teaching regarding human sexuality with thousands of others.
Last week, I wrote about cultivating the spirituality of stewardship — one of the five pastoral goals that I have asked our priests, lay leaders, parishes and archdiocesan agencies to make a priority. This week, I want to reflect with you on another of these goals: conversion.
At the heart of the ministry of the church is facilitating opportunities for people to encounter Jesus Christ and be transformed by that experience. In the history of Christianity, there are powerful testimonies of conversions that transformed not only individuals, but the life of the church. The conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus or the conversion of St. Augustine from a worldly life to becoming a Christian, a bishop and eventually one of the most influential teachers of our Catholic faith, are just two examples of dramatic conversions.
Conversion is not a one-time experience in the life of the Christian. It is an ongoing process. As we grow closer to Jesus, he reveals new opportunities or areas of our life that we need to change and surrender to him. I am so pleased that in the Archdiocese many opportunities for ongoing conversion are being offered in our parishes.
Many parishes regularly offer missions like the one that changed Patty Schneier’s life forever. Several of our parishes provide retreat opportunities such as Christ Renews His Parish or the Light of the World retreats. School of Faith classes, That Man Is You, Catholic Bible study, Cursillo, and Marriage Encounter weekends are just some of the opportunities for ongoing conversion that are being offered in the Archdiocese.
Our young people also have special experiences geared for them, such as Kairos retreats, Teens Encounter Christ, annual Steubenville conferences, the National Catholic Youth Conference, World Youth Day, etc.
The primary way that the church fosters this ongoing conversion is through its sacramental life. Each time we participate in the Eucharist, it is an opportunity for a profound encounter with Jesus Christ who is uniquely and powerfully present to us in the Blessed Sacrament. Frequent prayer in adoration before the Eucharist in our churches and special adoration chapels is also a powerful means for a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
Every time we approach Jesus through the sacrament of penance or reconciliation, we have the opportunity not only to be forgiven of our sins, but to be transformed by the merciful love of Jesus Christ. Devoutly examining our conscience and surrendering our sin to Jesus through sacramental confession is one of the most powerful means available to us for growth in holiness.
A few weeks ago, we were presented in the Sunday Gospel with the story of the man who approached Jesus asking: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus exhorted him to keep the commandments. The man replied that he had kept the commandments since his youth.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus looked at the man with love. Undoubtedly, Jesus saw in the man so much potential for greatness. He challenged the man: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” The Gospel relates that the man’s “face fell and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
The man went away sad because he was possessed by his possessions. He was not free to experience the joy of following Jesus, because he was not able to relinquish all the things that he thought he needed to be happy.
Jesus sees the potential for greatness in each one of us. In the unique circumstances of our lives, our Lord wants to invite us to draw closer to him.
In some of the rites of the Eastern Catholic churches, there is the tradition that “the rich young man” eventually reconsidered, sold all that he had and followed Jesus. Jesus wants all of us to experience abundant life in this world and to share in the fullness of life with him forever. It is never too late to do so.
In order for this to happen, we need to let go of whatever impedes our intimacy with God and allow ourselves to experience the boundless joy when we draw closer and closer to Jesus.