It’s Never One and Done
Conversion in a perfect world would be as easy as grabbing one sublime moment of divine insight and riding it all the way to heaven.
But we don’t live in a fairy tale. Life in God cannot be static. No matter how long or how hard we try, we’ll be confronted with proof of our own blindness and weakness. We will always find ourselves being called to greater openness, to deeper understanding, to more gut-wrenching gifts of self.
To grow in faith and love for God requires—wait for it—growth. It requires change. In other words, conversion.
It’s tempting to think of conversion as a story about becoming Catholic, the kind you read in a book like Surprised by Truth: 11 Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic (Patrick Madrid, Basilica Press, 1994) or Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism (Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Ignatius Press, 1993)—in other words, a story with a clear beginning and ending. These accounts are fascinating and affirming, but they’re only part of the story. After all, it’s not as if once we receive the sacraments, we’re done. Conversion doesn’t end. It’s a process, not a moment.
Every day God calls us to change, to jettison dearly held opinions and philosophies that, however pure their origins, have morphed into idols. This is no more comfortable for us than it is for the Protestant brothers and sisters God pulls kicking and screaming into the Catholic Church. The difference is that once we’re comfortably ensconced in our Catholicism, we’re more likely to rest on our laurels and bury ourselves in ruts of our own making. In that fabled fairy tale world, faith once claimed carries us serenely over the stormy seas of life—or better yet, tells the seas to be still.
In reality, just when we think we have this Christian-life thing figured out, disaster strikes.
We need these soul-stretching times. Struggling with illness, work stress, or family or marital conflict brings us face-to-face with the truth we learned in the religion classrooms of our youth: There is a supreme power, and we’re not it. We are weak. We can’t stand on our own strength. In times of need, we grow in understanding, patience, and holiness. And isn’t that what conversion really is?
No matter how deep our faith, we must keep growing and changing. Being able to rattle off rules and teachings is not the same as understanding them. Such faith is immature at best and moribund at worst. After all, what hope do rules and regulations have of meeting the challenges posed by a world firmly in the grip of sin?
As we prepare to enter our yearly journey through the desert of Lent, perhaps we can look at this season as an invitation not just to self-denial, but to a lifelong process of conversion.
Kathleen M. Basi is a liturgical composer and freelance writer from Columbia, MO. Her articles about faith, family, and liturgy have appeared in several Catholic magazines, and she has also published octavos for assembly use.