As we grow up, too often we fall into the trap of seeing religion as rituals and not as a personal experience of a living faith centered on a love relationship with Christ. Here are prayer steps you can take toward experiencing conversion and spiritual growth.
How to do this prayer practice
1. Pray that God will help you start the process of moving your faith from your head to your heart.
I was baptized a Catholic as a baby and must say that I am ashamed to tell you I have no memories of living the Catholic faith other than going to church on Sundays (until I was old enough to figure out how to skip church and not get caught). I remember saying a blessing before dinners. Sadly, I don’t even remember anything about receiving the Sacraments. (In the Catholic Church there are seven Sacraments that we can receive which are outwards signs or visible acts instituted by Christ to bring grace. Grace is God’s life! The Sacraments are ways the church gives us God’s life.) The only memory of receiving the Sacrament of my First Holy Communion (Eucharist) was having my picture taken next to this boy I despised who lived down the street from me!
There is no one to blame for my lack of faith. I now know what I was missing all along that prevented me from creating memories and living the faith….it is having an understanding of our faith. I now know that information given without understanding remains in the head and never makes it to the heart. If this information remains in the head the devil can steal it, distort it and do anything in his power to prevent you from believing and living it! But if you have an understanding, this information will move to the heart where you will live it. The devil can never take it once it moves to the heart because our heart belongs to our Lord…it is our heart where our Lord wants to take up residency.
2. Pray that your heart will become full of God and not just full of yourself.
So you see, all the information given to me all those years growing up in Catholic schools, without the understanding, it never reached my heart. Sure I knew right from wrong, but didn’t understand why it was so. Therefore because of my free will I chose for myself right and wrong, just like what Satan did to Adam and Eve when God told them not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden and Satan caused them to question God’s intentions which led them to disobey God. (See Genesis 3:1-13) I allowed Satan to distort the truth given to me. I allowed myself to play the all-knowing. This is why I made so many sinful mistakes. Sure, my conscience worked on me. I even heard my mom’s voice in the back of my head. But the Truth was not in my heart. My heart was full of me and not of Him. Because of my sin I was without His grace.
3. Seek a relationship with the Lord.
I lived many years of this self love; self absorbed life until our Lord brought me to a halt! He literally brought me to my knees when I discovered some hidden secrets about someone very close to me. I always thought I was brought up in this perfect world until the Lord revealed some truths to me. This new revelation was very devastating. At the onset of this revelation came many changes in my life, in particular my faith. As I said, it was the Lord bringing me to my knees that allowed me to realize what little faith I had. I realized how full of myself I was and how little of His life I had in me………..grace. Grace is God’s life in you, which is what I live and breathe for today. I began to realize I needed less of me and more of Him in my heart. But how in the world does one get this? I wasn’t even going to church, not even sure of my beliefs. I just knew I wanted a relationship with our Lord.
4. Admit your sinfulness to God.
Looking back I realized that what I was experiencing happened to people in the Bible. I identify with the woman who was brought to Jesus to be stoned to death because she was caught in adultery. (see John 8:3-11) Although my sin was not the same as the adulterous woman, I identified with the way she and I were both brought to the Lord. This woman did not come to Jesus on her own. She was brought to Him. It was His Divine providence that brought her to Him. Otherwise He knew she would never come to Him. Through Christ’s divine providence I too was brought to Him. I don’t think I would have gone to Him if it wasn’t for the shocking secret that was revealed to me about the person close to me.
Jesus tells the accusers of the woman caught in adultery, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) Her accusers leave one by one. To God, sin is sin, no matter how big or how small. We all sin and need forgiveness.
After coming to Him He revealed to me the Truths about myself, just like He did with the woman in the Gospel. He didn’t condemn me but He gently humbled me and then told me to go and sin no more. For me to carry out His command, Christ knew I needed His grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (also called confession) and the Eucharist (called Communion) and I needed the Truth.
5. Believe that Christ died for you personally.
My next step in the journey began when my cousin Tammy came to visit me to help me deal with this difficult discovery about someone close to me. The Truth that she revealed to me that changed my life forever was this: if I was the only one on this earth, our Lord would still have died for me; for me alone! This was something that I had never heard before much less ever thought about. But I knew wherever it came from I wanted to go there. I wanted to go home right then and look up the nearest Baptist church. Tammy was baptized a Catholic but after she was married she joined the Baptist church. I assumed I needed to leave the Catholic Church in order to get the beautiful faith she had. However, God in His awesome wisdom was using her as an instrument. She could have easily taken me home and helped me find the nearest Baptist church but instead she encouraged me to call my church and see what kind of groups they were offering for women. I told her I would, but I knew darn well that would never happen!
6. Ask God to lead you to a group of others in your church who are serious about becoming closer to Christ.
A few weeks later I received a letter in the mail inviting me to a faith sharing group. I laughed and immediately called Tammy to tell her. She was not surprised and strongly encouraged me to go. She told me, “That letter is from God and you can’t say no!”
So I went with lots of hesitation and reservation! I remember driving there and thinking to myself, “What would my friends say if they knew where I was headed!” At this time Mike (my husband) and I were living in Kentucky. It was only 30 minutes from where we grew up in Cincinnati but the houses were cheaper there. Later I discovered God’s reason as to why we moved. Our Lord needed to remove me from our family and friends where I was so comfortable in order to bring me to the Truth and set me free!
So I knock on the door and a woman who could have been my grandmother answered the door. I chuckled to myself thinking, “This is pretty comical!” As she invited me in I saw 6 or 7 others in there who ALL could have been my grandparents! But immediately I felt this overwhelming sense of comfort. I now know it was God’s grace present in that house but at the time I just knew I was meant to be there!
We all sat down around this table and on the table was a Bible, Crucifix and candle. I got a little nervous as I realized the only Bible I owned was given to me as a wedding gift and it was still in the box somewhere in a closet.
We went around the room introducing ourselves and sharing why we were there. I was the only one who received that letter! It truly was from our Lord like Tammy said! By the time I left that night I knew each of those women were there to bring me to the Truth that would set me free!
7. Ask God to lead you to those who will help answer your questions.
This group lasted through Advent, which is the four weeks before Christmas when the Church remembers the first coming of Christ and prepares and anticipates his second coming. The group then picked up again during Lent, which is the 40 days before Easter Sunday. After Easter, I was on my own. I was really hungry now for more. That summer I saw an ad in our bulletin looking for a religion teacher. I answered the ad knowing I was not qualified to teach. Later I learned that our Lord does not choose the qualified but qualifies the chosen. He began to qualify me!
One of the requirements was to take a theology course at a nearby college. This is where I learned so much about the faith. It was confusing to me though. As I was getting more information, I would email my cousin Tammy to see what her Baptist church taught. All the while I would ask Tammy questions, Mary Jo’s name kept coming to my heart. Mary Jo is a friend of mine from grade school. I had heard while she was in college she became “very Catholic.” I was not about to call her and ask her about her faith since it had been so long since we talked.
One day while I was emailing Tammy about purgatory, our fax machine rang. Out of curiosity I went over to see who the fax was coming from. There is a little window that shows the number of the sender. There was no number in that window. There were letters that spelled out MARY JO! So I stopped emailing my cousin and called Mary Jo because it is through her our Lord wanted to reveal the Truth to me that will set me free! So I called her and as soon as I heard her voice I began to cry.
8. Confess your specific sins to God regularly, knowing He hears not only your words, but also sees your tears.
Mary Jo and her husband were so instrumental in bringing me back home to the Catholic faith! The one thing that Mary Jo stressed to me was the need for me to go to Reconciliation. It’s also commonly called Confession, where you go to church at a special time and privately tell a priest the specific ways you have sinned and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness. I had not received that sacrament for over 20 years so I knew that it would be difficult to do.
I began to feel weighed down by my many past offenses. As the truth began to move to my heart, I was beginning to see how as an unbeliever and as one who gave my life to sin, I wasn’t receiving the wonderful and hidden grace He so badly wanted to bestow upon me. There it is again….grace – His life in me.
Like I said before, I knew I needed to make room for Him. I needed to get rid of the old me I had hidden for so long and allow His grace to flow into my soul. He was revealing to me His desire to make a resting place for Himself in my soul. He wanted it to be pure though. I realized I couldn’t make adequate preparation for Him to reside in me by myself. He began to place heavily on my heart my need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After fighting this for several months, I finally made it to the confessional. I was driving home from the mall one Saturday afternoon and it was 3:00. I found myself pulling into the church parking lot and going in to have my confession heard.
I asked the Lord to help me hold back the tears, but the second I sat down the tears began to fall. After receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I got into the car feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders! I began to think of how I was going to explain to Mike why my eyes were bloodshot from all the tears. I never came home from the mall before filled with tears! So I decided that I would just tell him the song, “Butterfly Kisses” came on the radio. That song always brought tears to my eyes! Then I was reminded that I had just left the confessional, so lying would not be a very good idea! Do you know that by the time I got home that song came on the radio! Now the tears really came down!
As soon as I got home I called Mary Jo. I knew she would be so excited to hear that I went to confession. She asked me out of curiosity, “What time did you go?” I told her, “3:00.” She reminded me that was the time our Lord died for me. I then was reminded of the first Truth that was revealed to me by Tammy…that if I was the only one on earth, He still would have died for me!
A few days later I found out that normally confessions are not heard until 3:30 but the priest was there for me at 3:00…the very hour our Lord died for me! (Once again our Lord’s divine providence). I confessed all the sins that terrified me and had held me captive not allowing the graces to flow through me. Through this sacrament our Lord absolved my sins and restored the sanctifying grace I needed that I was lacking for many years.
9. Ask God to begin to speak powerfully to you through the Church and Sacraments.
That Lenten season was a very powerful time for me and my transformation. I began to really pay attention to the words of the songs we were singing. One in particular that really hit me hard was “Were You There.” The lyrics of the song say, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Sometimes it causes me to tremble…” For the first time I put myself in that song. Although I wasn’t there at the time of the crucifixion I knew I was there now crucifying Him every time I offended him. The thought of my sins crucifying Him, offending Him, truly made me tremble.
For the first in my life I really felt something when I went to the services on Holy Thursday, which is the day on which Christ celebrated the Last Supper with the disciples before being arrested and on Good Friday, when Christ was condemned and crucified. When they brought out the cross for all to venerate or to show our reverence and respect, I sat in the pew and sobbed. I knew He wanted me to go up and kiss the cross but I knew there was no way I was worthy to. Somehow through His mercy and love for me I made it up there and for the first time kissed the cross that I helped hang Him on. It was then that I realized that it was through His death and resurrection that my soul receives true nourishment.
10. Mediate on the Scriptures
Here are some Scriptures that had great meaning for me:
John 6:54: In order for me to inherit everlasting life I needed to receive Him worthily.
I Corinthians 11:27: I began to see the necessity for me, who so often commits sin, to cleanse myself through frequent prayer and confession.
I came to realize I needed two things: food and light. The body of Christ had become my nourishment while His word became my light. Psalm 119:105.
11. Take advantage of every opportunity to grow in faith.
That September, I got a call at 9:00a.m. on a Tuesday. I remember it like it was yesterday! A woman introduced herself. She said, “Hi my name is Linda. You don’t know me by name but we see each other in the morning when we drop our kids off for preschool.” I knew who she was. She then proceeded to invite me to a group called Familia. It was a group for mothers with young children to help them grow in their Catholic Faith. I asked her to send me some information. She laughed and said, “I can’t do that because the first session starts in an hour.” I immediately knew this was our Lord working here because had she sent me information a week ago, it would have gotten lost and I never would have come. So I went and this is where I really began to learn my faith! I began to go to mass every Sunday to receive His Body (the Eucharist or communion ) and hear His Word from the Scriptures. I began to gain a better understanding of my Catholic faith not only through Familia but through teaching religion classes to the 5th and 8th graders at our church.
Our parish was beginning Eucharistic Adoration at the time every Tuesday. This is when the Eucharist is exposed on the altar and the people can come into the church and pray before our Lord who is truly present in the Eucharist. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but felt drawn to go. It eventually became an addiction for me. My favorite time to go was after everyone at home were tucked away in bed. There was something I found so powerful sitting before Jesus in the Holy Eucharist in the still of the night.
It is there at Adoration that I drew the strength necessary to remain faithful; where I received consolation in my times of sorrow. He waited for me each Tuesday. He waits for all of His people to give comfort with the warmth and understanding of His love. It is here that the words of our Lord come to life.
12. Ask God to teach you to praise Him during times of trial and pain.
That spring a group of us went to a Life in the Spirit Seminar It was a 7 week program. Initially this made me very uncomfortable because the testimonies we heard were very devastating. There was so much pain these people endured and I was afraid that if this is what happened when you grew closer to Christ, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. But now looking back, our Lord had me there because He was preparing me for the pain I was about to endure through the crosses He was going to ask me to carry.
The next year I agreed to give the opening talk at the Life in the Spirit Seminar but two days before the seminar we found out that my mom had colon cancer. On my way to the hospital I called the woman who asked me to give the talk to tell her I was no longer able to give it. Her response was so beautiful and so convicting. She told me that as strange as this might sound, I needed to begin to praise our Lord for what he was about to do with our family. She went on to say, as difficult as this was going to be for us, our Lord’s plans for us will be nothing short of amazing! She also convinced me to give the talk as this will be a beautiful testimony of His TRUE love!
After I hung up I prayed and thanked Him for what He was about to do to my family. I also asked Him to carry us as we are not strong enough in our faith yet to do this alone! The family all met at the hospital to be with my mom. A few hours after getting home that night I got a call from my brother. He told me that after we all left the hospital, he kept walking around the lobby. He so badly wanted to go to the chapel to pray for mom but did not feel worthy. He said he had not prayed in years and who was he now to go and pray for mom after he walked away from our Lord so long ago. Well the next thing he knew he was sitting in a pew praying. He has no idea how he got there! He said it was like someone carried him in! I began to cry as this was an answered prayer! Our Lord carried him in there and He was beginning His amazing work in our family!
13. Ask God to give you both the desire and the means of bringing souls to Him.
At this time, we decided we needed to move to be closer to my mom. I was very nervous because I did not want to leave my circle of faith filled women who I had grown so close to. But I knew this is what our Lord wanted us to do. I remember talking to my mother-in-law about this and she told me not to be afraid. Our Lord would allow me to take my faith with me and it will remain with me where ever I go!
Shortly after moving back and getting settled in, the Lord began to place beautiful faith filled women in my life. He soon began to put me to work. There were three things that He placed heavily on my heart to do. The first was to get a Familia group started on the west side. I also felt this calling to get Eucharistic Adoration started in our Parish. (The two things that began my journey home.) More importantly, He gave me this strong love for souls. He put this strong desire on my heart to love and win souls for Him.
The thought of starting a Familia group in Cincinnati scared me to death! My friends would really think I was crazy now. I surrendered and told the Lord I would if He would send me help. Soon after that prayer I got a call from another stranger who introduced herself as Karen. She went on to explain that we have a mutual friend whom she spoke with that morning. Karen was telling this mutual friend that she would love to start a Familia group but did not know how to go about it. My friend gave her my name and explained to her that I just moved to Cincinnati and that I would probably be interested in helping her. I laughed and told her she was an answer to prayer! She then went on to tell me that she knew me better than I thought. She asked me if I had given a talk at the Life in the Spirit Seminar. I told her I did. Her mother was there and taped my talk. She gave her siblings all a copy of my talk and she just listened to it the night before. SO when my friend told her to call me, she knew who I was because she just heard my life story the night before! God was really working here!
After 5 years of praying for and trying to convince our pastor that we needed Eucharistic Adoration at our parish, I was finally given permission to get it started. Praise God once again.
14. Learn how to offer up things in prayer as you desire souls to be drawn to our Lord.
As I began to open my soul even more to our Lord, allowing Him to fill me with His life, grace, I grew more in love for other souls, especially the souls in search of Christ. A soul is the spirit of the body. It is like the electricity to the light bulb. Without the soul, the body has no purpose. God created each soul for the sole purpose of spending eternity in Heaven with Him. Our Lord wants all souls united to His and as my soul filled with His life, grace, my desire to win souls for Him grew. Through much prayer and daily Communion, He showed me many ways to do this through prayer and fasting. He was giving me the grace and the desire to offer things up for souls. I never knew what that meant when my mom would tell me to just offer it up…. Once again information that never got to the heart wasn’t really lived. Christ was putting it in my heart now, He started me off with little things like offering up or abstaining from chocolate, coke, things I loved! Then I tried offering up sufferings, difficult and tiring days, etc. Rather than complaining I would lift my struggles and sufferings up, uniting them to His sufferings on the cross. He was teaching me that my sufferings can help to complete what is lacking if united with His sufferings on the cross. (Col 1:24) For more information see this Prayer Ideas article: offering up your sufferings
15. Follow your unique spiritual calling.
Conversion is not a onetime event. It is a life long process. Everyday we are called to convert. Everyday we are called to grow closer to Christ. The conversion comes as our relationship grows. The closer we get to Him the more we change (convert) and become like Him.
So as I grew closer to our Lord, as I allowed Him to transform me, I began to realize that He wanted me right where I was as a wife and mother. He wanted to use me as His instrument, to be His light right in the vocation He had chosen for me. I also began to realize that He wasn’t calling me to anything great, He was just asking me to be great at what He was calling me to do. And the key to this is knowing that we can only do this by emptying ourselves and allowing Him to fill us with His grace!
Copyright Laurie Flanigan 2012 All rights reserved.