Conversion of the Heart


PART III: Thirsting for the Lord

You are anxious and troublet about many things, but one alone is necassary…” (Lk 10:41)

"I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance... that you are bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you: you have fallen from your early love..." [Rev 2:2-5]



Is conversion, the desire and de­cision to change, to begin that exodus of the heart that can bring us to renew and relive our "early love." Jesus warns especially us, the professionally religious, that only the effort to break out of our complacent mediocrity, only the desire for conversion will gain us entry into the kingdom we open to others. The very nature of the kingdom demands conversion: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt 4:17). Our complacency is our single most dangerous foe, for "if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves" (1 Jn 1:8), and so "that guilt remains" (Jn 9:41).

Throughout the gospels, Jesus' harshest words were for the clergy of His time, His greatest sorrow the lack of faith in His own apostles. Would it be any different were He to return today? Would He be forced to accuse us of having become "blind guides" (Mt 15:16) who "honor me with their lips, but whose heart is far from me" (Is 29:13)? Or would His one complaint be that we have "fallen from our early love,'' that we could be better than we are if we but stopped making peace with our mediocrity and asked Him to change us, that He who could not have loved each of us more, expects more from each of us. We must each arrive at saying that Jesus has come to call me to conversion, has "come to bring a sword" into my life (Mt 10:34). Our renewal, our conversion will ever be but a response to God's own "conversion," His own "turning towards" each one of us in love, a conversion that won our first "renewal" in His blood. May our conversion be as total as His.



The first step in our renewal, and what well may be the most important, is a revitalizing of faith. We cannot be satisfied with a textbook faith, a faith that is disincarnate, one that is anything less than a real contact with a real God. Faith puts us in God's presence, is a meeting, a touching God. Mere intellectual consent is as inferior to such a lived faith as reading the description of a person would be in lieu of having met that person. For St. John, faith is already a type of vision, of direct personal contact. We need ask ourselves in what category is our own experience of faith. "But we need not wander in the desert all our life long; living faith is a gift that is there for the asking" (Muhlen).

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?" (2 Cor 13:5). The Jesus who lives in our hearts by faith releases His transforming, renewing power within us by faith. "Do you believe I can do this for you?... Let it be done according to your faith" (Mt 9:28). A superficial faith can never be a channel for Jesus' power, as the superficial contact of the crowds who jostled Jesus produced no effect, no cures. Only the Samaritan woman who touched what the others touched, but did so with deep faith, felt the "power that went out from him" (Lk 8:46). Faith is the interiorizing of the gospel and its realities, a contact with the renewing power of Jesus. "This is the victory that overcomes the world: your faith" (1 Jn 5:4).



The radicality that is common denominator of the demands of the kingdom finds expression above all in purity of heart, an undivided love that refuses to serve two masters, a wholeness of heart that places no obstacle, no "false god" between itself and the transforming love of Christ. "If your eye is single, your whole body will be filled with light..." (Mt 6:22). Purity of heart is that "narrow door" (Mt 7:13) that leads to true inner liberation, the freedom to love wholly as God has loved us. "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, and make holiness perfect..." (2 Cor 7:1). "How pure the heart must be to be able to listen as God speaks in the silence of the heart, because that is the beginning of prayer. How pure the hands must be to say This is My Body, This is My Blood.' How pure the lips must be to absolve in His name..." (MT).



Perhaps the one virtue most easily lost to us as professional religious is that of humility, a genuine belief that we are but "useless servants" dependent not on talent or position but on Him alone. The kingdom opens only to the humble. "Receive the kingdom of God like a child" (Lk 18:18). Simplicity is the hallmark of the kingdom, so let us not take lightly the Lord's warning that only the childlike shall enter. Faith itself seems to depend on humility: "How can you believe, you who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?" (Jn 5:44). What is not Him is nothing. How much time and energy are lost, how much work futile, fruitless in time and in eternity, for not having humility as its foundation. How many houses shall fall on the Last Day for not having the Lord as their builder (Ps 126). "The Lord has more need of our humility than of our successes" (Courtois).



The "one thing necessary" to the process of conversion and renewal is desire for God, to consciously seek Him in all we do, "with all one's heart and all one's mind" (Mt 22:37). Only to the degree that we seek Him shall we find, only as much as we thirst for Him shall we be satiated. Only if we are actively seeking to make Him the center of our life, the center of all our waking moments, can He fill us.

"If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, at God's right hand..." (Col 3:1). The search for God must not be associated only with the moment of leaving home to answer God's call. If we see that search as ended then indeed it has, and this is the danger in neglecting something so seemingly obvious, yet so easily lost. The moment we cease to seek we cease to find. But we need only begin that search again to experience the joy of finding again, knowing that our desire for Him will never be fruitless, "for he who seeks always finds..." (Mt 7:8).



"In our ministerial priesthood there is a stupendous and penetrating dimension of closeness to the Mother of Christ..." (John Paul II). We believe that her example and guidance in our life can hold the key to the renewal of our priesthood, even as it did for John and the Eleven. They, as we, were full of sincerity and good intentions. They had grown in knowledge and intimacy with the Lord through three years of ministry together. They had become active, fruitful, energetic preachers of the good news He brought. They were mature disciples convinced of their ability to remain faithful to the Master. Until that Night. Each left Him then, each betrayed Him in his own way, even "the disciple Jesus loved." But of them all it was John who, recognizing his own weakness, went to Mary. John who found in her a strength, a serenity, a love that surpassed his own; a love to strengthen his own, to guide and sustain him. Mary brought John to fidelity, to the conversion and renewal of Calvary, to stand as lone witness among the Eleven to Jesus' priestly self-sacrifice.

If we in our weakness, in our failing, yet in our desire to grow, turn to her who is Mother to every "disciple" (Jn 19:27), if she is someone real in our life, she will lead us as John to a fidelity and generosity beyond what we had known before. She can become for us a living well of Jacob, drawing for us the living waters, reminding her Son that "we have no wine" and reminding, guiding, strengthening us in "doing all He tells us..." (Jn 2:5).

We have only to learn John's lesson, that of "taking Mary unto our own," a lesson the Eleven would all have learned by Pentecost, consecrating and entrusting our lives, our ministry, and our renewal to her guidance. As we live this gift we will come to appreciate and rejoice in it, humbly and gratefully acknowledging what we have received, and saying in the same Holy Spirit that inspired Elizabeth: "Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me...?" (Lk 1:42).

She is our Mother not merely in imagery, nor by "will of man but of God himself" (Jn 1:13). From the cross of His hidden and continued corn-Passion under the distressing disguise, Jesus continues to give the solemn gift of His Mother to those who, like John, seek to accompany Him along the paths that lead to the many Calvaries from which He still thirsts: "Disciple, behold your Mother..."

"From that moment, the disciple took her unto his own" (Jn 19:27). We who continue this tender mystery must do so to the full, taking Mary "unto our own," being the "cause of her joy as Jesus was, keeping close to her as He did" (MT), taking to ourself "her whom we can never separate from any of our joys, to whom we confide all our sorrows, and through whom we pass all our affections. Let us not think that we are working with her if we only say a few prayers in her honor. We must live habitually with her, have recourse to her with childlike confidence in all our joys and sorrows, imitating her virtues and abandoning ourselves completely into her hands" (MT).

By praying as she prayed, and praying with her, entering into her experience of the mysteries of Jesus' life in the contemplative praying of the rosary, her soul becomes as a living filter through which we ourselves experience the mystery of the Living God. Her emptying made her one with the emptied Jesus and the humanity whose emptiness He assumed. "She is absolutely empty: empty of pride, envy, jealousy, bitterness, malice and all that sort of thing. That is why she can be full of God. And we, in seeking that kind of emptiness, practice true devotion to her. 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord...' lowly, hidden, absolutely empty of self" (MT).

In her emptiness she was full, being able to give only Jesus because she was "so full of Jesus as to bring Him to others... The most beautiful part of Our Lady was that when Jesus came into her life, immediately, in haste, she went to Elizabeth to give Jesus to her and to her son. As we read in the Gospel, the child leapt with joy at this first contact with Christ..." (MT).

The mystery of her Heart is one of perfect oblation: oblation both as self-emptying and as totality of gift, a double "pouring out" in harmony with Him who accomplished His oblation in and through hers. Because her Heart was so completely emptied as to be so completely filled and to so completely give, she is both Virgin of the Poor and Mother of Charity. If poverty and charity go together, then she whose poverty of spirit knew such depths must possess a heart carved by that poverty whose depth of love remains unsoundable to us. In her poverty she is Mother of Charity, that abyss of poverty becoming an abyss and font of love. This is the double mystery of her Heart, the mystery of her poverty and charity, that our Movement wishes to proclaim, imitate, and hold dear. For this mystery made her what we are to be: Christ-bearers.

And so the Priest Coworkers wish ever to find their inspiration, guidance and protection in the patronage of Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of priests. In consecrating the Movement to her Immaculate Heart, the cause of our joy, we ask her to share with us her poverty of spirit, her humility, her purity of heart, her prayerfulness and intimacy with the Lord, her desire to give Jesus rather than self, and a share in the undivided love with which she herself loved Him. The Movement intends to remain grafted and rooted in Mary, in her experience of the mystery of God's love revealed in her Son, placing our Movement within her own "movement" of loving response to that of the Trinity's mercy and love.

Let us never cease to ask of her this grace, to ask the gift of conversion and renewal, the gift of her poverty of spirit and her charity: "Mary our dearest Mother, give us your Heart, so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, so full of love and humility, that we may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life, love Him as you loved Him, and serve Him in the distressing disguise" (MT).