The Word Among Us

June 2019 Issue

The Year of New Habits

Changes that set my heart on fire for Jesus.

By: Joe Rottenborn

The Year of New Habits: Changes that set my heart on fire for Jesus. by Joe Rottenborn

For some reason not yet entirely clear to me, I began my conversion just a couple of years ago. Although I remember hearing the term “conversion” in church, I never thought it applied to me. “Convert,” I thought, is what non-Catholics do when they join the Church.

But even though I was a cradle Catholic, I realized that I needed conversion too—the kind that opens a person’s eyes and helps them to perceive the world in a whole new way. So it was that I celebrated New Year’s Day in 2017, a Marian feast, by asking Jesus’ mother, “Please set my heart on fire with love for Jesus.”

I didn’t yet grasp the importance of conversion, but God still answered that prayer. He knew better than I did how important it was.

Changing My Habits. I started acquiring new habits around the time that I prayed to be set on fire. As my habits changed that year, so did I.

First, I prayed more frequently each day. Indeed, I pursued St. Paul’s advice to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I found it helpful to establish a regular routine that helped me turn my focus to God at particular times throughout the day. While eating breakfast, for example, I read my favorite biblical quotations. Later in the day, at three o’clock, I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet. These weren’t just items on my to-do list. As I made more time for God, he started showing me his love.

I had always prayed the Rosary. But 2017 was the hundredth anniversary of the Blessed Mother’s apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, so I tried to pray the Rosary more, even while I jogged. I didn’t always reach my goals, but I tried to.

Perhaps like many Catholics, I had never read the whole Bible. The year of my conversion, I made some progress by reading two chapters daily. I used a highlighter to mark noteworthy passages that I found. Then when I went to Mass and heard the Scripture readings, the words spoke to me. I no longer consider myself ignorant of the Bible.

Around this time, I also began going to regular monthly Confession. I discovered why the Catechism calls it the “sacrament of conversion” and “the first step in returning to the Father” (1423). I started to recognize patterns in my life, like my habitual lateness for Mass and a sometimes contentious relationship with certain relatives. Each month, I made efforts to change and do better.

Marveling at the Mass. Of all the new habits that I began, attending daily Mass was the most helpful. Mass became spiritual nourishment for me. I started to notice a new link to God in each part of the liturgy.

When the Liturgy of the Eucharist began, I marveled that the “Lord God of all creation” would become present through the simple request of the priest. As the congregation prayed to “God, the almighty Father” that “the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name,” I felt humbled. During the sign of peace, I waved to other daily Mass attendees and I welcomed the peace of Christ. Indeed, I longed for it.

Before receiving Communion, I prayed the Act of Contrition to prepare my soul for Jesus. Immediately afterward, I said this prayer of thanksgiving, which has evolved over time:

I love you, Jesus. I glorify and praise you, dear Lamb of God. Thank you for coming into my soul today. Please let me become what I consume, since you and your Father are one. I also thank you for bringing the Holy Spirit into my soul and giving me grace to follow your will. Oh, Jesus, please help today those most in need . . .

In a special way, I started to experience what the Church promises is the “fruit” of Holy Communion, the deeper union with Christ that he promised when he said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:56). Simply by going to Mass more often, I started to get more from the Mass—and from Jesus who is present there.

God Is at Work In You. Today my Catholic faith burns hotter than it ever has because I’ve grown to have a more personal relationship with God. Now, I better understand St. Paul’s words: “God the one who . . . works in you” (Philippians 2:13). The most wonderful part is that God’s work in me is something that my family can see.

Since my conversion, I’ve become more attentive to my wife and to the needs of our home. When I am watching sports on television, for example, I stop to put away dishes or take out the recycling. The words from 1 Corinthians 13 that we said on our wedding day in 1971 are closer now to reality: I have changed in small ways to become more kind, humble, and even-tempered.

These days, I try to leave earlier for church and to understand my relatives’ perspective instead of reacting hastily. I’ve also gotten more involved at my parish, supporting our Catholic school and promoting it on social media. All of this seems to trace back to God working in me as I leaned more on him.

Praise for Progress. At the end of 2017, I looked back at a devotional message from twelve months earlier. It urged me to make the year a time of growing in holiness. It recommended setting apart more time for prayer in my everyday life in order to come into God’s presence. And it ended with a call to “display that love to the world.”

Without realizing it, that is what I had done during my year of conversion. Praise be to God!

Joe Rottenborn, EdD, lives in Salem, Ohio, with his wife, Cindy.