Conversion: Now I begin!                                  (E.J.Tyler)
   We ought be constantly reviewing our lives and continually starting again on an earnest spiritual life. In all life’s undertakings we ought pause and take stock to review our goals, and the most important undertaking of all is no exception. The most important undertaking is that of getting to heaven. What would it profit a man if he succeed in all his worldly undertakings - gaining the whole world - and losing his very soul? That is what Ignatius of Loyola kept saying to Francis Xavier till Francis was completely converted, and went on to a life of extraordinary holiness. He changed, and started again, with his sights on the ultimate goal and not on temporal and passing ones.

   I am sure, dear visitor, that you would not have abandoned God during the past year. But if at any point you did, it is important to recognise it, to repent and make a good Confession. But the very fact of your bothering to now read this probably indicates that you have tried to be generous with God to a degree. But there may have been a good deal of mediocrity and lack of generosity which would have seriously stalled your spiritual progress. If anything blocks progress in friendship with God, it is unrepented mediocrity, unrepented lack of generosity, unrepented venial sins. There has to be a new start, with the help and power of God’s grace. And indeed there are plenty of examples in the lives of the saints to help us.

  For instance, one of the greatest examples of turning away from sin and starting again was Augustine. He was born 1650 years ago in north Africa. His mother was a Catholic, his father a pagan. When he was a child his mother Monica instructed him in the Christian religion and taught him to pray. Augustine put off his baptism. When he grew up he became a Manichee, that is to say he embraced a non-Christian heresy. He finally left that but without returning to his Christian faith. At the same time he was leading a very immoral life. He went to Rome and then on to Milan where he began to be influenced by the great Bishop St Ambrose. He was also followed by his saintly mother who never ceased praying for him. Then a friend told him of the life of St Antony, and of how two persons were converted by reading a life of St Antony. While this was having a profound effect on Augustine, he heard in the garden the voice of a child singing the words, “Take up and read, take up and read!” He took up the letters of St Paul and read the words, “Not in rioting and drunkenness; not in impurities, not in contention and envy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” He shut the book and made a profound resolution to change. That is to say, he began again. He underwent a conversion. Now I begin!

  The newly converted Augustine was baptised by St Ambrose, returned to Africa, began to live an earnest Christian life with a real plan of life, living in a monastery with his friends. He was eventually ordained a priest, an auxiliary bishop of Hippo at age 41, and became bishop of Hippo when the bishop died soon after. For the rest of his life for the next 35 years he was an outstanding bishop and one of the greatest and holiest intellects in the history of the Church, doing untold good for the salvation of souls in his own lifetime and after his death through his writings. He began again, and with the help of God’s grace persevered.

None of us is expected to be another Augustine in our talents and influence, but we are expected to begin again, resolving not to waste our time any more in a life of unrepented sin - unrepented venial sin, I am referring to, if not mortal sin. Let’s begin again by taking up a plan of life that will lead to holiness. We ought begin again each day with our Morning Offering. We ought begin again every time we go to Confession - every Confession ought be a new beginning, a new conversion. At the end of every day we ought make a sincere examination of conscience with a sincere act of contrition for the day’s failures. It should be a new beginning. Decide on this now, and seek by the grace of God to attain my true goal which is an eternity of unimaginable happiness with God.

  Another example of starting again was St Teresa of Avila. St Teresa was born in Spain nearly 500 years ago, in 1515, into a large and well off family. All the indications were that little Teresa would make an early and successful marriage, and settle down to produce a family as large as her own, in an atmosphere of some affluence and leisure. Her lovely mother died at 33 when Teresa was 13. She went through a phase of personal vanity and tells us that she began to deck herself out and to try to attract others by her appearance, taking great trouble with her hands and hair, using many perfumes and other aids. She began to discard reading lives of saints and buried herself in fantastic novels of chivalry. Eventually, she tells us, she lost nearly all her soul’s natural inclination to virtue. She was sent to a convent school in Avila by her father. While she began with a strong distaste for religious life, that gradually weakened. But her will was obstinate. However, she fell sick and was led by the reading of certain books to a real fear of hell, which led her to consider that being a nun was the best and safest course to avoid punishment in hell. She entered the convent about five months after her 21st birthday. This can be said to be her first conversion from her life of religious neglect.

  But having entered the convent, this did not mean she had set out for spiritual perfection. On the contrary, she tells us that for almost twenty years she was only half converted. These twenty years were a ‘stormy sea’, she says, and her interior progress was slow. Then finally due to the grace of God a new beginning came. There was a new sense of God’s presence within her, and she began to have visions of our Lord. Our Lord showed himself as stern and displeased with her condition. How did this happen? At this time Teresa was given a copy of St Augustine’s Confessions, the autobiography of his conversion. She says that when she started reading St Augustine’s autobiography, she seemed to see herself in them. She then began to receive help in the form of spiritual direction from a Jesuit, and this marked the new beginning, her second conversion. She began again, by recognising the grace of God and being faithful to it, and went on to refound the Carmelite order. In all this, let us notice the place of spiritual reading, spiritual direction, and personal prayer.

  In these conversions, be they a first conversion or a second conversion, it is a matter of recognising the opportunity of a new beginning and with the help of God’s grace to make that new start. God is always working in our lives to bring to fruition his plan. Our Lord once said to the Sadducees that they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. That applies to us. Ask God for the grace of a new beginning. Steep yourself in the Gospels especially to become convinced of all that our Lord can do. He can help us to persevere in our quest for sanctity. He can help us achieve the goal he has for us. Why not resolve now to make the foundation and starting point of your life and your true goal, union with God every day and union with him forever in heaven. Nothing else matters in comparison with this, and all else has to be evaluated in the light of this.