In our first post on moral conversion, we discovered that happiness is the good which all men seek, but happiness that comes from pleasure or even success, is not enough to sustain us. In order to reach higher levels of happiness, we must look beyond ourselves. Although on the surface this looking beyond may not appear to be related to the topic of moral conversion, the two concepts are essentially one in the same.
The 20th century Jesuit, Bernard Lonergan, wrote extensively on conversion. He distinguished three complementary forms of conversion – spiritual, moral, and intellectual. Spiritual conversion is the process of an ever deepening entrance into the realm of transcendence, in which God is known and loved, moral conversion is a process of withdrawal from self-enclosure to self-transcendence and self-communication (i.e., looking beyond yourself), and intellectual conversion is an effort to reach Truth in one’s intellectual positions. Although our primary focus in this series is moral conversion, it’s virtually impossible to look at one form of conversion in isolation from the other two.
As an example of this inter-relatedness, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, lays down a path for moral conversion in his work, the Spiritual Exercises. From this work comes Ignatian spirituality, a path to moral conversion through spiritual conversion.
Overcoming temptation and living a life of virtue is no simple task. As the CCC tells us, “It is not easy for man, wounded by sin, to maintain moral balance. God offers us the grace necessary to persevere in the pursuit of the virtues.” Thus, spiritual conversion frequently precedes moral conversion because the closer we are to God (spiritual conversion) the more we will want to please Him in our thoughts, words, and actions (moral conversion).
St. Ignatius recognizes that if we truly make knowing and loving God our ultimate goal, then we will direct everything else – health, riches, honors, and a long life — to the end for which we were created – eternal life with the Lord of unconditional love.
For St. Ignatius, then the first step in moving from spiritual to moral conversion is to subordinate all worldly pursuits – the pursuit of health, wealth, honors, and a long life to prayer and discipleship for the Lord. This will enable us to continuously ask the question “Is this particular pursuit interfering with my desire to know and love God?” If so, then I have to find a way of ceasing (or modifying) it so that it won’t interfere with my spiritual progress or the progress of others whose lives I touch. Take a moment and think of anything in your life that is holding you back from God. This “stripping away” is the first step to moral conversion, but it is something we must do often. Be patient with yourself and others. The journey to moral mastery is not a short sprint but rather a marathon with many obstacles.
In the next post, we will look at the inner struggle between what St. Paul calls the “old self or man” and the “new self”.
Michelle Miller is a regular contributor to the Magis Center blog