from Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer
Fr. Thomas Dubay
The young abbot was speaking to his community one day and he made a remark that shocked me on my first reading of it. "There are more people converted from mortal sin to grace, than there are religious converted from good to better." Over the years the more I have experienced of life and thought about the statement the more I have been convinced of its truth. Yet one may ask, what is so shocking about it? . . .
Putting the saint's observation in simple contemporary terms may help. Bernard was saying that there are more men who give up serious alienation from God, mortal sin, than there are people who give up small wrongs, willed venial sins. And there are even fewer who grow into heroic virtue and live as saints live. If we are not saddened by this realization, we ought to be. . .
Yet a bit more unpacking is needed. A large part of the sadness is the expectation that anyone who basically loves another (real sacrificing love, not mere attraction) in important matters (for example, a husband loving his wife) would naturally go on to love her in smaller ones. I would assume that he would stop being grouchy and abrupt and harsh, that he would be at pains to be kind and gentle, patient and forgiving. I would assume the same in her behavior toward him.
A step further: We would suppose that a person who realistically and fundamentally loves God would be at pains to avoid all smaller offenses against him: gossiping, laziness, overeating, as well as the venial sins mentioned in our previous paragraph--and myriads of other minor wrongs. . . . But everyone knows that such is unhappily a rare occurrence in the human family. Something is amiss--and on a large scale. Yes, if everything were normal in society, deep conversion would be common, and life would be incomparably happier for everyone.
Something is wrong with the life of a person who claims to love God and cannot leave off those things that offend Him the most. Mortal sins are relatively easy to drop. One knows that one is committing them and knows that they are wrong. The sheer enormity of them, unless habit has dulled us to their grossness, is enough to help us shy away.
But how many claim to love God and then reel out all sorts of pettiness on those around them. I count myself among these people. I know how harsh and unforgiving I can be. I am aware of how easily I am aggravated, irritated, and angered. All of these stem from my overweening Pride--a pride so large I cannot even see its boundaries and recognize it as pride.
That is one of the reasons I love Father Dubay's writing so much. It puts me back in touch with central realities of the faith.
Isn't a life in Christ about becoming ever more like Him? Does that leave room for myself in the equation. The more I am myself, the less I am Him. It is the reverse of kenosis. And a lack of awareness about how full I am of self is the first problem. When this floats up to awareness, my first reaction is to back away and pretend that it isn't true. My second reaction (equally useless) is to read through the book as quickly as possible and thus find all the ways to give the lie to pride, thus avoiding engagement with the problem at all. Reading is rarely prayer, it is an excuse not to have to do prayer. This is one of the reasons that the Ignatian Exercises during which we were given a single verse of scripture to meditate on for an hour, were so difficult. I want to read, not to spend the time meditating. It is the temptation in lectio to keep reading, not to pause over what gives one pause--but to get to the end of something or to find more fruitful territory. All of these are manifestations of spiritual pride.
But the thing to remember, to keep squarely in mind, is that the Lord is in control, if I allow Him to be. I can't see the gross outlines of pride, but He has mapped it, charted it, and knows full well how to fold it back up and stow it away. Alone I cannot tangle with the intricate mysteries of self that produce such unpleasant effects for others--anger, envy, sloth, pride, lust, gluttony, avarice. But He knows the contours of these things and those remedies that are most effective. He is the divine physician and nothing that is wrong with me is beyond His skill to heal. Now, I need merely the grace to help me keep my determination to walk the path and to put myself aside (for if I'm serving myself, I can serve no one else). My joy is in the Lord Himself, who in His mercy will set me free from autotyrrany. He will be Lord, and no longer I. This is the promise He has made those who truly wish to follow Him. As I pray every day, "We are his people, the flock He Shepherds." So let it be with me starting this hour and moving into the future. And when I fail, I must renew the prayer and rely on His grace, for my failures are to teach me as well.