Carmelite Ponderings: Conversion is a Christ-Centered Process
Sr. Rosmarie Cameron, O.C.D.
St.Teresa said that each day we begin again. We are at the beginning of the New Year of 2004. A new day dawns for history, and for each of us. Teresa would advise us to "strive always to make a new start and to better 'ourselves'." (Foundations 29,33.) The challenge is not a new one - every "New Year" so many of us long to improve our steps along life's path. Resolutions abound on how to live a deeper, truer existence. Deep longings pull at our hearts for something more than what we have found ourselves to do or be. Our hopes reach high....... "If I just do...maybe things would be better." We try and try again and too often past years find us facing ourselves as having fallen short. Restless desires urge us to keep on striving, and the many experiences of not realizing our goals leave us with tired hearts.
How often do we perceive conversion as something we must "fight for" and attain. Yet if we look at the lives of those who experienced a conversion, such as our Carmelite saints, we will see that it came only when they could surrender their ideas and their ways, turning their gaze from themselves in order to look at Christ. Perhaps it happened because they no longer looked so much at their cross, but rather at the One who was with them, carrying the weight with them, even as He bore it before they did. They were able let go of fear and preoccupation with themselves to allow the love of God to work His wonders in them. Teresa of Jesus begged in tears before an image of "Cristo muy llagado" - a very wounded Christ, and it was her finally accepting His unique love for her that set her on a new path of freedom in truth. St. Therese, on a cold Christmas Eve, could finally let go of her debilitating over-sensitivity, which was transformed and freed by the Incarnate Word, Whom she found loving her as she was - a small helpless child dependant on God's mercy, on God as Father, just as Jesus Himself had been. John of the Cross,alone in a dark prison, discovered his Beloved who changed his dark night into a bright daybreak. Prison, beatings, hunger, loneliness opened him to a profound encounter with Christ, and freedom to love even in his utter poverty and humiliation, because he found Christ, who loved him first.
If ever we are to experience the conversion we hope for in our lives, it will be found only by looking at Christ, and letting Him lead us to surrender to love, His love. We must strive, but only He can and will work this in us. Conversion will not mean we have found all our answers, or that our problems are solved. Conversion will open us to be the person we were created to be, the image of God He formed us to be. As such we can find ourselves free in the reality of who we are. Somehow we find wings to soar towards and live in eternal values, to face life, with its many challenges without losing hope, without losing peace, and keep our focus on where God calls us to be. Conversion can bring us to experience the depth of what St Paul tells us when he proclaims that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. All of life, with its ups and downs, finds meaning and perspective there. I wonder if this is why St. Teresa's whole person radiated her words in the poem of her famous bookmark: "Let nothing trouble you; let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God never changes. One who has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices." May the Loving Wisdom of God carry us to rest in the embrace of our Father. The greatest work of Christ was done when He could do nothing else than bow His head with His arms outstretched and trust "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." May He lead us through wherever we must travel to find how our apparently disfigured self has meaningful purpose and is worthy to be loved even by ourselves. We need make no resolution other than to "be what He wants us to be" (St. Therese). If we desire this it is only because, as John of the Cross would write, the Lord has desired it even before we did. St. John of the Cross speaks of Christ as a simple Shepherd who draws His flock to Himself with a the gentle playing of His shepherd's flute. The melody is so soft and inviting that they come to find refuge in Him without even realizing it was He who, all along the way, had drawn them to Himself. Conversion does not come from what we accomplish of ourselves, it comes from what love transforms us to become. John of the Cross would say, "Love is repaid by love alone." Maybe that could be translated into Love Himself transforms us into love - what He has given us we are enabled to return. May our longings be deep as they call out "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus." As He comes may He transform us, and as He transforms us may our world experience over and over again how lovingly present He is.