The Grace of Conversion

Nine year olds are fascinated with stories of evil spirits. The religion teacher thought it was a good time to illustrate for her fourth grade class the power that God has over the devil, so she told them the story we heard today in the Gospel. The listened with rapt attention as she painted a lively picture of the man with so many devils that they were called Legion, and the marvelous way in which Our Lord sent them all into the herd of swine, the way they ran headlong over the cliff into the sea, and the instant conversion of the formerly possessed man.

“So,” she asked when she had finished, “what do you think about that wonderful story?

The students began to chatter excitedly about the ‘warrior Jesus,’ about His ‘magical’ powers, and about how glad the man must have been that Jesus came just at the right moment when he needed Him so much.

As the students finally began to quiet down and prepare for their gym class, one little girl hesitantly raised her hand. The teacher called on her.

“Well,” the child began softly, “I was just wondering, well, what about those pigs?”

We’ve all been there. After a fervent retreat or an especially good confession we resolve to turn away from a habit that prevents us from belonging completely to God. But then we realize that there is a price to pay. This new conversion will mean we have to let go of something, often something dear to us–like our own will or our need to be right. Or our disordered love of food or our failure to use our free time in the best way. Each of these–and other–demons must be let loose so that we can turn away and be converted. But those former ways are so tempting. They have become part of the warp and woof of our lives. If we shove them over the cliff, what will become of them. And of us, without them? So our resolve weakens, and we just might decide that this whole idea of conversion may be too hard  for us right now. Maybe next week. Next retreat. Next year.

But let’s not worry about our herd of swine. If Our Lord is powerful enough to drive out the devil, He is powerful enough to give us the strength to let go of our weaknesses, especially if it means that we can ask to follow Him more closely. Do you think He would say no to that request? Like the little girl in fourth grade, we might ask Him, “What will become of the person I used to be?” I believe He will tell us not to worry about any of that. Jesus is very interested in the person we will become when we are free. We are worth far more than any herd of swine. It’s a powerful image for us to reflect on.

Let us trust Him to give us the grace of conversion today, even at a price.

With a loving prayer for each of you, I ask you for one for myself,

Mother Marie Julie

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