This is a proposal I sent to an organization called Communion and Liberation. They have an annual convention once a year called New York Encounter. They are accepting proposals from people who have something to share that would fit with their theme. A different theme each year. For next year it is “something to start from”. Hopefully what I write below fits. It is attended by many people who are not necessarily Catholic or even Christian of any kind. So I do speak in doctrinal terms here but hopefully in an approachable way.
Greetings in Christ,
My name is Jason Miller, and I am a Catholic convert after over 30 years of practicing as a faithful and engaged protestant. Professionally, I am an Arizona-based therapist and my therapeutic approach is partly strengths-based in supporting clients towards their goals. In addition to my work as a therapist, I am also a certified catechist in the Diocese of Phoenix.
My proposal for my exhibit is called “Critical Impressions in Conversion.” I write, “Critical Impressions” due to first impressions of Jesus discipling people in the first week of His public ministry. What could be limited to first impressions, I suggest, are to be always applicable “critical impressions” as Christians are called to ongoing conversion.
In humanity we often are restless and repelled from conversion though it meets our inner hunger summed up well by how “our hearts are restless for thee” (St. Augustine of Hippo). The chief traits of the gospel addresses this restlessness are how “God is with us” in the Incarnation, has “mercy on us” in the Cross, and continues victory in us by the Resurrection. Grace can work in our hearts a conscious awareness of knowing Jesus is looking at us to engraft this reality in our souls. It is in his gaze we know God wants holistic salvation as “grace perfects nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas). A good place to start from. Engagement in communion with Christ and the Church lifts up those parts that are meant to be fulfilled in him. Guesses with reason alone point only to natural faculties of the person and lack the dimension of the “religious sense” that Fr. Giussanni wrote of.
In my experience as a therapist, where I cannot explicitly refer to sin or share the gospel, behavioral sciences show the gaps in the person to be recognized then perfect in grace. I want to address several inner tensions to authentic conversion, and how they look if they can be contextualized with grace. I use an acronym to groups that approaches this with a neutral then strengths-based perspective. These concepts are in the acronym GOSCAMP:guilt, openness, skepticism, confusion, anxiety, manipulation and preparation. These are the points of the human condition we are meant to meet Jesus and be changed in. What I do with each is show how each in the pure sense are neutral.
The analogy I make is without being an athlete I can push a large truck down the road on one condition: put it in neutral for me. So too can someone dealing with the factors below without a reminder in the right direction or too often in this fallen world in the wrong direction on these key points. After having “de-neutralized” each, I challenge the hearer to drive slowly forward rather than staying neutral on those terms.
But Jesus, if fully interpreted as Savior, addresses these things and so should the Church. I thus point to the first week of Jesus’ public ministry to illuminate how the divine encounter of Jesus transforms the very fiber of our being. This Chief Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25) does this work in the full presentation of gospel essentials, proper formation of the conscience and a mindfulness of his presence in our silence before him alone.
More substantively, for “something to start from” I will be pointing to the first days of Jesus discipling people in divine yet mundane encounters. Below I outline how Jesus, who does not change, converses with the common struggles in humanity and draws them to himself. So too can those who want more of the light of Christ can be discipled in and pass on to others like one beggar telling the other where to find bread. These are indeed critical impressions by which conversion fits largely on the merit that Jesus does not change.
Day One is the prophetic encounter with truth. In this case it was John the Baptist who shook up precious paradigms and even personal places of power meant to be shifted. Some hear this today and stay for more. Those who do stay choose the way of preparation for whatever comes next in the Lord. It is to “make straight the paths of the Lord”.
Day Two- – Some saw Jesus “fulfill all righteousness” as they then would “Behold the Lamb” being baptized. We are meant for openness to see Jesus but on his terms. God works to show us his ways in matter. It is to be heavenly minded while in context of earthly good. These are like two rivers meant to flow together. Confusion is an initial reaction to this which can give way to see spirit and matter contradicting rather than complimentary like the gnostics. Grace perfects nature and makes them complimentary in contemplation.
Day Three- – Some saw Jesus as someone to dwell with and therefore fellowshipped with the Lamb- Holy Friendship. One only knows more if they “come and see” as Jesus said to his first followers. At 4pm the future apostles John and Andrew went and stayed with Jesus.
Day Four- Jesus here calls one to personal mission of service in his kingdom as happens with Peter. In the early encounters of Jesus with Peter his struggle with guilt turns into shame. Guilt is spiritual pain. Guilt is for the mistakes we make or the sins we have done against our conscience. Shame says that we are a mistake putting us into spiritual shock and not seeing hope for change. Ongoing mission, like in the early encounters with Peter, is key here in grace. Though Peter tells Jesus to get away from him with his “resume”, Jesus responds with mission. Mission is manipulation redeemed for it educates us in the pure sense like pure education. Education comes from educare which draws from within. The calling of Jesus addresses how his life is walked out individually.
Also the same day Jesus invited the openness of hard inquiry. Nathanael asked behind Jesus’ back if anything good could come out of Israel. Jesus miraculously responded by complimenting him on his straightforward demeanor in place of “guile”. While Ignatius of Loyola would call for contemplation, which is valid, there is a beauty of skepticism. Ongoing engagement of reason is not an enemy of faith. “The Truth, which is Christ, imposes itself as an all-embracing authority which holds out to theology and philosophy alike the prospect of support, stimulation and increase (Fides Et Ratio, para.92). Without skepticism, we are not stimulated. I could guess that he had anxiety, but his anxiety of Jesus that could have been on the exposing miracle, but changed to fear of the Lord.
Days 5 and 6 on their way to a wedding in Cana- One takes time in contemplation of Christ on their favorite angle of him. I would suggest that the initial and ongoing follower of Jesus Christ needs them all like flashpoints of conversion. To sum up on these points I would say the first and ongoing critical impressions of Jesus are preparation over stagnation, contemplation over confusion, communion over isolation, grace over shame, and skeptical seeking over blind cynicism.
But not with Our Lady since she is best disciple of them all. She asked “how can this be”? about conceiving as a virgin. It says, twice “she pondered these things in her heart”. She had a sense of esteem in God’s love in saying “I am the Lord’s servant”. These first impressions of this mysterious carpenter/rabbi from Nazareth were critical and lifelong impressions for Mary who was full of grace and leads us to Jesus. In our case, gazed upon by Jesus in all of the parts of us, we can be also filled every day.
Day 7- The conversion of the heart. One now believes in Jesus with willingness to obey like the disciples did at the wedding at Cana. You are a friend of Jesus and a witness of the wedding far above the one studied in the verses below. Some wrongly think Jesus rebuked Mary for her approach about fixing a wine situation. But the idiomatic impression meant there is nothing between him and her. Though we were conceived in sin, we can be asked to be filled with grace now and push the throttle of faith on the upside of our internal struggles in receiving everything Jesus that he wants to be in us. Today we can know God’s narrative of ourselves with a holistic understanding of the gospel that saves the whole person.