Conversion, A Decided Struggle

St. Benedict inspired the name of the Black Monks Rugby Team

St. Benedict inspired the name of the Black Monks Rugby Team at Benedictine College

The decision to struggle is part of conversion.  It is a conscious decision to push yourself toward a greater good.  For rugby players and all athletes, the good is a victory.  The struggle is against the opposing team.  For Catholics, the good is radical discipleship in Christ.  The struggle is against sin, especially when the flesh burns.

Like an athlete, a disciple understands there is a cost associated with victory.  Like an athlete, a disciple’s decision to struggle demonstrates his belief that there will be a victory.  Eternal life is worth it.

Saint Benedict made the decision to struggle against sin.  He wanted a deeper conversion.

As a young man,  Saint Benedict “was seized with an usually violent temptation.  The evil spirit recalled to his mind a woman he had once seen, and before he realized it his emotions were carrying him away.” (Dialogues, p. 7)  Has this ever happened to you?

Temptations against chastity, sobriety and excellence are common.  It is consoling to read St. Gregory the Great’s encouraging words, “that temptations of the flesh are violent during youth, whereas after the age of fifty concupiscence dies down.” (Dialogues, p. 9)   Good news, it gets better.  Bad news, what to do before fifty?  Before you realize it, your thoughts and emotions, mind and flesh are racing.  Sin is promising you comfort and freedom from the struggle in your own mind and body.  It is confusing.  It is tempting to not struggle.  At the same time we know when we chose not to struggle we become a spiritual couch potato, not a spiritual athlete.  Don’t be a potato.  We often forget, when you take hold of sin, it will soon take hold of you.  Struggle to reject sin.

Saint Benedict was even tempted to quite discipleship.  Temptation makes discipleship look like the problem.  How often are we tempted to cave to a craving of the flesh?  Vacation from sexual purity or sobriety?  Or, quite a Bible study?  Or, step away from serving those who follow us?

Saint Benedict conquered sin by deciding to struggle.  As his flesh was burning with passion, “he noticed a thick patch of nettles and briers next to him.  Throwing his garment aside…he rolled and tossed until his whole body was in pain and covered with blood.  Yet once he had conquered pleasure through suffering, his torn and bleeding skin served to drain off the poison of temptation from his body.”  (Dialogues, p. 8)  This sounds extreme until you remember the last rugby match, football game, wrestling tournament or cross country competition you competed in.  Athletes and people in every profession constantly decide to struggle.  A disciple decides to struggle against sin in order to align his priorities with God’s priorities.

The decision to struggle!

The decision to struggle is worth every bruise and bloody nose.  Are you holding you back?

What can strengthen you when you decide to struggle?  What can you do when your flesh burns?

When tempted against chastity or sobriety?
-Find people and hang out.  Someone once said if you find yourself alone, surfing the internet, with a beer in your hand…go find the people who love you and spend time with them.
-Go for a walk, run or work-out.
-Walk to a public space.  Pray in chapel.  Study in a lounge.
-Get enough sleep.
-Join a men’s or women’s group and consistently go.

When tempted against excellence?
-Remember Christ was all in.  Ask yourself if you are growing in your love of God?  Am I all in?
-Is there an aspect of my…job, relationships, finances, free-time…where the Lord does not have first place?
-Evaluate if you are motivated by love of God or the need for another’s approval?

Saint Benedict realized the decision to struggle was worth it.  With the help of God’s grace ask yourself if it is your time to decide to struggle in another area of your life.  This is conversion.

Saint Benedict Prayer for the Struggle

Blessed Benedict…
Help me!  I beg you to be my protector.
Dig me out from the mass of sin that buries me,
free me from the ropes of sin that bind me,
loose me from the wickedness that entangles me.
Lift up him who is cast down, strengthen the wavering,
prepare the helpless with spiritual weapons of virtue,
lead and protect him who is fighting in the battle.
Bring me to the victory and lead me to the crown.
-Prayer by Saint Anselm, Benedictine Monk

Conversion, Discipleship and Saint Benedict

Saint Benedict on Subiaco Workshop of Fra Angelico 1400 ; 1455

Saint Benedict at Subiaco
Workshop of Fra Angelico 1400 ; 1455

A first step in conversion is deciding to follow Christ.  The Lord says, “follow me” because he wants to give you a new beginning.  He made you.  He wants you to be happy.  Your decision to follow Christ marks a new beginning for you.  This is called conversion.  Saint Benedict can help us deepen our own personal conversion.

The saints decided to follow Christ in a deeper personal conversion before they were saints.  Saint Benedict did this.  Like college students today, Saint Benedict is studying in Rome.  He realizes he is standing between the world of pleasure and the promises of Christ.  In Rome, he had an all access pass to the best of everything.  He could walk to the Circus Maximus (Nascar), the Colosseum (Super Bowl), or the Forum (Mall of America).  Yet, Benedict’s biography says, “he found many of the students there abandoning themselves to vice…In his desire to please God alone, he…gave up home and inheritance and resolved to embrace the religious life.”  (Dialogues, p. 1-2)  Like so many heroic college students today, Saint Benedict made the decision to follow Christ.

St. Benedict follows Christ and leaves studies in Rome

Benedict decides to follow Christ

Saying yes to Christ, means saying goodbye to worldliness no matter what vocation you are called to.  This is part of conversion.  You may question your decision.  Friend groups, someone you are dating and even family may question your decision.  You might hear them say, “you’ve changed.”  Or, “I like the old you.”  Saint Benedict can help you remember the decision to follow Christ is worth it.  He faced similar judgments.  What did he do?  His biographer, St. Gregory the Great, writes:

“Benedict, however, preferred to suffer ill-treatment from the world rather than enjoy its praises.  He wanted to spend himself laboring for God, not to be honored by the applause of men.” (Dialogues, p. 4)

If you choose God over the applause of the world, Jesus promises you a new beginning.  Here are some ways you can strengthen your decision to follow Christ and deepen your personal conversion:

-Begin meditating 10-15 minutes each day, push for consistency
-Get to confession at least once a month, live free
-Sunday Mass of course, but daily Mass will take you places
-Find friends who support your decision to follow Christ
-Pray for your own conversion in Christ.  Ask St. Benedict for help. Maybe his conversion experience can help you.  Try this prayer:

Saint Benedict Prayer for Conversion

Jesus, good Lord,
consider my affliction and my trouble
and forgive me all my sins.
Hear, O Lord, do not cast me off or forsake me,
but lead me and help me to do your will,
so that my life may attest
what my heart and mouth confess so freely.
Hear the voice of my prayer, my King and my God,
by the merits and intercession of Saint Benedict.
-Prayer by Saint Anselm, Benedictine Monk