In her book of essays, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, author and poet Maya Angelou wrote, “I’m always amazed when people walk up to me and say, ‘I’m a Christian.’ I think, ‘Already? You already got it?’ I’m working at it…”
Possibly the most important conversion experience I have encountered personally involved coming to the realization that becoming Christian is a life-long process and while I may experience times of growth, I will never fully “have it.” I might backslide at times. There will be no “One Night Only” event when I suddenly see God, Jesus and the world with divine clarity. Never will there be a time when I possess all the answers for everyone, and never will there be a time when I am not in need of God’s love. Being fully initiated into the Catholic Church is only the beginning and striving to be Christian involves an almost continual evolution because in my experience, just when I think I’ve “gotten it” I am once again challenged to grow.
The butterfly is a popular Christian symbol because the transformation to butterfly from caterpillar represents resurrection, new life, and conversion. Imagine you are a caterpillar inching along munching leaves until one day a process beyond your control forces you to stop what you’re doing. You work hard to spin your shelter until you are cocooned in darkness, where you will stay for a length of time you have no control over. Everything you know from your caterpillar world has vanished and there are forces at work you do not understand, and then one day you emerge stunningly transformed.
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021 has been destabilizing to many of us. Our sense of normality evaporated before our eyes to be replaced by a series of regulations and restrictions most of us have not experienced in our lifetime. Elements of daily life once taken for granted have been stolen from us indefinitely and even though a vaccination strategy provides us with desperately needed hope for emerging from this pandemic, we cannot yet fully know how we will have been changed by it. Pope Francis has frequently called for the faithful to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a chance to “re-imagine a global economy that values people and the planets over profits, and one where (fellowship) and solidarity guide human relationships rather than conflict and division.” (Associated Press, 2021) So, Francis has encouraged us to take the opportunity at a global level to rebuild a better planet, but how does this apply to me personally?
I am certain that even amid the hibernation, darkness, fear, isolation, news headlines, and global death count of 2.7 million, the Holy Spirit has presented me with opportunities for transformation…to shed what I have outgrown and to see the world through a fresh lens. If I can do this, then the goodness planted by God in my heart can grow, bloom, and change me.
In today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us that for new growth to occur in our hearts and minds, we must die to ourselves: our desires, our selfishness, and our old patterns. It is not good we have been forced to take up combat with a virus for which we were unprepared, but goodness can emerge from difficult challenges, even spiritual transformation. There is an opportunity to reboot and to reconsider what brings me life and what does not bring me life. In retrospect, what elements of my pre-pandemic existence did not contribute to my flourishing? What might I have been wrong about? Did I really know everything? What mistakes might I have made? What have I been holding on to that drains me of energy? Who was I before the world got its hands on me?
What transformation will I permit?
Archdiocese of Moncton, Office of Youth Faith Development