A couple of weeks ago, the Church throughout the world celebrated the feast of the conversion of the apostle Paul. I think we are all familiar with the famous account where Paul while on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians is struck down by a blinding light and the voice of Jesus asking why he is persecuting Him. Paul never could have known that day where this encounter with the Risen Lord would lead him.This is the most dramatic account of conversion in the New Testament and shows just how powerful and important the idea of conversion is for all of us who believe.
Many people can point to a moment or experience in their life that began their journey with the Lord. For most people, the experience of conversion is not nearly as dramatic as it was for St. Paul.They may have always practiced the faith and cannot pinpoint a specific moment when they began to believe more strongly. It is instead like a silent evolution of belief that over the years went unnoticed as the Lord worked silently on the heart of the person. Some will speak about how they were raised with the faith but at some point in their life stopped practicing. They talk about coming back as a type of reversion. It can almost seem like in those years that a person no longer practiced that God had sort of given up on them, just patiently waiting for their return.
It seems to me that this misses the mark. Even when a person falls far from the Lord and the practice of their faith, He never gives up on us, but in gentle, subtle ways continues to work on our heart so that when we do come back it is a return to the One Who has never left us. Yet even for the one who is practicing their faith and seeking to live a life in conformity with the Commandments, the work of conversion is never really finished. Our entire life is a deepening of that union with the Lord, a profound and beautiful growth as we see with just a little more clarity the splendor of the One Who attracts us into a relationship of love and eternal communion.
For the one considering a vocation to the priesthood, and indeed after ordination, the man must understand first his own need for deeper conversion before he can effectively minister to others in their journey of faith. It is said that a good penitent makes a good confessor. A man who understands his need for mercy, and his total dependence on the Lord for the ongoing fidelity to his vocation, will be better able to assist those in the sacrament when they come for forgiveness and guidance. But the sacrament is only sought out and truly appreciated if we come with a heart open to the challenging work of conversion and the changes to our life that this may entail. A good examination of conscience before approaching the sacrament and the daily examen prayer can certainly help to identify what areas of my life still are not illuminated by the brilliance of the Gospel. Where does Jesus not have sovereignty in my life? Only by asking these difficult questions can we see where further conversion and growth must happen.
The years of discernment before entering the seminary and then the time spent in formation with a good spiritual director can help the man discerning see where the Lord currently is in his life and where he still needs to invite Him in. As we approach the season of Lent and begin to turn attention to the penitential and prayerful aspects of this grace-filled time, we ask the Lord, all of us as His disciples, to grant us a heart like St. Paul that desires to go deeper in our conversion.