Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son: To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-3a, 7)
How striking it was to get up in the assembly and speak these words in Rome. I was aware of my communion with St. Paul and with all of who have kept and proclaimed Jesus Christ in the Scriptures to the 'Romans' of every time, all of us who are gathered upon the rock of St. Peter's confession, built by Christ into God's Church on that firm foundation.
That moment of prayer became the latest moment in a reflection I've been resting in since my last retreat at Spencer: how, in telling myself my 'conversion story' I have made a big deal about little things, about trifles and arbitrary stuff, and have passed over some of the most obvious and wonderful graces; the powerful ways the Word of God has been with me all along, for example.
In all of my oh-so-clever tellings of my conversion story on this blog, for example, have I ever mentioned how something made me, when I was twelve years old, ask my parents for a Bible for Christmas? What an abyss of bored, adolescent vanity stands between that moment and the day the Word was proclaimed in the liturgy of my baptism eight years later, but when I recall the wonder of that inspiration I know that God was with me all along, keeping me alive--as he continues to do now--in the spiritual famine I bring upon myself with my laziness and distraction.
Or, instead of various vainglorious nonsense, have I ever mentioned that the first place I ever proclaimed the Word of God in the liturgy was at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem? What an auspicious beginning to what has been, thus far, a halting and lackluster life as a sacred minister of God's Word! And yet, in the temptation to shame that such a thought brings, I can hear the fraternal correction of St. Paul: Exactly, Charles. for God's power is made perfect in weakness, and you carry the treasure of God's Word in such an earthen vessel, dingy and cracked, precisely so that it may shine more plainly.
All this helps me realize that we don't tell our 'conversion stories' and confess the action of God in our journey as if we did so from outside, looking in from somewhere beyond the workings of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit himself guides our reflection so that it may serve his purposes and God's glory. So if ever became comfortable with the vainglory of making a solemn big deal about certain unimportant details of my journey to which the flesh had become attached for some pointless reason or other, it is not so much an excuse to be ashamed of myself as an opportunity to confess the humility of a God who let me say such things because he knew they were things I needed to think about myself in order to keep my shallow self going, to not crumble and give up under the weight of all the misery I insisted upon for myself with my sins.
This, precisely, is the humility of the mystery of the Incarnation as it takes shape in our prayer and confession of God's grace in our lives; that the only-begotten Word of God is so sublimely humble as to be willing to dwell in our inadequate devotion, in our incomplete ideas of him and incomplete understandings of his graces, and it is just from those dark nights and cold caves of his nativity in us that he begins to blaze in each of us the trail to the new life of his Resurrection.