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Awakening (Part I) – Initial Conversion: to Search, to Encounter & to Follow [A1]

Updated: Feb 1, 2022

Introduction: The A-Z of DiscipleSHIP explores 26 essential topics in the life of discipleship, each starting with the letters A to Z. Today, we will consider the topic starting with the letter “A”, Awakening. The Christian life requires an awakening, which the Catholic Church describes as “initial conversion”. This is the crucial process which all Catholics have to pass through, so that intentional discipleship in Christ can begin. This process requires us all to search for, to encounter, and to follow Jesus. Let’s consider what the Bible, the Church and the Saints have to say about this crucial topic.[1]


Listen to the podcast here:


Opening Prayer


Father God, as we pray with the words of St. Augustine, whom You drew to Yourself, and to whom You granted abundant graces so that his search for Love, Truth, Goodness and Beauty found happy fruition in him coming to love and follow wholly after You, may Your extravagant graces fall powerfully upon us, that we may likewise search for, encounter and follow wholly after our Lord Jesus Christ, and become His disciples.


Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!

Lo, you were within,

but I outside, seeking there for you,

and upon the shapely things you have made

I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.

You were with me, but I was not with you.

They held me back far from you,

those things which would have no being,

were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;

you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;

you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;

I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;

you touched me, and I burned for your peace.


St. Augustine, The Confessions

2nd Reading, Office of Readings, Feast of St. Augustine


Catholicism in the year 2022 looks very different from when 2020 first started. COVID-19 had suddenly and profoundly changed the way we do Church. It has also changed the way we approach life. It would not be an understatement to say that, for the young, the middle-aged, as well as the elderly, there are far greater uncertainties, a significant increase in anxieties, and a substantial decrease in social proximities. As you read or listen to this, you know what I am talking about.


Yet, for all Christians throughout the last two millenniums, for all their differences in how the Christian faith is practised, and regardless of each era’s particular and challenging social, economic or public health circumstances, the heart of the Christian faith remains the same.


The Heart of the Christian Faith


What is the heart of the Christian faith? The Catholic Church lovingly reminds us:


“The Christian faith is, above all, conversion to Jesus Christ, full and sincere adherence to his person and the decision to walk in his footsteps. Faith is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ making of oneself a disciple of him. This demands a permanent commitment to think like him, to judge like him and to live as he lived.” (General Directory for Catechesis (1997), 53)


In other words, the heart of the Christian faith is to be a disciple of Jesus. But how do we begin this process of discipleship?


Initial Conversion


The Church describes the very important stage called “initial conversion”, which begins the process of discipleship:


Conversion. This first moment of interest in the Gospel requires a period of searching to be transformed into a firm option. The option for faith must be a considered and mature one. Such searching, guided by the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the Kerygma, prepares the way for conversion which is certainly ‘initial’, but brings with it adherence to Christ and the will to walk in his footsteps. (General Directory for Catechesis (1997), 56)


This requires us to search for, to encounter and to follow Jesus. Let us carefully unpack these three important concepts, and to consider how to apply them to our lives.


1. To Search


“This first moment of interest in the Gospel requires a period of searching” (General Directory for Catechesis (1997), 56).


"Behold the Lamb of God" by Domenichino. Image source: creative commons licensed (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) flickr photo by Fr. Lawrence OP, https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/39681315841

We can see a poignant example of this searching in the Bible (John 1:35-39). John the Baptist was with two of his disciples, John and Andrew, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said, and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following Him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where He was staying, and they stayed with Him that day.


What are you looking for?” That is the question that is asked of every person. What exactly are you looking for in life? What brings you life, happiness, deep meaning and purpose? This question is inextricably linked to another question, “why search”?


The What and Why: Augustine’s Search, and Our Own Search


Indeed, the “what” and why” of searching was the very journey of St. Augustine. Why did he search? He had everything he wanted in life – or so it seemed. He had a flourishing career as a renowned and highly esteemed teacher of rhetoric (the art of speaking and persuading) and as a public speaker. He was financially secure. He also had women in his life, and even had a child out of wedlock (Adeodatus) with his long-term lover.


Yet, he detected a restlessness in his heart. He felt like he was created for so much more, as if he were made by and for Someone worth infinitely more than everything the world could ever give. He could not ignore this gaping hole in him, the gentle but unmistakable flame of light drawing and leading him to search for what calls him – to search for love, truth, goodness and beauty.


In what did St. Augustine search for love, truth, goodness and beauty? At first, it was in things and people of this earth – but these things could not provide the answer he sought. He then looked to philosophy (having read Cicero), and he eventually joined the Manichean sect for more than a decade.


St. Augustine is baptised by St. Jerome
"The Baptism of St. Augustine", by Diogene Ulyssee Napoleon Maillart (1870) / Public Domain image

Even this religion did not satisfy him. Moving to Milan, and upon hearing the preaching of Bishop Ambrose, Augustine kept searching, and asking questions. St. Ambrose guided him in this process, journeying with Augustine and helping to remove his objections to faith, paving the way for Augustine’s intimate encounter with God and profound conversion in the garden. It was there where he heard the voice of a child singing, “take up and read”, and he read the life-altering words of Romans 13:13-14. He was subsequently baptised by Ambrose.


Like Augustine, every person on earth is searching for love, truth, goodness and beauty. Indeed, few people will disagree that these things are worth pursuing. Regardless of our current life situations and challenges, whether good, bad, rich, poor, in complete control or utterly struggling, we all believe in these values – these foundational absolutes for organising our lives. Put another way, this is the universal quest for happiness.


Yet, substitute the word “God” for love, truth, goodness and beauty, and we eventually realise that in reality, we are searching for God Himself, the very source and highest exemplar of Love, Truth, Goodness and Beauty.


Do Baptised and Confirmed Catholics Need to Search as Well?


We pause at this juncture for an important question which baptised and confirmed Catholics may likely (and should) ask. “I am already a Christian and I go to Church. Why do I need to search at all?”


Allow me to answer this question with a question: Is your faith your own faith, or your parents’ faith?


In the Gospel of John chapter 6, many of Jesus’ disciples found his teaching on the Eucharist too hard to accept, and “As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (John 6:66). Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” (John 6:67). As can be seen, Jesus gave religious freedom to His apostles. He did not hold any of His disciples back against their own will. We all have that same religious freedom. How would we exercise it?


Simon Peter answered Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69). Peter and the apostles had reached the point where their faith was made their very own, and they exercised their religious freedom to freely and willingly follow Jesus Christ, because of their personal conviction.


As baptised and confirmed Catholics, the gift of faith was bestowed upon us by our parents, and we were baptised as babies on the strength of our parents’ faith. Yet, as time goes by, we have to personally come to believe and be convinced, like the apostles, that Jesus has “the words of eternal life”, and that He is “the Holy One of God”. We have to make this our own faith. If we have not, then may the Holy Spirit inspire us to begin the search.


Two more biblical stories may help inspire us on this.



"Christ and the Rich Young Ruler", by Heinrich Hofmann (1889) / Public Domain image

First, the story of the Rich Young Man (Mark 10:17-22). “As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before [Jesus], and asked Him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. Jesus referred him to the commandments, to which the young man replied, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth”. Jesus, looking at him, “loved him” and said to him to go sell everything, give it to the poor, and then follow Him. At this, the young man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.


The rich young man represents someone who already has faith, but was searching for more. In the same way, by baptism, we have already met Jesus, and have faith. We may even have observed the commandments from our youth. But we may not yet be following Jesus. Like the rich young man who already had faith, we are nevertheless called to search for, to encounter, and to follow Jesus.


Second, the parable of the Merchant and the Pearl of Great Price (Matt 13:45-46). The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. “When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it”.


As baptised Catholics, we have found (or at least we know where to find) that pearl of great price, Jesus Christ. But have we parabolically gone and sold all that we have, to buy it?


Deliberately embarking on the search, and making the faith our own, could mean the significant difference between intentional discipleship versus incidental discipleship (or worse, accidental discipleship).


What are you looking for?


As Jesus once asked Andrew and John 2000 years ago, He asks the very same question of you today, “What are you looking for?”[2]


May the Holy Spirit guide each of us to answer, “I am looking for Love, Truth, Goodness and Beauty, I am looking for God Himself”, and may He help us to begin the search in earnest.


(For more on the topic of “Search”, please see the Formed.org programme “The Search” by Chris Stefanick).

Download the slides here:

A1 Awakening - Slides
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Footnotes

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture references are taken from the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE). [2] Another translation frames the question as “What do you seek?” (RSV 2nd CE).


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2 則留言


未知的會員
2022年1月26日

This is so important. We Catholics need proper formation especially after our initial encounter. I hope this fills the gap that is sorely lacking.

按讚

未知的會員
2022年1月16日

Beautiful narrator's voice that comes with transcript. Very good format. Good content.

easy to follow and understand-A Pearl of Great Prize-- Beautiful parable.

Opening the session with St Augustine's Confession Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!

Lo, you were within... is contemplative and transformative. A transformative relationship with God.. Water has to change to Wine...if God is Real, Active and Alive in our lives.

按讚
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