I have been absolutely blessed here at my new parish by their generosity. Admittedly, I am an intern for them, but their gifts of food and attention is remarkable.
In accepting their gifts I was sort of overwhelmed; how could I accept those gifts when I hadn't done much to earn them? I was just one of their new interns. I hadn't given a great sermon and neither had my fellow interns. I hadn't said a comforting word in a hard time. We hadn't been in town for more than two days when we were all introduced to the parish.
I wanted to stop them, to tell them to give me a few days to prove myself. Why would they want to give us stuff if we hadn't shown them we deserved it? We could be a bunch of annoying, self-centered young adults. We could be irresponsible or lack a robust spiritual grounding. We had to accept their gift, though, and accept it without anything to return.
God's grace is the same way; we do nothing to earn it, yet we must accept it. It is in those moments when we cannot give anything that we can learn the depth of God's love. We have nothing to give in return. We can't offer to mow God's lawn in exchange for a casserole or offer to drive an elderly God to the grocery store in return for a box of cookies.
God's grace is undeserved, yes. It's a story most of us hear at one time or another. We don't get to say the rosary daily for a month to get God's grace, and we can't really say a magic prayer to get forgiveness. We have to give up all hope of returning God's grace in order to really understand the real gift we have.
Some people, though, don't have that kind of a conversion story. They didn't have that moment when they were able to feel God's love in the depths of despair or anything of the sort. They never had to walk up to God, empty-handed, and open themselves to God's love so radically. God's always been there, and they've felt it.
But both kinds of people, those with radical conversion stories and those without, both have to recognize their own poverty before God. Those who knew despair have nothing to boast about. An impressive story, an inspiring tale of coming to God, yes, and those kinds of stories can be extraordinarily helpful to those looking for God.
On the other hand, we have a lot to learn from those who didn't have that kind of experience. They don't have that kind of inspiring story that can be sold in a book. They have the boring, prosaic kind of story we still need to hear. It's about growing in God's grace and about living after that conversion. That spiritual high is a great feeling right after conversion; I've converted to multiple faiths and have had that experience over and over. A few months down the road, how much more spiritual are we? Have we grown in religion, have we learned how to live what our religion teaches us? Can we live without the highs of religion after the novelty wears off?
THAT is what the non-converted can teach us. People who have always had God in their lives can teach us a lot about just living in grace. Now, of course, some people have just the trappings and not the substance of the faith just like some people don't truly convert from the depths of their souls but convert for the free toaster. We must sort out the truly inspiring stories of the saints from the dime store inspiration novels. But in listening to converts and cradle Christians we can learn a lot about God's presence in our lives.