A friend recently sent me a conversion story of a woman who had come to the faith. She wrote down her story after her confirmation as an adult. This friend of mine had simply planted a seed in a mom’s group, somewhat innocuously, for her to consider the Catholic faith. This was in the midst of the other moms badmouthing the Church.
What I see time and time again, for those who come to the Faith, is that those stray seeds that may have been cast in off-moments–a word here, a book there, a conversation or an experience of grace–tend to sprout during those times in which they are alone. Self-reflection–when it is used as a end in itself–we can probably do without if it doesn’t lead us somewhere deeper than the here-and-now. But for those who are open and searching, even just a little bit–these are the ones our Lord can use.
Our Lord uses the analogy of leaving the ninety-nine to search out the one sheep that was lost. I think that’s a pretty good ratio of those who come into the Faith–1:99. In my experience, the Lord draws us away from the crowds to speak to us, just as he himself communed with the Father alone.
We’ve been hearing a lot about mobs, and there is something frightening about a group of people who have lost their autonomy and sense of reason. It’s akin to being swept up in a riptide. Whether you want to or not, you are being pulled out to sea.
Jesus may have preached to the masses (Mt 5), and he may have permitted the crowds to lay palms at his feet (Mt 21:8), but he also had to deal with the mobs that sought to put him to death (Lk 23). There was no reasoning with them, for nothing but blood would appease them.
But perhaps one or more went back to their clay house after this would-be Messiah had expired, and thought. They lay in their bed in the dark of night, and could not get his words out of their head, “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
It can be a high bar when we think of the great evangelists like St. Francis Xavier converting not tens or hundreds, but thousands of people to the true Faith. In a post-Christian pagan country such as our own, it would be no small miracle to have a large crowd convert on the spot at the preaching of a disciple of Jesus today. Usually, conversion is more of a gestation than a spontaneous birth. It steeps and it marinates, it forces us to question things. I believe it is reserved for those willing to look at themselves as they truly are, and who recognize there is something missing.
Not always, but often, this happens in the solitary places–the back pew in an empty cathedral, the lonely apartment after a night on the town, the emptiness after a one nigh stand, the car on the way to work when there is no one to counter the innocent questions: “Why am I here? Why am I not happy? What is really true?” If we never visit these places in which we find ourselves alone, responsible for our own thoughts and not subject to mob rule, when the air is quiet enough for the waves of discontent to lap at our innermost parts–we may never truly find ourselves willing to not only ask the questions, but take the steps to seek the answers.
Thankfully, for those who open themselves to seeking truth wherever it leads, who recognize their inadequacy, and who find themselves unable to be dissuaded by detractors and the mob–whether its a group of moms or cowards masked for destruction–they may just find the answers they are looking for. Like Nicodemus, they may come to Christ in the dead of night, speaking against the mob even when they are drowned out, because of a ray of spiritual perception that transcends it’s brutish fury.
Because grace moves in to fill the space between, to gently whisper in one’s ear, to introduce friends and even strangers into our paths who either plant the seeds or help them grow. They sprout in the dead of night, watered by a silent din, and eventually take root and can no longer be contained by the vessel of our intellect or culture. It’s a precious time in the life-cycle of faith, these tender formative years, and we must shield it from the mob like a mother hen shields her young. When faith is full-grown, it needs its own pot; it can no longer be contained. It must go forth, bearing seed, reproducing itself, one person at a time.