Everyone loves a good conversion story, from the fictional Scrooge on a Dickensian Christmas morning, to the very real Saul on that road to Damascus, to, all the way to the stories of ‘Jane Roe’ and Bernard Nathanson, of which I wrote a few days ago, and so many countless others. The stories of their journey to the Faith – all unique – warm the heart, and provide a bit of a comforting reminder to cradle Catholics that what we believe it all really is true.
Repent and believe in the Gospel, begins the evangelical account of Saint Mark: Metanoia, as they say in the original Greek, quite literally to ‘change one’s mind’, to alter one’s perspective, on life, on eternity, and how they interconnect. For only in the light of heaven and, for that matter, the potential dark self-enclosure of hell, does this transient existence make any sense at all. And it is that light that burst upon the zealous Pharisee, transforming the egotistic Saul into the humble Paul, the ‘little one’, the least amongst the Apostles, but who, by grace, did immeasurable work for God and His kingdom.
Faith, as Thomas Aquinas defines it, adopted by the Catechism (#155), is an act of the intellect, assenting to the Divine truth, by command of the will moved by God through grace. Faith is both a gift – a grace from God on high, evident in the Damascus story of Saint Paul – but also a response to that grace, with the once proud and arrogant Paul’s humble response, what would you have me do, O Lord?
This is not an all-or-none assent, but daily, even moment by moment, as we see the will of God manifest in all the providential occurrences impinging upon us, each one its own ‘Damascus’ moment, whereby we respond – or do not – to that grace of God flowing forth from His throne on high, leading all souls to heaven, if we must offer that fiat, ‘let it be done to me according to Thy will’.
This is not always easy, and as the now Risen Christ was to say of his servant Paul, I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. But for all that, God is also a God of consolation, fully manifest at the end, in that heavenly glory, where no eye has seen, nor ear heard, the things which God has prepared for those that love Him.
We cannot love well without faith, without which love becomes an emotionalist sentimentalism, capable of great evil. But faith without love – without willing God’s will and the true good of our neighbour, all those ‘works’ of which James speaks – is itself but sterile intellectualism. We must ally faith with love, and this love must endure unto the end, like Paul, poured out as a libation, a sacrifice offered to God. Only so will we find true joy, and true fulfilment.