Thursday, June 26, 2014

Conversion for the Modern Man

Few Catholics get most of their information or influence from God, the Scriptures, or Church teaching. Most are far more aware of and inclined to listen to secular leaders, pop musicians, entertainers, sports figures, and the general cultural din. And this is where they develop even their most critical insights about God, family, sexuality, and many significant moral questions.
Source: Msgr. Charles Pope, "The Extraordinary Form of the Mass and the Evangelization of the Culture," Archdiocese of Washington blog, June 8, 2014, accessed June 26, 2014,

The process of conversion for the modern man, where conversion is always a twofold movement of changing the orientation of the heart away from sin and towards God (metanoia), inevitably will mean moving away from worldly and demonic sources and towards heavenly ones for the inspiration and formation of our worldview, sentiments, and actions. Our progress can be measured by what habitual forms of thinking, speaking, and acting we refer to in day-to-day life. In other words, as the Spirit of God works through us and His inspirations become "connatural" to our way of being, we will know whether we are moving away from or towards God.

The pinnacle of our modernity is the comfort of civilization advanced in its technology, resting on a foundation of modern science and modern philosophical-political ideology after the Enlightenment. How we arrived at this point is irrelevant for understanding conversion, but the point is that at the root of modern life is the seeking of comfort through technological products. This seeking of comfort is so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness that evil is now primarily defined as that which goes against personal comfort; in other words, evil has been reduced from what properly refers to moral depravity to a scale of feelings deemed negative. Abortion is legitimate in this view because the child would be inconvenient; gay marriage is legitimate because it is the only way for a homosexual couple to be happy and live in the comfort of their mutual affection; religion in the public square is evil because it dictates against the individual's way of life; rape is evil because it violates a person's bodily, psychological, and personal integrity as well as the right to consensual relations. Etc.

Therefore, the process of conversion for the modern man will include a progressive realization of this tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain, even to the point of mortal sin and justifying that sin. The Christian Faith reveals to us the antithesis of the modern lifestyle: it sees physical evil as a true deprivation but ultimately nothing compared to the evil of sin. Its goal is not comfort but conformity to God, transformation in Christ, connaturality with the movements of the Holy Ghost. It desires that God's name be glorified through the establishment of His kingdom first in the individual soul and then collectively among the nations. This establishment occurs only where God's will is done in all joyful obedience, sustained by the spiritual nourishment that God provides us, above all in the Holy Eucharist. The channel of grace remains open to those who psychologically and spiritually prepare themselves by letting go of resentment and bitterness through the forgiveness of others' sins against us. Finally, it demands that we begin to reconstruct our environment such that it becomes the most conducive towards recollection and true Christian spirituality, that it becomes a place fostering holiness and holy desires. It requires that we remove ourselves from occasions of sin, temptation, and the deliberate participation in both explicitly evil and implicitly spiritually harmful activities and ways of life. This process is summarized in the Our Father in reverse order of its petitions, where the end (the glory of God) is always first in intention but last in execution for the beginner:

Deliver us from evil: we beg for the grace to begin the process of conversion while cooperating with that grace to remove ourselves from the explicit evil in our lives as far as possible.

Lead us not into temptation: we beg for grace to overcome temptation while cooperating with that grace to remove occasions of sin and setting up an environment conducive to holiness.

As we forgive others their trespasses: we are taught humility and forgiveness, the two necessary conditions for receiving God's grace, which begins with God's forgiveness of our sins.

Forgive us our trespasses: This is the moment of justification and the continual strengthening against our vices through receiving the grace of Confession.

Give us this day our daily bread: We beg for the reception of daily strength to grow in our spiritual lives, to persevere, especially through sacramental and spiritual Communion. It is only through the strength that comes from grace that we can do any of these things but above all God's will.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven: Strengthened and nourished by the Eucharist and the graces of Confession, we resolve to do God's will. We beg for the grace to know and do God's will in all things.

Thy kingdom come: The consistent doing of God's will is the establishment of God's kingdom in the soul. Where God's will is done, there God reigns. When this commitment to God's will becomes collective, God's kingdom is shared among many individuals.

Hallowed be Thy name: This is the goal of all our striving: the glory of God. This is what we work towards in our service of God. We beg for the grace that this end become a reality in us individually and collectively. This petition demands right worship of God, full assent to His self-revelation, and the joyful accomplishment of His commandments and counsels (to those called to religious life) or even the spirit of the counsels (to the rest), the keeping of which is necessary for spiritual perfection.

Concretely, the beginning of this process involves removing ourselves from all sources of comfort that distract us from God. In this point lies the difficulty of the modern man's conversion: his technological advancements, rather than providing time and space for leisure, serve as an unending means of distraction and agitation from leisure for God. The evil of modern comfort lies not in the comfort itself but in that it is used to distract us from conversion to God and from the facing and repenting of our sins. Here are many things that keep us from God:

Movies, TV, YouTube and other online media entertainment, Facebook and other social websites, video games, including those on cell phones, texting, email, reading useless material, such as newspapers, magazines, books not necessary for professional or spiritual purposes, sports, gambling, radio, secular music (even sacred music removed from its properly sacred context, such as listening to Gregorian chant outside of the liturgy or personal devotional use, where it doesn't belong);

Recreational drug use and alcohol and tobacco;

Sexual activity outside of its procreative function in Holy Matrimony, pornography, eroticism, dating, flirtation, immodesty, tattoos, piercings, vain focus on the body through make-up or dying the hair;

Junk foods and fast foods, sodas, many "juices," coffee or tea that isn't part of a legitimate meal (outside of which becomes a sign of a harmful addiction).

Here are some behaviors that keep us from God:

Swearing and cussing, thoughts and words of hostility, gossip, competitive behavior, threatening, jokes at the expense of others.

Here are some ways we can make prayer constant throughout the day:

Weekly and/or daily Mass, arriving with time to prepare and giving time afterwards for thanksgiving, dressing modestly and reverently, wearing the Miraculous Medal or Brown Scapular or other medals of the Saints, praying the Jesus Prayer, praying Lauds, Vespers, or Compline, praying the Angelus, the Rosary, praying for souls in Purgatory and those in danger of hell.

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