Article 111 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1434-1439 This section of the Catechism provides an overview of how, though various forms of penance, interior conversion helps a person become more faithful to Christ.
Ordinarily, there are at least two ways for Our Savior Jesus Christ to enter our lives. We can invite him in before a tragedy happens or when there is nowhere else to go but to him; or, he will invite himself into our lives after a tragedy happens.
One of the traditional forms of penance highlighted in Sacred Scripture and in the writings of the early Fathers of the Church includes “fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which expresses conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (ccc 1434). In addition to “radical purification” that comes through “Baptism or martyrdom,” they cite “efforts at reconciliation with one’s neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one’s neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity” as a means of obtaining forgiveness of sins (ccc 1434).
Like most priests, I have witnessed countless people, often bearing heavy crosses, undergoing different degrees of conversion through efforts such as these. I recall one young mother, Irene, who attended daily Mass at my first parish.
Immediately following Mass one morning, I was summoned to the emergency room at the hospital in our town. Upon arriving, I went into the emergency room to find Irene’s 18-year-old son, who had just passed away as a result of a motorcycle accident that occurred at the very entrance to the hospital. Irene must have driven by the accident on the way back to her house after attending Mass. It was my task to tell her that, in addition to her young husband who had already died a few years before, her youngest son was now deceased. In the months and years that followed, Irene grew in greater faith and love of God, with a special devotion to Our Blessed Mother that she faithfully shared with others.
Another person who comes to mind is Mary, who as a young widow was now dying of an aggressive cancer. Her greatest concern, in addition to the welfare of her teenage son with Down syndrome, was the faith of her other seven children whom she prayed for constantly. She never faltered in her strong conviction to fulfill God’s will and would respond to others when they asked, “Why does God allow you to carry such a heavy cross?” with two simple words, “Why not?”
A third recollection involves a married couple who died on route to Sunday Mass; in fact, on my first Sunday Mass as the new pastor of the parish. The couple was assigned as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion for the Mass, but was a “no show.” As it turned out, theirs would be my first funeral at my new parishand a double funeral at that! Their daughter, an avowed Evangelical Protestant, later became Catholic and was welcomed into the Church at one of my first Easter Vigil Masses.
Three different events with one common theme — “the process of conversion” (ccc 1439). In the Sacred Scriptures, “the process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father.” (ccc 1439). The Catechism explains that in the ordinary circumstances of life, conversion is accomplished “by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance” (ccc 1435).
Notice, too, that in all three pastoral encounters described above, it is the Eucharist, coupled with a sincere devotional life, that all the people shared. The mother in my first story participated in daily Mass and enjoyed a special relationship with Mary the Mother of God, especially through the daily recitation of the rosary. The woman in my second story similarly enjoyed a special devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist and daily recitation of the rosary, along with daily recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours. The woman in my third story, the daughter of the couple who died, as a faithful Protestant, read the Sacred Scriptures on a daily basis and later revisited the devotion that her parents had in the Eucharist. No doubt, what the Catechism states could be said of all three women: “Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist” (ccc 1436). As well, “every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes to the forgiveness of our sins” (ccc 1437).
Our Blessed Lord knows us more than we know ourselves and always has our best interests at heart even when we have our doubts. The Catechism assures us that “the heart of Christ… knows the depths of his Father’s love,” too (ccc 1439). That is why he can “reveal to us the abyss of [the Father’s] mercy in so simple and beautiful a way” (ccc 1439).