Lent is a time of purification for me. I wondered at the start of it what that would mean for me this year. Last year, my year of conversion, was dramatic. I did not enter Lent and leave it the same person. The person I was died and I was reborn.
I'll never forget being baptized when I was a little girl. In a white robe, I wandered into a marble baptistry with the hazy light of a dove-shaped wall lamp above my head. The pastor put a white cloth over my face and immersed me backwards into the water. I was later told that I died with Christ and was reborn in Him. What does that really mean to a ten year old? Well, I was told that my soul was to be saved from that point forward. Eternal life was guaranteed. That was something to be happy about. Now, it was time to blow-dry my hair, put my dress back on and rejoin the beaming congregation of our large Baptist church.
Yet, we always have the option to go back to living our will, instead of God's will. God lives outside space and time in a place some philosophers call, "Kairos." He is infinite. But, OUR will is temporal. When we shut the door on God, he isn't exactly going to come and bust the door down. He can't. Free will is so important to Him that he never takes it away from us.
God has extended for us one infinite minute of His mercy and when we would rather follow our own human clock, doing things our way, sometimes our time is up. We missed it.
What do we do when we have willfully left God and want to come back? I know from being Baptist that many people publicly "recommit their lives to Christ." Yet, sometimes that experience can feel weak and lack the intensity of commitment that's really needed and desired.
It would have been really sad if I'd never been able to experience the conversion experience again, and just as powerfully. "Once saved, always saved," is true, in that infinite minute where God lives. But, we are allowed to step out of that realm where God lives. So, we can lose salvation and we do lose it. What happens to us when we turn our back on God? Well, my aunt said, even if we turn our back on God, He won't turn His back on us. And yet, I asked her, "What if I insist? Does he take away my free will?"
The Sinner's Prayer that Baptists and many other protestants use at their moment of being saved is so powerful and dear to a Christian's heart that there is no reason why that prayer could not be prayed around the clock to remind us of our commitment to Christ.. and that's why many Catholics and Orthodox do. We call it the “Jesus Prayer.”
Every Baptist knows it- "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," or one of its longer variants that a person must believe fully at least once with all their heart to assure salvation.
Now, I get to experience that every single day. I get to remember and re-live what it is like to realize I'm a sinner and need God's mercy, desperately. Then, I get to realize He can be my Everything, that He is my Everything and I desire with all of me to give Him my all. Every Catholic mass is designed that way. It is an experiencing of that one infinite minute. That's why at each mass, we acknowledge our sins, followed by the Gloria. The sacrifice of the mass is a not just a re-experiencing of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross- It IS that one, holy infinite minute of experience.
This is also the whole beauty of confession. Any time I want, I can re-experience God's mercy. It isn't really happening over and over, although it may seem that way to me. It's happening once, outside of space and time. Our human minds don't automatically grasp and apply that, so we have sacraments.
Continual conversion means ONE conversion, happening over and over in our minds, yet only once in God's mind. I can't get enough of it, so I go to daily mass. And frequent confession.
That is why, for me, the essence of Catholicism is not repetition of sacrifice in an attempt to "earn" salvation.
Catholicism is a deeper, richer and fuller experience of Christ's salvation.