Friday, August 28, 2015

“Conversion, constant conversion, is the message of the Gospel.”

Neither fear nor self-interest can convert the soul. They may change the appearance, perhaps even the conduct, but never the object of supreme desire... Fear is the motive which constrains the slave; greed binds the selfish man, by which he is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed (James 1:14). But neither fear nor self-interest is undefiled, nor can they convert the soul. Only charity can convert the soul, freeing it from unworthy motives.” ― St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 - 1153: French abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian monastic order)

Scripture Text: (1 Thes 4:1-8)
Brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God–
and as you are conducting yourselves–
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

This is the will of God, your holiness:
that you refrain from immorality,
that each of you know how to acquire a wife for himself
in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion
as do the Gentiles who do not know God;
not to take advantage of or exploit a brother or sister in this matter,
for the Lord is an avenger in all these things,
as we told you before and solemnly affirmed.
For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.
Therefore, whoever disregards this,
disregards not a human being but God,
who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

St. Augustine is memorialized today in the Catholic tradition at Mass. Having initially led a dissolute life and subsequently converted, he is a fitting example of a person who finally heeds the signs and guidance that God will provide.  The reading above is an exhortation from Paul to the Thessalonians.  Many of the new converts there, it seems, were struggling with personal difficulties similar to those encountered by young Augustine.  Thessalonica was a port city with thousands of inhabitants. It was cosmopolitan and many of the people worshipped many Gods. The Jews, of course, also had a strong presence. Paul thought that his new converts may be threatened by some of the local pastimes and mores. He spelled this message out in particular with regard to finding a mate for life. Apparently lust had crept into (or stayed) in the equation. Paul, rather than being prudish, seems to be making a case for choosing a long-term relationship based on Christian principles.

A relationship based primarily on physical beauty or lust would fade, as does our youth. God, he reminded them, “did not call us to impurity, but to holiness.” If you ignore this, you ignore the wishes of God. 

Yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Monica and today we celebrate the feast of her son, St Augustine.  We know Monica kept her “lamps full” and relied on God to hear her lifelong prayers for her son’s conversion.  Again, this conversion all happened in God’s time.  St. Augustine led a licentious life and moved restlessly for a long time until his conversion.  His famous quote, ‘my heart is restless until it rests in you, my God’ reminds us to place our faith and trust in our God who knows us better than we know ourselves.

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