"To keep a lamp burning we have to keep putting oil in it."
-- Mother Teresa
"Love consumes us only in the measure of our self-surrender."
-- St. Therese of Lisieux
Since I began my journey to joining the Catholic Church, around five years ago, I've heard it said many times that the passion so common to converts will inevitably burn out. The implication is that it's just impossible to sustain and, let's face it, can seem more than a little annoying to those who have been on the road a bit longer and don't feel the same way any longer.
We don't like to be reminded of things that we feel that maybe, just maybe, we too should be doing. So converts are told that it will last months, or a few years, but it will inevitably flicker and burn out, because you can't sustain that sort of passion. And I think saying that makes us feel a little better about the things we aren't doing... after all their passion is bound to flicker out too...
And the truth is, that We can't sustain the passion on our own. But God can. If we put some effort into it... in part because He made the rules, and the rules involve us cooperating with His Grace and choosing Him over the choices that the World would like us to make over and over again, every day.
You see every day we make choices that lead us in one of two directions. They either lead us towards God or away from God. Do I love gossiping more than I love God's commandments? Do I love having men look at me in a certain way more than I love God and His mercy? Do I love myself so much that I would rather make myself look better with a lie, rather following Him and recognizing that suffering is a part of this life which we all much face?
We all have our own personal "favorites" when it comes to sin, the things we find ourselves confessing over and over again, week after week, month after month and year after year. But they all come down to the same thing: a choice, when we decide that we love something in this world, more than we love our own creator.
Is God merciful? Yes. He's so merciful that He doesn't force Himself on us. He allows us to choose Him. And we can choose to reject Him with the choices we make every single day. Or we can choose to draw nearer to Him.
We may find that part of our cross in this world is a period, or periods, of spiritual dryness. But because we know what we're supposed to do, we will hopefully recognize the trial for what it is and push on, holding what we know to be true close to our hearts, even when we can't "feel" God's presence and love in our lives.
Frequent reception of the sacraments can also help keep us on the right track. In my personal experience I've found that my longing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation has increased rather than decreased. In the beginning I would go every other month. Then I began going every six weeks. Now I try to make it every two to four weeks, and as we approach four weeks, even when I don't have a particular major sin in mind, I begin to feel this mounting pressure that I need to make it on Saturday to be unburdened from the weight of the little, seemingly inconsequential sins that are weighing on my soul.
For me, having a spouse that helps guide me and our family is a big plus. We were talking the other night and I paused, realizing something: "I think something like eighty percent of our conversations are about God!" He agreed. And truthfully, I can't imagine it any other way. When I don't feel like praying the rosary at night, I know he'll be there to give me a little push (and vice versa). If we haven't gone to confession in a while, one of us will bring it up. And he's the one who suggested we start going to daily mass with the girls as often as possible, while we have a little extra time these next few months before he starts law school.
I don't believe that the passion that we feel has to wear out or that the commitments that we make have to begin to feel like the burdens that I've sometimes heard them made out to be. Over the years my prayer life has ebbed and flowed, but I know that when I pray the rosary life is, quite simply, easier for me, than when I don't. I'm less short tempered. Some years I'll pray three five decades rosaries a day, some years I'll pray one. Things come up. We don't always have enough time to carve out in our days for the silence of prayer. But we push on, always, because we love God, hopefully, much more than we love the things of this world.
And eventually we begin to understand the part in the Act of Contrition that reads: "... I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend Thee my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love..." and the sins of the world begin to seem a little less glossy and alluring, because we understand that the One the we love so dearly, will be the One that we offend, the One that was crucified for our sins.
In reality, I think that we should expect that the passion will not fade away and I think that we should pray that it doesn't: it may change a bit with time and wisdom, but it should still be there, first and foremost in our life, reminding us that we are all called to be saints.