Saturday, May 4, 2024

“May-the-4th Be With You?” Alec Guinness Found Grace

May the Fourth be with you.” This year the old joke makes me chuckle.

I am currently finishing up writing my monthly column for Magnificat on the story of Sir Alec Guinness (the actor who played Obi-Wan Kenobi and many other great roles on screen and stage). His real-life journey took him on a greater adventure than any of his movies. 

I have been working with lots of material from biographies, memoirs, and letters. It is a very moving story of grace and humanity. As is so often the case, my little two page column (coming up in the December 2024 issue) cannot do justice to the story of how Alec (and, soon after, his wife Merula) first found faith in Jesus, and then were drawn to the fullness of belonging to Jesus in His Catholic Church.

I am doing my best to shine a light on these “stories” of conversion, hoping to inspire others to continue and expand this work. Conversion is a miracle of supernatural grace, and it's something that happens to real and concrete human persons who live (or have lived) in specific moments in history. Only God knows all the mysterious interior details of anyone's "conversion story," but we can glimpse many "signs" on the path of a person's life that can inspire us and fill us with wonder and gratitude. 

I think it helps to point out more fully the particularity (and, indeed, the peculiarity) of every person called by the Lord (conversion doesn’t eliminate a person’s individual character but—on the contrary—renews and deepens it). It also helps to see the incredibly diverse circumstances that have led people to their encounters with Christ.

Jesus is at work all through the world, and He knows how to bring us to Himself. Writing these articles every month for a dozen years, I have chronicled a lot of conversions from every part of the world, from every period in history, and I have seen that God our Father loves each of us (and all of us) in ways beyond anything we can imagine. He seeks us and sends His Son Jesus to find us and bring our hearts near to Him

Whatever wretched unhappy condition we find ourselves in, God wants us to draw near to Him in our hearts. He loves us! His love will open our hearts and place within them the beginnings and the increase of our capacity to love Him and one another.

Conversion happens when people stay with the One whose Heart has woven the mystery of Infinite Love into the fabric of human history from within—inside history, inside relationships and communion. Our very freedom itself can be made whole, rejuvenated, changed. 

Stay with Him. Don’t run away and try to hide in the vortex of your own loneliness. Or, if you do run away, turn back and draw near to Him once again. Stay as close to Him as you can, with your heart. Inside that “staying” there is the beginning of a prayer fashioned by the Holy Spirit—God who creates and sustains your heart to love Him and be free—a prayer already rising up within you, a prayer that opens your heart if you permit it; and then the Lord can begin to heal and renew your heart.

Time is a mystery in all of this. It took a long time for Alec Guinness to “find” the fullness of Christ’s Catholic Church, just as it took time—sometimes a whole lifetime—for many others I have written about. Grace made paths for them to walk, and that grace was able to be effective because they stayed with Christ according to what they knew, according to what struck them and convinced them as they encountered His presence in their lives. They didn’t “go away.” They didn’t close themselves up to the working of the Spirit, or—at least—they didn’t remain closed. They allowed themselves to be “led onward” by what Newman called the “Kindly Light.”

Staying with Christ, asking, following. This is what makes for Conversion. It also deepens conversion and trust—and this is what we all need.

We are all “Great Conversion Stories” in the making. Lord, have mercy on us!