Today is also – ironically- the birthday of one of my best friends from Seminary. We met in Grad School and I was fascinated by his story. Himself a convert, he was raised in a completely non-religious family, and out of the clear blue sky found himself in a Catholic Church one day. As he always used to say, “You know how people talk about little old ladies praying for the conversion of sinners? I’m proof that it works.” His story is truly a testimony to faith, and the power of the Lord's call, even when we least expect it: not very different from that of Paul!
The entire story of Christianity is the story of conversion. In the Apostolic era, individuals encountered Christ in a powerful way, and it brought about a radical experience of conversion. For many, it led to their willingly shedding their blood. Converts often have a passion for the faith that us “lifers” sometimes lack. Ever wonder why?
A convert encounters Christ in the Sacraments with an open and adult heart, eagerly soaking up the grace that God offers us. Those of us who were lifers, often had our own interests and ideas weighing down our hearts, which blocked the way of God’s grace, until those roadblocks were removed. Most of us spend our whole lives trying to remove them.
Conversion is not an appealing idea. To embrace it with the same radical passion as the first Christians we have to willingly accept a world view that is contrary to the culture in which we live! Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us – that’s hard to do in a world where our every angry thought can be expressed with a meme or a gif with the click of a mouse. He calls us to put him before all else, and to recognize that he is with us working out his marvelous plan of grace even through our darkest moments. That’s a tough pill to swallow in a world where technology strives daily to make our lives as easy as possible: we tell a computer named “Alexa” to turn the radio on and off, we tell Siri where we need directions to, and we can control the temperature, lights, garage door, and even the locks to our home right from our iPhone. In a world of convenience, how do we embrace a life that demands patience and often suffering?
My sisters and brothers every single one of us is a convert in progress! We strive each day to walk closer with Jesus, but with each step we take with him, we take a step away from the world around us. Such a notion is frightening at times…but isn’t it so worth it?
A Priest friend of mine was talking to me the other day about his experience during Eucharistic Adoration. He was describing how when he first started doing it he didn’t entirely know what to do. Now he recognizes that he really doesn’t need to do anything. That’s the beauty of it! He was speaking about how he now easily spends an hour or even two just being in the Lord’s presence: enjoying the respite from the world in which we live. He described it as a continual “sinking deeper and deeper in love and peace.” What a beautiful description. The more we long for that love and peace…the more time we spend in it…the more our hearts let go of the call of the world and embrace the call of Jesus.
As we celebrate this day in honor of Saint Paul, may each and every one of us answer our own call to conversion with increasing vigor! The answers we look for in life can all be found in the heart of Jesus – may we all find the grace to stop looking for them everywhere else!