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Monday, 3 June 2013

On the Second Conversion Again

There seems to be few people who understand the second conversion. I have tried to explain it and will try again, as it is an important milestone on the way to perfection. It opens the door for the passive purgation. Without the second conversion, one is not yet working for God, but only for one's self.

The second conversion is the beginning of the complete dying to self. Without this dynamic death, there is no union with God.

One gives up all of one's ideas of who one is and what one should do. It is all about being and not doing.

This process started for me in Missouri in 2009, when I had cancer and studied the word of Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena in my convalescence, beginning to understand the radical change one must allow God to do in order to be new. I lost many things, a job, possessions, even the love of some family members, not one who visited me when I had cancer.  Then in Malta, in 2011, when I began to beg God daily for a change of heart, I experienced the evil of venial sin and imperfections in the sight of God.  I got sidetracked, but the Holy Spirit continued in both stints in the monastery, when my will was under that of obedience, to destroy my self-will. Then, one day, one no longer has any knowledge of one's self and loses all concept of who one is. One is like a tabula rasa. a new creation, only desiring passionately Christ and His Will. The second conversion is dramatic, and usually comes for nuns at the time of the novitiate. One no longer has a will except in Christ. One refers all one does to the Will of God,and not one's self. The process is not yet finished. All the nooks and crannies where there lurks bits of my self-love and self-will must be purged. I will this daily.

In the world, it is much harder to stay focused, as one is constantly driven from this process by being distracted by many things. But, one must simplify one's life as much as possible to follow this path. However, all this started when I was in the world and I am in the world again, 

Contemplative prayer and simplicity are essential. One can interrupt the process and have to start all over again, although God is patient, He stands and waits for us.

The great advantage in the monastery is that one is surrounded by women who have experienced this and are only doing God's Will. This strengthens one, to be surrounded by those who have said yes to God. I looked up one day at dinner and realized I was surrounded by Brides of Christ. I was overwhelmed with love for them for His Sake.

In the world, it is almost impossible to find such people. I am praying for two other women to join me on this journey, just two. Join me in prayer, please.

All Catholics, not just nuns and priests, are called to this second conversion.

One has many examples to see what it means in lay people in the Old Testament: the akedah of Abraham (I wrote a poem on this in the early '80s and it was published, but I do not have it here); the years in the desert of Moses; the encounter of Nathan and David over Bathsheba, and the death of the baby; the following of Ruth with Naomi and her entrance into a foreign land in obedience and love; the death of the wife of Jeremiah; the purging of Job, and so on.

The Holy Spirit is already present in the first conversion, but the second kills the will.

Pray, think, reflect, act....until the passive purgation, when God does all the work. Love is the answer, as it was for Ruth when she decided to go with Naomi.

Here is a nice description of the second conversion of Teresa of Avila. Beg for it. Beg to serve and love God with all your heart, your mind and your soul. This is only another beginning, and far from the end.

Teresa began her novitiate with great zeal, continued in it, and ended by taking upon herself the usual vows. Some time later, however, she once more lost her fervor in the service of God, because she conversed too long and too often with people of the world and thus neglected her prayers and lost her love for devout exercises. One day, going into church to pray, her eyes fell upon a picture of Our Savior representing Him covered with wounds. At the same moment, her inmost soul was deeply moved by the thought that Christ had suffered so much for her, and that she had hitherto been so ungrateful and disobedient to Him. Her heart became so filled with grief, that it seemed to her as if it would break. Hence, sinking down before the image, she began to weep bitterly over her inconstancy, and said, with the most perfect trust: "Lord, I will not rise from the ground, until Thou hast bestowed sufficient strength on me, not to sin in future, but to serve Thee faithfully and with my whole heart." This short but fervent prayer of Teresa was heard by the Almighty. Her heart was suddenly and forever changed; all affection for human beings was banished from it; her love of God and her delight in prayer and other spiritual exercises renewed, and the resolution taken to continue henceforth in the same. From that hour Teresa vacillated no more in the service of God, but persevered, with uninterrupted and daily increasing zeal, in the path of virtue and perfection.

One must persevere. 

God afterwards revealed to her that she owed her conversion to the intercession of St. Joseph and of the Blessed Virgin; hence she sought also to obtain the grace of perseverance by their aid. To this end, she represented frequently to herself the example of St. Magdalen and St. Augustine, and thus animated herself against a relapse. She repented daily most bitterly of the faults of her past life and endeavored to atone for them by wearing rough penitential garments, by scourging herself, and by other penances, although, according to the words of her confessors, she had not been guilty of great sin. One day, God showed her a terrible place in hell, saying that she would have been precipitated into it, if she had continued in her frivolous conversations at the convent-gate with people of the world, and in her neglect of devotional exercises. 

We all talk too much. We can relapse, as I did and get off track. The acceptance of suffering and penances help one to focus.

Her hair stood on end at this revelation, and her eagerness to serve God most faithfully and also to persuade others to do the same, was newly awakened. For this reason, she determined to use all possible means, in order to institute once more the original austerity of the Carmelites, from which, by consent of the spiritual authorities, they had somewhat departed. God Himself inspired her with these thoughts and promised her His aid in the execution of them. But as this was an undertaking which had never yet been attempted by a woman, it is easy to imagine the many and great obstacles she had to overcome. Many of the Clergy and laity opposed her plans, and she was slandered and persecuted on account of them. 

Expect this negativity, as those who do not love God first in all things, simply do not understand.

Here is St. Teresa again...

"There is only one God; if we displease Him, there is no other from whom to seek help. Man dies only once; if therefore his death is unhappy, there is no chance left to remedy the mistake. One soul only do we possess; and if this is lost, there is no hope of salvation."

And, here is the priest author again.

Teresa saw the place in hell which would have been hers, if she had not discontinued her idle discourses and her indifference in the worship of the Most High. Hence, she often gave humble thanks to God that He had not condemned her, and she learned by it how hurtful even a menial sin can become, since it may lead us gradually to the path of everlasting perdition. You have still more reason to give thanks to God that He did not call you away in your sin.

This was a great grace to see this. This is similar to being in a state of the particular judgement. 

How long would you already have been in hell? If idle, empty conversation would have led Teresa gradually into hell, what may you not have to fear if you do not abstain from so much sinful talking in which you indulge? Learn also that you should not esteem a venial sin, however small it appears to you, as trifling; for, it may slowly lead you to damnation.

We talk too much. We are caught up in stupid things, like entertainment and gourmet food. We accumulate things which distract us and take up too much time. We do not have time.

Many other lessons, which the life of St. Teresa contains, I leave to yourself to consider. One thing only I request of you. Call to mind frequently the words which the Saint uttered in her ecstasy: "Only one God! Only one death! Only one soul! "Love this only God, and do not offend Him. Take earnest care of your only, your precious, your immortal soul. "Keep thyself, therefore, and thy soul carefully." (Deut., iv.)

I also add Teresa's own account of her vision of hell and the place Satan had made for her. Found at this site...

"A long time after the Lord had already granted me many of the favors I've mentioned and other very lofty ones, while I was in prayer one day, I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell. I understood that the Lord wanted me to see the place the devils had prepared there for me and which I merited because of my sins. This experience took place within the shortest space of time, but even were I to live for many years I think it would be impossible for me to forget it. 

The entrance it seems to me was similar to a very long and narrow alleyway, like an oven, low and dark and confined; the floor seemed to me to consist of dirty, muddy water emitting foul stench and swarming with putrid vermin. At the end of the alleyway a hole that looked like a small cupboard was hollowed out in the wall; there I found I was placed in a cramped condition. All of this was delightful to see in comparison with what I felt there. What I have described can hardly be exaggerated.

"But as to what I then felt, I do not know where to begin if I were to describe it; it is utterly inexplicable. I felt a fire in my soul but such that I am still unable to describe it. My bodily sufferings were unendurable. I have undergone most painful sufferings in this life, and, as the physicians say, the greatest that can be borne, such as the contraction of my sinews when I was paralyzed, without speaking of other ills of different types - yet, even those of which I have spoken, inflicted on me by Satan; yet all these were as nothing in comparison with what I then felt, especially when I saw that there would be no intermission nor any end to them. 

"These sufferings were nothing in comparison with the anguish of my soul, a sense of oppression, of stifling, and of pain so acute, accompanied by so hopeless and cruel an infliction, that I know not how to speak of it. If I say that the soul is continually being torn from the body it would be nothing - for that implies the destruction of life by the hands of another - but here it is the soul itself that is tearing itself in pieces. I cannot describe that inward fire or that despair, surpassing all torments and all pain. I did not see who it was that tormented me, but I felt myself on fire, and torn to pieces, as it seemed to me; and I repeat it, this inward fire and despair are the greatest torments of all. 

"Left in that pestilential place, and utterly without the power to hope for comfort, I could neither sit nor lie down; there was no room. I was placed as it were in a hole in the wall; and those walls, terrible to look on of themselves, hemmed me in on every side. I could not breathe. There was no light, but all was thick darkness. I do not understand how it is; though there was no light, yet everything that can give pain by being seen was visible.

"Our Lord at that time would not let me see more of Hell. Afterwards I had another most fearful vision, in which I saw the punishment of certain sins. They were the most horrible to look at, but because I felt none of the pain, my terror was not so great. In the former vision Our Lord made me really feel those torments and that anguish of spirit, just as if I had been suffering them in the body there. I know not how it was, but I understood distinctly that it was a great mercy that Our Lord would have me see with my own eyes the very place from which His compassion saved me. I have listened to people speaking of these things and I have at other times dwelt on the various torments of Hell, though not often, because my soul made no progress by the way of fear; and I have read of the diverse tortures, and how the devils tear the flesh with red-hot pincers. But all is as nothing before this: It is a wholly different matter. In short, the one is a reality, the other a description; and all burning here in this life is as nothing compared with the fire that is there.

"I was so terrified by that vision - and that terror is on me even now as I write - that though it took place nearly six years ago, the natural warmth of my body is chilled by fear even now when I think of it. And so, amid all the pain and suffering which I may have had to bear, I remember no time in which I do not think that all we have to suffer in this world is as nothing. It seems to me that we complain without reason. I repeat it, this vision was one of the grandest mercies of God. It has been to me of the greatest service, because it has destroyed my fear of trouble and of the contradictions of the world, and because it has made me strong enough to bear up against them, and to give thanks to Our Lord who has been my Deliverer, as it now seems to me, from such fearful and everlasting pains.

"Ever since that time, as I was saying, everything seems endurable in comparison with one instant of suffering such as those I had then to bear in Hell. I am filled with fear when I see that, after frequently reading books which describe in some manner the pains of Hell, I was not afraid of them, nor made any account of them. Where was I? How could I possibly take any pleasure in those things which led me directly to so dreadful a place? Blessed forever be Thou, O my God! And oh, how manifest is it that Thou didst love me much more than I did love Thee! How often, O Lord, didst Thou save me from that fearful prison! And how I used to get back to it contrary to Thy will.

"It was that vision which filled me with very great distress which I felt at the sight of so many lost souls, especially of the Lutherans - for they were once members of the Church by Baptism - and also gave me the most vehement desires for the salvation of souls; for certainly I believe that to save even one from those overwhelming torments, I would willingly endure many deaths. If here on earth we see one whom we specially love in great trouble or pain, our very nature seems to bid us compassionate him; and if those pains be great, we are troubled ourselves. What, then, must it be to see a soul in danger of pain, the most grievous of all pains, forever? It is a thought no heart can bear without great anguish. Here we know that pain at last ends with life, and that there are limits to it, yet the sight of it moves us so greatly to compassion; that other pain has no ending, and I know not how we can be calm when we see Satan carry so many souls daily away.
"This also makes me wish that, in a matter which concerns us so much, we did not rest satisfied with doing less than we can do on our part - that we left nothing undone. May Our Lord vouchsafe to give us His grace for that end." 

To be continued...