Augustine of Hippo shows us that conversion must be a continuous process of growing closer to God.
When we think of Saint Augustine, we think of conversion. He entered the Catholic Church at age thirty-two. It took years before he could actually take that first important step, but that is how we remember Augustine, for that great conversion. Augustine left behind a long life of sin and embraced a life of grace. Not only did he convert to Catholicism, he later became a priest and a bishop. He is now a saint and a doctor of the church.
Likewise, conversion in our own personal lives doesn’t happen only once and for all. We recall that Augustine went through a series of conversions after that first powerful one. He advanced in the faith, step by step. Initially, he knew the faith, but it took him a while to actually accept it with his will and heart, and to respond. God’s call always waits for our response. A conversion can occur, and we turn our lives over to Him, as did Augustine, but the call doesn’t stop there.
We’re not meant to rest permanently at the first step. God wants more. He sees our potential for doing good,for bringing His life into the lives of other; he sees our potential holiness. We, too, desire more of God the more we know Him. We long to widen and deepen the knowledge of the things of God with our mind, and to grow in charity in our heart and soul.
We hope for a will that is mighty enough to be grafted onto and into the very will of God. So conversion is a life-long process where we enter into God’s life, and use those graces to continually draw closer to Him. We need to prepare to surrender. We need to re-evaluate our priorities in this life, which means allowing God to lead, to initiate, and to guide us through these steps of conversion, of change, of response.
St. Augustine had to re-evaluate and make some big changes in his thinking, in his behavior, and in his responding to the challenges of his conversion. Challenges are offered to us, too,to keep us from becoming too lax, too soft, too self-absorbed. Challenges to meet the requirements of conversion are like exercises in the spiritual realm. Prayer is the power that prepares us to meet those challenges, and grace aids us in dealing with them and growing from them.
Conversion is, “putting your hands to the plow and not looking back.”
Augustine had to dramatically break from a lifetime of vice, and later from heresy that misled him as he finally opened his heart to God. His life from vice to grace, from falsehood to truth, from selfishness to charity, from ignorance to wisdom, sets the example of real conversion. God offers all of us the grace for conversion all the time, but too often the response on our behalf is lacking. There are too many distractions, no time for quiet or prayer, a fear of God and what His love might actually ask of us. Most of us fear change. We fear the demands that God might ask of us. We fear losing ourselves even to the Almighty, to a Loving Father. St. Augustine took that fear, and turned it into love; love for God, love for the truth, love for eternal life.
We, too, must be willing, even eager to surrender to the grace of conversion every day. We are called to conversion in surrendering our selfishness, our self-importance, our personal world. We are called to surrender all of this for the world, the Kingdom of God. Like St. Augustine, our hearts can only truly find their rest in Thee… to rest in the heart of God, we must hand our hearts over lovingly to God Who is love. This is the response of conversion.
Sr. M. Michele Jascenia, SCMC
is a religious with the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of the Church and resides at their Holy Family Motherhouse in Baltic, Ct She teaches elementary school and is a freelance writer.