by John Hogan, OFM
I would like to suggest that Lent is the season of the liturgical year when we, as Church and as individuals, are asked to make a 40-day retreat and reflect upon our communal and individual call to ongoing conversion. One of my favorite images of conversion is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (5:5): “Hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
The image of God’s love flooding our hearts through the Holy Spirit given us in Christ is indeed an incredible image of conversion. And the heart of Christian life, of course, is conversion. Through the work of the Spirit, conversion enables us to make new judgments and decisions, and to move beyond established horizons into new horizons of knowing, valuing, and acting.
Conversion transforms and affects all relationships. It is not merely a change, or even a development; rather, it is a radical transformation which follows, on all levels of living, an interlocked series of changes and developments. What previously was unnoticed becomes vivid and present. What had been of no concern is a matter of highest importance. So great a change in one’s apprehensions and one’s values accompanies no less a change in oneself, in relationship with others, and in relationship with God.
These changes can be dramatic or slow; intimate, but never solitary; concrete and communal, and dynamic and ongoing. Conversion can happen to many, and they can form a community to sustain one another in their self-transformation, to help one another in working out the implications and in fulfilling the promise of their new life.
My second favorite image of conversion is the awakening of the gifts of the Spirit that challenge relationships to be mutual and courageous. Awakening is the empowerment of the Spirit of Wisdom. Wisdom releases the capabilities of the giftedness in the individual and in the communal experience of conversion.
A permanent process of both turning away and turning inward – turning away from all that intellectually, morally, and spiritually keeps one mired in abusive relationships characterized by domination, control, intimidation, fear, or dishonesty – and turning toward the unlimited grace of God ever calling us to relationships characterized by mutuality, respect, courage, and truthfulness.
In this image, conversion is empowerment and affirmation of one’s strength and responsibility. Conversion is the movement toward the discovery and appropriation of the potential gifts within an individual, group, or society. Our summons is a word of God calling us to appropriate our gifts in the name of Christ for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Christian conversion reorients a person’s whole life to the truth, value, love, and experience of God as brought to us in Christ. The fruit of conversion in the lives of many is a transformation of conscience to loving compassion. The radical religious conversion of Christian conscience finds its fullest realization in loving compassion – the self-transcending perfection of human empathy and justice.
As followers of the Gospel, we are summoned to a life of self-transcendence lived in a life of empathy and justice. Self-transcending love is found to be at the heart of holistic development of the converted Christian. The fruit of conversion is compassion born of reflection on the life of Jesus. The mystery of Christ is seen through contemplation of suffering and through reflection on the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Though we retain the freedom to refuse God’s summons, any movement toward conversion is already the movement of God’s grace within us. The Letter to the Romans assures us that God’s love is poured forth in our hearts (Rm 5:5). We know this mystery as grace, a personal encounter with God. Grace is the Word of God, the self-gift of God, telling us of a God with us and for us.