Sometimes we might not pay that much attention to the word conversion. Perhaps we think: “I have been Catholic my whole life, I have no need of conversion.” Perhaps we think: “Okay, I converted to Catholicism, or I converted back to Catholicism after doing my own thing for a number of years, but that was a one-time event.” Yet, in all honesty, the entire Christian life is one ongoing process of conversion as we, with the help of God’s grace, convert more and more to the ways of Christ.
On January 25, Catholics throughout the world celebrated the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles. It is a day that honors the conversion of that zealous persecutor of the early Christians, the one who was not only present but was even consenting to the martyrdom of St. Stephen. We honor St. Paul’s conversion from persecutor of Christ, to preacher of Christ. We honor a man who converted from the ways of death to the way of life. The same man who once desired the death of Christ’s followers became the one who showed others that Christ is the way to everlasting life.
Let’s think about St. Paul’s conversion. St. Paul experienced the light of Christ in a way that was so overwhelming that he was temporarily blinded, St. Paul was then baptized, and then he spent some time in the desert. Perhaps St. Paul took this time to come to grips with his newfound identity as a follower of Christ.
Our lives are marked by profound moments of conversion – just like St. Paul’s. Our major moments of conversion are the three sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and first Holy Communion. But just because we received these three sacraments of initiation does not meant that we become, all at once, the ideal disciples of Christ. As part of our ongoing conversion, we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Each time we go into the confessional and receive God’s forgiveness, we undergo another conversion.
True conversion can also be painful. St. Paul left behind his former life as a tyrannical persecutor of Christians to become, of all things, a Christian. We could imagine that this was a deep wound to his pride. Yet, St. Paul’s experience of the Risen Lord gave him the confidence and strength to swallow his pride.
In what ways are we still in need of conversion? Do we need to replace our pride with humility; our anger with mildness; our greed with detachment; our lust with a chaste spirit; our envy with a joy for the talents of others; our sloth with zeal; our gluttony for temperance?
When we reflect on the radical nature of St. Paul’s conversion, we realize just how powerful the light of Christ is, just how powerful God’s grace is. In light of this past Tuesday’s 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in our country, we pray for the conversion of the hearts and souls of those who support abortion at the expense of the precious gift of life in the womb.
We pray also for ourselves – that we may be open to God’s Word calling us to a deeper conversion. With regard to this lifelong project of conversion, we have to have a certain amount of patience. As St. Francis de Sales put it: “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them – everyday [with the help of God’s grace] begin the task [of conversion] anew.”