And how can we keep our conversion going?
A bishop formerly employed by the Roman curia met with John Paul II shortly after his appointment as the head of a diocese. The pope asked him: “What is the biggest problem you face in your diocese?” The bishop replied, “There are several of them, Holy Father, but the biggest of them all is the conversion of the bishop!” To which the pope replied with a knowing smile: “So, it is in Rome!”
The process of conversion after baptism requires that we plunge ever deeper into divine love.
Our initial conversion is a consequence of baptism. It’s a gift of divine life, the gift of a loving communion with the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Our life as a “new being” begins with the salvation generously offered to us by God.
The second conversion consists in leading this new life of grace. Love must be at the heart of this process. But it’s not just any kind of love. It is an unyielding, tough love, the kind that demands we give our lives for God and others. The Bible refers to this love as agape: or the highest form of selfless love that God puts in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
The process of conversion after baptism requires that we plunge ever deeper into this Divine love. It consists in harvesting its spiritual fruits, which are joy and peace. It’s the compassion embodied in our relationships with others. St. Thomas defined sin as an act of turning away (aversio) from God and breaking the moral standards He set for us. The act of true conversion (conversio) consists in constantly turning ourselves to God and in manifesting love for His creatures through Him.
Conversion first demands that we change our mindset.
The Greek word that defines this kind of conversion is metanoia. For Pope Benedict XVI, it means “to rethink – to question one’s own and common way of living; to allow God to enter into the criteria of one’s life.”
“Conversion (metanoia) means: to come out of self-sufficiency, to discover and accept one’s poverty –poverty of others and of the Other, of His forgiveness, of His friendship. The unconverted life is self-justification (I am no worse than the others); conversion is the humility to rely on the love of the Other, a love that becomes a measure and a criterion of my own life,” he said.
The Desert Fathers have demonstrated that those who can’t undergo the metanoia will be forced to live in a state of paranoia: a self-destructive fixation on oneself. From the medical point of view, paranoia is defined by a disproportionate sense of self-importance, suspicion, cognitive rigidity, and unsociability.
But first, conversion demands that we change our mindset: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2).
We must want to lead this new life, to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5); “until we all become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph.4:13).
Father Nicolas Buttet
Prayer to St. Joseph for conversion