At the beginning of Lent, we heard the words of the Prophet Joel stir our hearts for the need to convert:
“Even now,” declares the Lord, “come back to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning” (Joel 2.12).
But in our hearts we know this isn’t an invitation only for the beginning of Lent, this is an invitation for every day of our lives. God is waiting for us …
One day, one of my sisters in community told me she always tried to surprise her parents by not telling them when she was coming home. Every time she arrived unannounced, her parents were always immensely happy she had come, because in their hearts they were always waiting for her. How beautiful that is: they were always waiting for her! And, later, reflecting on this conversation, I found myself thinking about how this is the way God loves me.
God sees us as more than sinners—that’s how often we think of ourselves, dwelling on our limitations. To God, we are sons and daughters, we are loved unconditionally. Every day, and until our last breath, we will always have this moment … even now … to return to God—because God is always waiting for us. God is waiting for me until my whole being belongs to him, whole and undivided.
And whether we are aware of it or not, belonging to God entirely and undividedly is our heart’s deepest desire. It is true that because of the consequences of original sin our lives seem to alternate between periods of light and darkness. We have glimpses of this truth of God’s love for us in some moments, and then we lose it in others. We both yearn for it and revolt against it—as if it were a prison suffocating our freedom.
But the truth is that God created us free because he knows better than anyone that only those who are free can love. And God wants nothing but our love. Sin distorts our notion of freedom, and with it our notion of love. We must not deceive ourselves, the devil also wants us for himself—whole and undivided—not to elevate us to our true identity but to take possession of us by imprisoning us in something we are not.
And it is quite true that at the root of the word “devil” we find the one who divides, divides us from God, from each other, and causes division in our own being. As the devil tempted Jesus in the desert, the devil will approach us and tempt us, even when we walk with Jesus, even when we have faith in Jesus as the Son of God, the only one who can save us.
In the depth of our hearts there is an impregnable place where the Word of God never fails to echo, even now. Come back to me with all your heart. Anyone who hears this word must not ignore this invitation to look at their life and examine their heart.
Many times we live our life as if conversion were something that happens only once in a lifetime, or only happens in the life of those who have walked away from God. However, if we look at conversion in this way, we can spend a lifetime waiting for it to happen or, on the other hand, never feeling the need for conversion in our life.
Conversion is a radical change in life, something that involves our whole mind, our will, and our heart. And if we look at the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus or the conversion of so many other saints, we see how the radicality of that moment was renewed every day of their lives in a constant return to God.
The Greek word for sin means to miss the target, to change direction. When we think about this image of walking to a specific destination, if we were to change direction even an inch, in the end we would reach a completely different place. Sin is like that “inch.” With sin, little by little, we end up changing the direction God would set for our life.
In the heart of our founder, Fr. Alberione, a question constantly burned: “How many times do you ask yourselves: where, how, and toward what is humanity moving, this humanity that is constantly renewing itself on the face of the earth?”
A river does not follow a straight path, yet even with the most rugged path it is intended to flow into the ocean. Our life of faith is also a river. Our faith doesn’t go forward in a straight line. It is sin that causes us to change direction, diverting us in our progress toward holiness. It is precisely here that daily conversion comes in, so that we can adjust our route to flow into eternity!
In all the chapels of our congregation around the world we have words that Jesus the Divine Master gave to our founder to enlighten the entire Pauline Family:
Fear not, I am with you, from here I want to enlighten, live in continuous conversion.
The last sentence is translated slightly differently in Pauline chapels around the world, but this is the version that is on the wall of the chapel of my community in Lisbon. Praying with this phrase weighed heavily on my heart as I was reflecting about my vocation as a Daughter of St. Paul. Living in continuous conversion means openness to establish a relationship of love with the God who awaits me every day in the tabernacle. It is not an obsessive search for sin. Being aware of sin outside this relation of love with God does not lead us anywhere; it is a pool of stagnant water that will not reach any sea.
At the end of the day what matters is love, as Pope Francis reminds us so many times. It is God who first loved us. Only by trusting in this love can we truly be aware of our sin. Only trusting in God’s love can we be healed and saved. Only trusting in this love can we walk toward the promise of eternal life. Love must always be the fuel for our journey towards God.
Even now … return to me with all your heart …
Conversion is more than returning to God. It is the right thing to do. Conversion is returning to God because we love him. It is walking toward him without straying, because we want to love him for all eternity.
Mary our blessed Mother knows what it is to belong to God entirely and with an undivided heart. We ask through her intercession the grace to love God with all our heart, mind, and will, so that, like her, we can say yes to what God asks of us each day in freedom and holiness.
By Sr Marta Gaspar
Image: Cathopic: Gonzalo Gutierrez