I’ve grown up believing that my primary responsibility as a Catholic is to save my soul. I am in the driving seat; I am in charge of my own salvation. It’s up to me to better myself. Once convinced of my goodness, God will respond by granting me eternal life. When I’m dead any shortfall in the process can be fixed by a spell in purgatory. That is providing I don’t turn my back on God altogether, in which case hell beckons.
My confidence in this process has been eroded over the years by two things: I’m not very successful at being good (I seem to be getting worse rather than better), and this model of the Christian life doesn’t seem to be backed up by the Scriptures. This has led to the realisation that the spiritual life is God-centred, not me-centred. I don’t have to find God. God finds me. And I don’t have to change God’s mind about me. God’s already on my side. All my effort and anxiety is misplaced and redundant.
That realisation is called conversion. And I have a sneaky feeling that I’ve been set up to fail all along; that God himself has been sabotaging my self-improvement programme for quite some time. I’m just a slow learner.
The Carmelite Sister Ruth Burrows describes this very same process: ‘What God is asking is that they should accept to be loved utterly, not because they are good but because God is good. They want to earn his love. They hate to feel that they do nothing for him and must receive love as a free gift.’ (Before the Living God, 1999)
Jesus puts it even better in St John’s Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent: ‘God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.’ (John 3:17)
It begs the question, is it too good to be true?