Conversion story

For the longest, I was indifferent to the reality of God. I never talked about Him, thought about Him, or prayed. By the time I was in the sixth grade, I believed to be an atheist was to face reality. I had not heard a more compelling or convincing argument to many existential questions I already had nor did I have a credible Christian witness around me to make me a believer.

Finally the real moment came. I don’t know precisely when I “converted.” Perhaps it was when I started to show up daily to Mass, or though not a Catholic, I was coordinating 24 hour Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, going to Bible Study every week with a priest-theologian, and explicitly had a Catholic spiritual director. I am not certain. I like to think of conversion as a moment of surrender when you stop fighting. I simply let go of all the moral and existential questions that were tormenting me and distancing me from God. I did not feel that I needed to know the answers to those questions, even though I desperately wanted to. God knew the answers and that was the point.

The real mystery of conversion, I think, is beyond the scope of psychology for one reason: the key ingredient is God’s divine providence. It is not simply a human change. We do not lift ourselves up, but are lifted up if we give a free and genuine “yes” to God’s invitation. No one can change for the greater good except by the grace of God. In the case of my own conversion, I think this theory is remarkably true. The providence, in fact, is a clear and impossible miracle.

I was conveniently ignorant of a multitude of things about the Church, even while surrounded by Catholics and even regularly asking priests and professors questions, I never thought to bring up or address these matters. Had I asked certain questions and gotten an orthodox response, I might have been confused, hurt, or even angered. More than likely, I would have not proceeded to become Catholic. This is the miracle of Divine Providence: mysteriously the arrangement of my free decisions and God’s activity in the world acted in unbelievable concert, as arbitrary my decisions seem at times as well those of others—others who both influence me and whom God is attempting to save in the same way. All this somehow played out magnificently, even if it is not noticeable at first glance. Complicated, I know. Let me explain further.

Today, I am easily an advocate of John Paul II’s “new feminism.” Previously, I was a “liberal feminist.” If I had known during my process of conversion, the Church’s stance on the ordination of women, that it not only was declared, but was, in fact, infallible and irreversible, and the fact that it was based largely on gender—being ignorant of metaphysics, ontology, sacramentality, and the nature of which our Lord instituted the priesthood—I would have likely dismissed such a teaching as “hypocritical doctrine” or some “injustice in the name of God.” The Lord knows what I would have called it and what it meant for my conversion, I cannot say would have been good.

Read more here (American Catholic website).

Predestination and hope in St. Paul

I've recently had the occasion, in working with a student on predestination, to consider once again the role of predestination in St. Paul's letter to the Romans. It seems to some that the doctrine of predestination is at best useless, and at worst a dangerous doctrine, which tends to produce either presumption or despair. There are perhaps some grounds for that. When predestination is interpreted to mean that what one does is irrelevant to whether or not one is saved, or that God chooses out men for damnation, and makes them sin so that they will be damned. I give here an example of such an interpretation by a man named Darwin Fish. I don't give a link to the website because as a whole it's not particularly worth reading.

Although it is true that God loves both the wicked and the righteous (Matthew 5:43-45; John 3:16), it is also true that before the world was created, God chose to love only a few people and destine them to eternal life in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:13-14; Romans 9:6-23; Ephesians 1:4). He chose to hate the rest of mankind and destine them to hell for eternity (Matthew 7:13-14; Romans 9:6-23). This choice was not based on any action on the part of those whom God chose (Romans 9:11, 16, 18), but rather it was based on God's own good pleasure and purpose (Ephesians 1:4-5). It was not based on works (Romans 9:11, 20-23; Ephesians 1:5; Philippians 2:13; Psalm 115:3).

It is not surprising that this way of interpreting and describing predestination can lead to spiritual apathy or despair!

Predestination in St. Paul

But how does St. Paul see predestination? As the eternal plan of the loving God, the fundamental initiative in our salvation by God, who "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," Paul sees predestination as a cause for humility before the God who grants us all the good we have, even whatever good is in our own wills–"Do not become proud, but stand in awe" (Romans 11:20)–but also as a reason for confidence, gratitude, and spiritual activity.

God's gift does not remove human freedom, but calls for human cooperation

To emphasize that God's good will and grace precedes everything good we do, St. Paul says "by grace you have been saved through faith; this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8), but to show the connection between God's initiative and man's cooperation, he says: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:13) The fact that God is at work even in our very wills is no reason for apathy, but rather a reason to earnestly cooperate with him. Since God "wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4), his chief work in the human spirit is "faith working through love" (Gal 5:6); one who would refuse or neglect to "work out his salvation" would thus be closing himself to God's movement. The more God works in us, the more (not less) necessary is our own willing and working.

Predestination brings confidence and trust

St. Paul does not only see the priority of God's work over ours as an incentive to cooperate with God, he also sees it as a cause of confidence. Because God loves us far more than we love ourselves (Cf. Rom 5:6-10), and his wisdom infinitely surpasses ours (Cf. Rom 11:33-34), St. Paul's teaching that it is always God who has the initiative in salvation is intended to, and ought to inspire a great confidence in God. Having recalled the working out of God's foreknowledge and predestination in calling, justifying, and glorifying, Paul goes on to say: "If God is for us, who is against us?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Rom 8:31, 35, 37). If we had to rely upon ourselves, we would surely be in a sorry state. But we have an infinitely more sure foundation on which to rely, God himself. From God's side, his love and grace will never fail; he will never fail nor forsake us (Cf. Heb 13:5), and will never permit us to be tempted beyond our strength (1 Cor 10:13). The only thing that can separate us from Christ is our own refusal to accept and bring his love into our lives; only "if we deny him, he also will deny us" (2 Tim 2:12)

It is true, as St. Peter says, that in the writings of St. Paul "There are some things hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16). But when we rightly understand the doctrine of predestination, it is a source of humility, simplicity, trust, and gratitude towards God.

Naturally this post is not intended to explain all aspects of predestination, but only to point out some of the spiritual benefits the doctrine is meant to bring.

Have no anxiety about anything

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:4-6).

Most of the time anxiety is not particularly helpful. The purpose of anxiety is to make us alert and ready to avoid some danger. But when there's nothing we can do to avoid the evil we're afraid of, when it's not reasonable for us to take many steps to avoid it, or in general when this being-on-guard against danger is useless, there's no point in being anxious. It takes away peace, and hinders us from a wholehearted and joyful pursuit of the good we are about. An recent example occurred, in which someone on a pilgrimage was anxious about reaching a Mass on time. The judgment that they should walk more quickly might be a reasonable one, but after making such a judgment, and increasing the pace, there is no point in worrying more about the matter.

But how to avoid such anxiety? One important step is to mentally accept the potential bad outcome about which one is tending to worry. If there is nothing more one can to do avoid it, it is perfectly legitimate to accept it as if it already happened. Another step, more relevant to the passage quoted from St. Paul, is to look at the matter in light of God's providence. The present situation is within God's providence, as well as the outcome, whether that turn out to be what one is hoping for, or the contrary. St. Francis de Sales states, as a general principle, that we should do what we can to attain good results, but leave the result in God's hand, as in fact it is. As we accustom ourselves to seeing God's hand in everything, this reliance on God will naturally lessen worry and anxiety, without in any way diminishing our care to fulfill our duties.

See also sayings of St. Therese on love