We might find that a conversion is necessary. Life constantly needs to be renewed; human nature needs its spring-cleaning. As Catholics, we have an advantage, because conversion involves not only our personal attitude, but the embodied spirit and the spiritual body as well, and we have the theological backup to inform our understanding of our capabilities and our limitations as humans. To allow the Holy Spirit to turn our heart around, open it and work salvation in us and for us, we cannot rely only on a mental image of our goal in life. That mental image does not, in fact, exist independently of soul and body, and very soon what was a good intention of bettering ourselves becomes a cruel accusation that we are not performing well enough, which leads to the self-imposed burden of changing what we can’t change, and ultimately despair. The mental image is empty, but the knowledge in our heart, the propensity to love, is full, and ready for us to adapt ourselves to it.
We might as well know what we can do from the outset, and then maybe we would have a better chance of succeeding.
I think, to start out, it helps to know that we have a piece of glass in our eyes, like Kaj in the story of the Snow Queen, by H. C. Andersen. Mistakes and sins are strangely unique to each of us. Each one of us has a set of mistakes, a piece of glass looking not quite like any other. We might feel emboldened in the unique hardness of our heart because the world does not look to us as it looks to anyone else, because the special distortion of our piece of glass is not like any other. The generation of evil, or the mystery of iniquity, is something belonging to the quaestiones disputatae of religion, something giving theologians trouble since early on. One has to be either very unobservant or uninterested in the human drama to have missed the fact that life contains a strange generation of evil. It seems—although we know that it is not of the life of God—that evil can in fact generate, that is, one evil generates another. One side of this not so pleasant reality of life, is that this generating of evil also has the quality of uniqueness. And so, I find that my forms of despair and temptation are specially tailored to me. The sins, and the outlook from my closed, hardened heart, feels like my self. I become so familiar with my own “ego”, because it follows me like a faithful dog, and I might think I know it better than anyone, and that it “understands” me better than any other. Of what this ego actually consists has qualities not unlike the portrait of Dorian Gray. Consequently, conversion, or “soul-spring-cleaning” relies on the fact that love is stronger than death. The life of love—the life of God—is stronger than the primordial monster of my ego. My sense of uniqueness, or subjectivity, has to become subject to Love. I have to give up my ego for self-sacrifice. In St. Francis’ words, I must begin to wish “not so much to be loved as to love”.
As soon as love is allowed to go to work it rejects the ego and throws out the nicely settled dust; that is, Love cleans house. What was familiar turns gray and “into hay” (the Swedish translation of the bible passage—is it in the Preacher?) and there are again possibilities of life, of goodness and of beauty. With surprising swiftness, a new trail is blazed. This trail lies in a direction opposite to the tailored temptations and despair of the ego’s path. Love generates gratefulness. Gratefulness for what we have, for what we can in fact do, builds up—I believe—a sort of immunity to despair, because the possibilities of living a good life are endless and generate great joy. We should really love life, because Life loves us!