I gave a parish talk last night on conversion, and what it means–to me as a convert, to us as Catholics (especially during Lent), to the modern world, and what it meant to the first Christians of Jesus’ day. Conversion means many things, and is interconnected with repentance, sanctification, justification, and salvation. As regards salvation, in preparing the talk I dug out one of my favorite passages from Pope Benedict’s encyclical Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope”). The pope is warning against ”an individualistic understanding of salvation, into hope for myself alone, which is not true hope since it forgets and overlooks others…” This is a prfoundly challenging concept for our religious culture, and I think our understanding of salvation. The pope continues:
“Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse.”
“So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other–my prayer for him–can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain.”
“In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.”
Lent is a remarkable and indispensible journey, but it can also become self-regarding if we focus too much on ourselves–which in terms of spiritual development, can wind up being self-defeating.
Just a reminder to check out Beliefnet’s great resource of Lenten reflections and practices.