The entitlement culture, which is obvious and much discussed on this blog and others, (see Dr. Sanity's excellent article on dependency), creates an atmosphere in the Church where some of the laity think they are entitled to grace without repentance. Example: when I was teaching RCIA, most of the participants finished the course and came into the Church at the Easter Vigil. However, there were always some, let us say 10%, who did not, who turned away at some point in the process. Why? The most commons reasons were contraception, the unwillingness to deal with irregular marriages, and the non-acceptance of the Church's Teaching on such hot topics as homosexuality. In these areas, there would appear a person who simply could not accept repentance, or metanoia, the turning around, the changing of a life for the sake of Christ-the Costly Grace.
If the change of mind does not happen, the life of the person will not change, as conversion is in the will. A huge mistake is made by some in the ministry who always want to appeal to the heart; they want people to "fall in love with Jesus". This is good, but if one looks at the progress of the sinners in the Scriptures, such as the woman caught in adultery, or the woman at the well, Truth and metanoia came first-that is, the realization of sin and the awareness that God, Christ, forgives sin comes first and then, and only then, the complete freedom and ability to love Love Himself follows. One responds to Love through metanoia.
Without conversion, our hearts are stone and our minds clouded by sin and death.
Conversion, love, the road to perfection. Perfection comes with the putting on and the habit of virtue. This can happen in the life of a child correctly raised in Faith, in a Catholic home. Many saints have been children or very young, but the perfection of their lives revealed that something, someone, helped them to know and love God. I think of the saints listed in the Canon of the Mass who were young when they died--Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, and Cecilia. Like the women in the New Testament, at some point in their young lives, they recognized their need for salvation, repented, and became lovers of Christ, following perfection even to face death itself.
I worked with youth many years ago. The success of one of my groups, happily, were the teens from excellent Catholic families, whose parents were Church-going Catholics, some home schooling. These teens and I planned May Crownings, Days of Renewal, Penance Services with the priest chaplain and many other worthwhile endeavors. We reached out to those who needed conversion from a position of strength, sharing the Gospel with those teens in the same high school who were drug addicts, alcoholics, fornicators, etc. Without the strength of that core group, there would have been no conversions. In another high school, I could not find that core group, even though the Catholic school had a population of 2,000 students. I failed to find the core group-those already converted who could share the Good News. I had to work on evangelization and at the level of conversion, but the students were too wealthy, too complacent and did not want metanoia. I left, shaking the proverbial dust off my feet when I realized the doors of their hearts were too closed for the Gospel message.
Christ Himself did not work in all places, towns, cities. He would go, preach, and leave. The Good News was available, God Himself was available, and He never chased after anyone. He simply was. He said, Come follow me, and those who responded to grace did follow Him. They began a road to perfection through conversion. Only those who turn and leave sin can be in the True Presence of God and learn the way of virtue. The others may be turned to salt, as they keep looking towards sin, instead of towards God. That is the lesson of Lot's wife. Her heart was still in Sodom and Gomorrah. She had not converted to God's message of salvation-to leave sin. She died, but she was already dead spiritually. To be continued.