Ave Maria! “Now yield
your members to serve justice unto sanctification.”
“Now yield your members to serve justice unto sanctification.”
In today's epistle, St. Paul is addressing the Romans; primarily those Roman Jews who had converted to Christianity, but also the pagans who had converted as well. He is, in other words, addressing a group of “converts”; those who gave up some other religion in order to become Catholics. Indeed, at the time he was writing, less than 25 years after our Lord's crucifixion, virtually all Christians were converts from something else. So, given the idea that all of these people were converts, it is a little surprising that what he is telling them about is nothing other than the need for conversion!
We often hear (and it is often quite true) that “Converts make the best Catholics.” This statement is true if for no other reason than that a convert is someone who has made a conscious decision to learn about and make the effort to become a Catholic; sometimes in the face of stiff opposition from family members and friends. It is not surprising that such a person would be more enthusiastic in practicing their Faith than those of us who grew up in Catholic families and had our religion “spoon fed” to us.
So, why does St. Paul write to these Roman converts about the need to convert?
The answer is that “conversion” is not the one time process that we often think it to be. Just as the “cradle Catholic” does not necessarily become a great Catholic just because he is baptized and attends a few years of Catholic schools, neither does the convert who takes a few months of instruction and is baptized as an adult. On the contrary, as Saint Paul is hinting, conversion is a lifetime process that all of us must undergo. We might say that Baptism and whatever preliminary instruction we receive are just the beginnings of a conversion process that ought not to stop until we die.
To understand this we need only look to that Catechism question we all learned in our instructions: “What must we do to enjoy happiness with God in heaven?” and to its answer: “To be happy with God in heaven we must know, love, and serve Him in this world.” “Know” “Love” and “Serve”—none of these things are static; none of them stand still; they are not “one time” things.
Knowing, loving, and serving God are continuous processes that build upon our initial conversion to Christ through Baptism.
It is not enough to memorize the Baltimore Catechism. It is not permissible to graduate from 8 or 12 or 16 years of Catholic education and then to sit back and refuse to learn anything more about our Faith. But rather we must spend some part of our entire life continuing to learn about our Lord's plan of salvation for us.
It is not enough to be Baptized and Confirmed, and to make Nine First Fridays and Five First Saturdays, and to Confess and Receive Holy Communion once a year at Eastertime. If we are to grow in the love of Jesus Christ, our life of prayer and reception of His Sacraments must not be based on filling out a series of quotas. We must make the effort to pray as often as possible, simply to talk to our Lord; not because we have to. It means to get to Confession because we know sin displeases God; not for fear of hell. It means getting to Mass as often as possible in order to pass thirty or forty minutes with Jesus Christ in the company of His angels and saints; and to stand with our beloved Mother at the foot of His cross.
It is not enough to serve God by putting a few “bucks” in the collection plate each Sunday. Instead, we need to be making a continuous effort to bring God to the people around us through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. To serve Christ, we must see Him in the sick and the poor who need our aid and comfort; in the ignorant and the doubtful who need instruction and counsel; in the hungry and the thirsty and the naked, and even in the dead whose bodies we must bury and for whose souls we must pray.
Not surprisingly all three of these continuing processes overlap one another. The person who thinks he can love God without bothering to continue knowing and serving Him is fooling himself. Likewise the person who thinks he can know without loving and serving; or the one who thinks he can serve without the other two. You can't love what you don't know; you won't serve what you don't love; and you will avoid knowing the master whom you refuse to serve.
All of these things are continuous, and interrelated—they are a process of continuous conversion of life—a continuous striving toward union with God—otherwise they are in vain.
That's why all of the great spiritual writers are unanimous about the need to make an examination of conscience every day. Even if we never do anything sinful, if we are to make progress in our continuing conversion, we must ask ourselves each day if we have grown in our knowledge, love, and service of the God with whom we want to be happy in heaven.
Finally, we ought to take to heart our Lord's words, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Just as this is a way of knowing who the true and the false representatives of Christ are, looking at our own “fruits” is a good way of knowing if we are true or false friends of Christ. And the fruits here, by the way, are not material achievements but rather the Fruits of the Holy Ghost. In other words, we are not counting how many pages we read in our effort to know God, or how many we fed on the line at the soup kitchen today in our effort to serve Him. While those things are important, we are looking beyond them to see if the Holy Ghost is active in our souls: Do we have things like charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, mildness, faith, modesty, and chastity?
It is often said that one who wishes to make progress towards happiness in heaven with God cannot stand still, otherwise he will go backwards. A healthy spiritual life must be a continuous process of conversion away from the world and towards the kingdom of heaven; towards God and away from the devil. We must strive to know, love, and serve God each and every day of our lives.
“He who does the will of the Father shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
 Baltimore Catechism, Q.4. http://www.catholicity.com/baltimore-catechism/lesson01.html
 Baltimore Catechism, Q. 125 http://www.catholicity.com/baltimore-catechism/lesson10.html