The Franciscan friar preaching at a parish mission I once attended talked about the lack of vocal zeal by some Catholics. He made the remark as part of a running joke about how his preaching had elicited a boisterous "Amen!" from the back of the room by a recent convert to the Catholic Faith.
When he returned to the topic of zeal again later, I thought I'd throw him a bone after one particularly good point, and let go with a loud, "Amen!" myself. The room chuckled and the good friar turned to face me asking, "Appreciate that did you? Are you a convert?" The room chuckled again, and I merely answered, "No, Father, I'm a cradle Catholic."
"Well, that is a welcome surprise," he retorted, "An Amen! from a Catholic!" He smiled and returned to his homily about the need to conform ourselves to Christ, and to take in the full meaning of Lent.
After some thought about that exchange between the good friar and me, I realized I didn't answer him correctly when he asked if I was a convert. What I should have said in answer to his question is, "Yes, Father. Everyday."
You see, despite the fact that Christ has granted me the grace to be perfect in holiness, I'm just not there yet. I have accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and I have no doubts about my place in the universe, but sometimes I forget to do what I'm supposed to do. That is to say, sometimes I think I know what's best for me and I forget to listen to the voice of our Lord.
That's when I need conversion.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines conversion this way: "Conversion requires convincing of sin; it includes the interior judgment of conscience, and this, being a proof of the action of the Spirit of truth in man's inmost being, becomes at the same time the start of a new grant of grace and love: 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' Thus in this 'convincing concerning sin' we discover a double gift: the gift of the truth of conscience and the gift of the certainty of redemption. The Spirit of truth is the Consoler." (#1848)
Conversion is not a discreet activity, it is a continuing process. Some moments are more conspicuous than others. Surely the first time someone recognizes Jesus for Who He truly is, it becomes a "significant emotional event," and is remembered as the moment of conversion. But giving one's life over to Christ doesn't complete one's conversion; it merely begins the journey.
St Paul, the great evangelizer of the Gentiles, understood that "abiding in Christ" (cf. Jn 15:4) was not a once-and-you're-done sort of thing. He wrote in his letter to the church at Corinth, "No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified." (1 Cor 9:27)
St Paul understood that while it is important to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, it was only the beginning of a Christian's road to Heaven. Conversion is following a constant path to holiness throughout one's life. Furthermore, salvation is a guarantee only to those who finish the race, in other words, remain in the friendship of Jesus Christ to the end. Certainly, He will never remove His outstretched hand, but we must cooperate with Him and take His hand. In other words, St Paul taught that we can't earn our salvation, but we can surely loose it.
It's easy to loose our way in our modern world. Our culture is awash with filth and false teachers. Sadly, the cultural revolution in the 1960s and '70s has brought only darkness and pain masquerading as joy. Even the most committed Christian can be confused and make a wrong turn.
Conversion, then, is the singular grace of a loving Father. We recognize our own need for Him and continuously seek Him out. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a beautiful way to train our hearts to be open to conversion daily. St Paul compared the Christian life to an athlete training for the Olympics, "Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one." (1 Cor 9: 25) Just as an athlete has to understand his weakness so as to train himself to improve his performance, we have to name our own sins and seek the grace to overcome them.
In our human weakness, it is easy to lose our way. The Good News is that we are so loved, that no matter how intense the suffering, we can count on the faithful offer of grace for daily conversion.
And each day that we re-commit ourselves to abide in Christ, we take one more step closer to eternal life with Him.
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