A Continual Conversion Is Needed

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If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

John 10: 37-8

In verse 22 of Chapter 10, the narrator of the Gospel of John states: “It was the feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem.” The feast of the Dedication celebrated the rededication of the Temple after the successful revolt of Judas Maccabeus and the profanation of the Temple during the rule of the Syrians under Antiochus IV. The feast thus celebrated the conversion from the apostasy of those who had blasphemed the Lord and offered worship to Zeus in the very Temple which was consecrated to God.

This context more fully illuminates the debate between Jesus and those who refuse to acknowledge the witness of his works to his mission from his Father. While some accuse Jesus of blasphemy, it is actually they who are blaspheming. For here are the works of God being done in the Temple before them, but they refuse to acknowledge those works because their minds and hearts are closed. The Temple is being re-dedicated and renewed by the presence of Jesus, as it had been over two centuries before. Yet there are many who remain blind to the works of the true God in their midst.

In his commentary on this passage, Francis J. Maloney (The Gospel of John, p. 319) quotes the scripture scholar J. A. Painter:  “The one Word is revealed in the witness of the Old Testament and the Word made flesh. There is a continuity of salvation history. But the coming of the Word made flesh has fulfilled the witness of the Old Testament and abolished its significance as a closed system.” What makes it impossible for those who fail to do so to recognize Jesus as God’s Word is their inhabiting of a “closed system.” So also for us. The great obstacle to the contemplative mode of being that sees God’s world as God sees it is our propensity to create a false consciousness that is a “closed  system.”

The Xaverian Fundamental Principles read:

Ryken looked upon his original vocation 
as being a conversion
through which he
fell in love
with the service of God.

 Yet, he too,
came to the understanding
that a continual conversion is needed.

This passage reflects the truth of Brother Ryken’s biography, and of ours. We would like to think that at some point we are finally converted, that we are fully formed. We would like to think that at some point before we die, we finally “have it.” Likewise we would like to to think that there is someplace, in some institution or text, the total and absolute truth. As any psychotherapist can attest, much of human suffering is due to the experience of reaching the incompleteness and inadequacy of our personal or group “closed systems.” Because God is transcendent and the cosmos is mystery, all of our attempts to contain them are doomed to failure. We must always live a process of re-dedication, for life shall always teach us the inadequacy of our current form of dedication. It is because we are spirit and because we are in our core what Adrian van Kaam calls,“transcendence-ability” that “continual conversion is needed.” We, or any entity that we create, can never have attained the whole truth. All the forms we create, for our own lives and beyond, are always tentative and must remain open to reformation and transformation. Living in humility means to come to peace with our need for continual conversion.

. . . all human beings share a common vocation to eternal life and a consequent orientation to Christ and the Church. Loving every human being in Christ, the Church labors for all, prays for all, suffers for all. Only thus can it remain Catholic. In the words of Ratzinger (The Open Circle: The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood):

In external numbers it [the Church] will never be fully “catholic” (that is, all embracing), but will always remain a small flock—smaller even than statistics suggest. . . . In its suffering and love, however, it will always stand for the “many”, for all. In its love and suffering it surmounts all frontiers and is truly “catholic”.

Whereas the sectarian may look upon the Church as a vanguard of heroic individuals who can be true to the gospel without needing the support of a Christian environment, the Catholic vision is that of a Church made up of saints and sinners together, so intermingled that only at the last day will they be sorted out by the Judge of the world and his angels. The Church is for the weak as well as for the strong, or those who think they are so strong as not to need it. It is a community in which each may find support from all.

Avery Dulles, The Catholicity of the Church, pp. 83-4

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