Friday, June 17, 2011

Converts and Enthusiasm: Can it Last?

"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.


  1. I think many people say that "convert zeal" can't last forever, because anything we do too much of loses it's allure after a while. And truth be told, you might have times in your life that you will feel less enthusiastic than you do now. That's okay! The Catholic Church requires that you attend Mass on Sundays and Holy days, take the Eucharist once a year, and go to confession once a year. You do not need to pray the rosary, go to adoration, daily Mass, or serve on your parish council. The Church, in Her wisdom, makes it easy for us to follow Christ when our lives become busy, difficult, or we are having a "less spiritual" period as long as we hang on to the basics. There will be other times that you find yourself drawn to all sorts of non-required, but wonderful, devotions and prayer. That is okay too.

    I liken being a convert to being a new mother. Of course, those of us who've had children sometimes good-naturedly roll our eyes at the brand new mommies who worry about every little thing and are obsessed with their new babies and are at Target buying every single baby item available and researching every vaccine and spending hours poring over baby manuals. Because we've been there! But at the end of the day, we all still cherish our children - the love, commitment and the appreciation NEVER wears out, no matter how long we've been mothers (or Catholic.) And that's why, no matter how much you "do" now - you will never lose your love of the faith like you might lose interest in a hobby or game or TV show. Your outward practices may change and evolve, but your heart probably won't.

  2. I converted four years ago after a lifetime in various protestant communities. I believe that staying close to the Sacraments, spending time in Scripture, Adoration, and of course prayer, are the keys to "fanning the flame" (2 Tim. 1).

    That said, the spiritual attacks after my conversion have been the strongest I have endured in my life. We came in as a family and already my husband and college-aged daughter have left, my husband back to protestantism (Catholicism didn't "feel" good) and my daughter to nothing.

    Monsignor Pope wrote a very insightful article about this. I think he's dead on.

    BTW, I've been reading your blog for a few months now, and really enjoy it!


  3. Hi Robin-

    Those attacks sound like they would have been really, really tough to endure! Prayers for your family!

    And I'll go and check out the link!

    I'm glad you enjoy the blog!

  4. Hi Kateri-

    I like the analogy! But I do think it's important, when we feel less close to God, to rely on the sacraments and do more than the bare minimum. If our goal is to become saints, it requires heroic virtue, and the bare minimum just won't do! Thus, when I don't feel like praying, I still try... although the effort sometimes falls far short of my intentions!

  5. I've never thought of it that way - I guess I've not aspired to be a saint. I'm just trying to be less of a sinner! Let's face it, with four little ones, I'm honestly just trying to get through the day in one piece! I think things will change as the seasons of my life change, though : ) Surely as my children become more self sufficient, my prayer life will expand. As of now, I am lucky if I can get in a half rosary before literally falling asleep on the floor next to my bed (this actually happened to me - twice! My husband thought I was hurt.)

  6. Hi Kateri-

    Oh I didn't mean it that way! You can surely aspire to be a saint through serving your family! I think that's how many of us are called to grow nearer to God!

    I just meant that if we think we only have to do a bare minimum it would be hard to grow nearer to God. But the sacrifice required when taking care of children certainly can foster growth, by helping us be selfless.

    And I can relate to falling asleep praying the rosary. Someone on here told me to pray to ask my guardian angel to finish any prayer I fell asleep praying and that made me feel a little better!

    But your right, God willing, someday we will likely feel like we have to much time to pray!

    God Bless!

  7. As a cradle Catholic, I do not have experience with this feeling per se. However, I do recall times in my life when I have felt a rejuvenation of sorts. One in particular was when I went to Rome for World Youth Day in 2000. It was the most spiritual experience I have ever had. I went there with notions of travel and seeing historic and religious sites. But what I experienced was absolutely amazing.

    BTW, I just want to add that I think that top picture of you, in blue, is absolutely gorgeous. I hope you don't mind my saying so.

  8. I think, whatever you are, passion for God wanes with everyone sometime or another. However, it's exactly those moments when we need to obey him most. By obeying His commands at a time we don't feel closest to Him, is what shows our true faith and devotion for Him.

  9. Thank you for posting this. It kinda served (whether you intended it or not) as a kick in the pants (or skirt?!) to get back to my prayer life. Basically, it has dwindled to a few minutes here and there and daily Mass. Lately, I feel like I have been slipping away, but no more!

    You post makes me wonder, though, if the type of prayer we pray varies through seasons of our life. Though the sacraments are a staple (duh) I wonder if, for example, one may spend a season of life with an emphasis on the Rosary or other structured devotion, and another on quiet, contemplative prayer, and yet another more in a dialogue with God, spiritual reading, rooting out a sin, or any combination of the above. Just a thought.

  10. Hi Hannah-

    I'm glad you enjoyed this one! I think we definitely feel an attraction to different prayers at different times in our lives. I've tried to be consistent with the rosary, because I tend to be moodier when I don't pray it daily, but I know I feel drawn to different chaplets at different times (lately I've been feeling drawn to my Blessed Kateri and Saint Gerard Chaplets).


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