>> piritual fitness Do I need a conversion? Why we all need a change of heart I was blessed to be born and raised a Catholic. When someone is born into a Catholic household, they are often referred to as a “cradle Catholic,” as opposed to someone who has converted to the Catholic faith from another religion or Christian denomination. Unfortunately, we cradle Catholics do not always do so well in terms of practicing our faith. Statistics show that there are 64 million cradle Catholics in the United States, representing 23 percent of the U.S. population. Only one of three cradle Catholics go to church every Sunday. I remember a time when I was very lax in my practice of the faith. I had a general sense of what Catholicism was about – you know, going to church and “been there, done that.” While I saw and experienced the liturgical seasons, I always thought they were kind of odd. For example, Advent was the time when priests wore purple. I could not understand the choice of the color purple when Christmas was so close. Green would have been much better with the Christmas trees. But then again, what did I know? As a cradle Catholic, I must admit sadly that I did not have a deep appreciation or understanding of my faith. This was certainly not because of neglect by those responsible for passing on the faith; the fault was all mine. Fortunately, God has a way of moving us from the cradle to the manger. In the cradle, we get coddled and can really end up living a self-centered existence. When God moves us to the manger, we are not being coddled but have become food for others. Just think of our Lord Jesus. Jesus was born in poverty, wrapped in rags, laid lovingly by Mary in a manger – a food box for animals! His birth was “good news for those of good will.” For Jesus was born to die for us, “to give his life in ransom for the many.” That is what Jesus did in his public ministry. He poured himself out for others to the very end. Read Philippians 2:6-8. In emptying himself, he became our food – our manna during our journey to the promised land of eternal life. Jesus said, “God’s bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world...I am the Bread of Life.” (John 6:33,35) Our Bread of Life was born in Bethlehem, a name that means “house of bread.” Even at his birth, he was ready to be our food. The angels told the shepherds to “let this be a sign for you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.” The manger foreshadowed the great gift of Jesus in the Eucharist. The sign of the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes reminds us of the bread of the Passover feast, which is wrapped in a white cloth. Already, the angels were pointing out Jesus as our Messiah and his role as “food” for all of us. So, this season of Advent is our opportunity to grow and become more like Jesus. Repentance and conversion are the focus as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s second coming and his birth during the Christmas season. That is why the church’s liturgical colors are purple. Purple symbolizes penance and conversion. In a graphic way, it reminds us of death, as well as our dignity as God’s children. During this month, for our spiritual fitness, we will pray for a deeper conversion to Jesus. We will pray for a conversion away from self (selfishness, self-centeredness, self-dependence) to the selflessness of Christ – from being coddled in a cradle, to being in a manger with Jesus as food for others.
Spiritual Exercise Conversion is about changing our hearts. It is a grace of God. We ask for a change in attitude, feeling, desire and knowledge. We ask for a new appreciation of our faith, a new awe, new wonder, new sense of mystery, new joy, new gratitude, new love for Jesus and what God has done for us and the whole world in sending us Christ. In our prayer, we want to think about Jesus and his selflessness. Do not worry about thinking of your own selfishness. We all could be more selfless. Just think about Jesus and ask God to give you a heart that would move you to act as he did.
• Find a quiet place to pray. If you can find a manger scene, all the better. • Kneel or sit down. You are approaching the baby Jesus. Think about how you would approach him if you were one of the shepherds coming in from the fields after seeing the angels. What might have been going on in their hearts and minds? Take some quiet time and think about being with Jesus. • Ask Jesus to change your heart to be like his. • Pray the following – or something in your own words:
My Christ, my Jesus. Thank you for becoming human. I love you and adore you. You are a humble baby. How is it that God should choose to be so weak and little? Why are you in a manger and not in some fine crib in a palace? I want to hold you in my heart. I offer you my heart, my king and my God. I see your love for me. Like Mary, I ponder your goodness and the great mystery of your birth. How glorious you are, O God! Loosen my lips so that I may praise you. Open my heart so that I may truly express my gratitude and thanks. Open my mind so that I may have a new sense of awe and mystery in thinking of your incarnation. You who made the whole universe and who penetrate its incomprehensible expanse as though it were but a grain of sand, you have come to dwell with us. You have stripped yourself of glory, and yet are glorified beyond all imagining. Humility, goodness, mercy and love are your garments of glory. Lord, may I too choose to be wrapped in these garments. I want to be rid of pride and self-centeredness. May I think of others’ needs before my own. You have emptied yourself in becoming one of us, and have made yourself an offering so that we might have life. May I too live for others. May I choose to empty myself. May I desire to make myself an offering to you and to others as you would direct me. I see you in this manger, and I know you offer yourself to the whole world. You come to us even now in the Eucharist. You are our Bread of Life. May I love you in the Eucharist and do what I can to be bread for others. How is it, my God, that we can hear your voice in the cry of a baby? Teach me, my Jesus, to always hear your voice in the cry of my fellow human beings and not harden my heart to anyone in need. Convert me. Have mercy on me. • Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be with love. • Go and do good for someone, and resolve to pray again tomorrow.