Conversion Is Nourished by Hope in God’s Mercy

‘Christ's call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians. This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church …’ (CCC 1428)

Jean-Jacques Scherrer, “Joan of Arc Enters Orléans,” 1887
Jean-Jacques Scherrer, “Joan of Arc Enters Orléans,” 1887 (photo: Public Domain)

“He deserved it!”

It was the second time in the past year that I had heard these words exclaimed openly. The discussion revolved around the same media event, but the sentiment was expressed this time by a different person. The common theme was that somehow or other, the ill treatment someone had received didn’t matter because he had not tried to prevent it. And such pronouncements seem to occur regularly in our world no matter the circumstance.

Although such harsh judgment is often used as an excuse to pick sides, I still wondered at the attitude of those who had pronounced such a verdict. Who is above criticism? And I recalled my youth and the very different response of my own mother to my failings. While acknowledging my wrongdoing, Mom was also a friend who lifted me up and encouraged me to do better.

I remember hearing my mother say that she could have compassion on all people because she knew at one time in their lives, they each had all been a little baby like the ones she had borne. Mom could see that there was some inner good deep down inside everyone but also that each of us makes mistakes. We all sin.

Sacred Scripture shows us that God has an even deeper compassion for all of us. Knowing that God sees all behavior from mankind, I am reassured by these words of forgiveness from our Father in Heaven:

And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you this day, with all your heart and with all your soul; then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes, and have compassion upon you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. (Deuteronomy 30:1-3)

By contrast, Scripture tells us that the devil is the one who is the accuser, locking us into our transgressions.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. … And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. … And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.’ (Revelation 12:7-10)

Can I choose instead to be Mary, the Blessed Mother, who prays for all of her children no matter their current state or their past? Scripture also describes her as a woman opposed to the devil’s tactics:

And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had borne the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness. … Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus. (Revelation 12:13-17)

At the advice of a priest in his homily, I decided to read Mark Twain’s biography of St. Joan of Arc. Beyond the usual impressive fortitude this saint displays is a heart willing to work with all kinds of people in the paramilitary group she brings together in defense of France during the Middle Ages. From Twain’s writing, clearly Joan is one of the few, if not the only one in her group, truly interested in growing in holiness. Immature rambling and a fainthearted faith are some of the general attributes of the members of Joan’s group she uses and accompanies to accomplish the will of God. I believe there is a lot of truth in what Twain portrays, and it is humbling to read of Joan’s firm but fair response to those she works with on a job she never dreamed of having but for God’s call.

If St. Joan of Arc can forgive people’s failings enough to make them her team members for the greater glory of God, maybe we today can look for ways to bring out the good in people, no matter their backgrounds, and encourage their collaboration in a common cause.

No matter a person’s faults, is it fair to define him by his worst moment? Instead of pushing him down, I want to help lift him up and get him started on a better path of life choices. I also do not want to lock a person in his sins and mistakes by glorying in his worst moment and applauding him for it. I want to believe that Christ, in his time, can transform a repentant heart in anyone. Without making excuses for bad behavior, I can choose, if nothing else, to simply pray for a person’s conversion and thank God for his protection from placing me in a similar situation.

St. Joan of Arc, pray for us!