The journey of conversion during Lent - Catholic Courier

The journey of conversion during Lent

During Lent, we’re once again reminded that we’re called to conversion. But what does it mean to be converted?

I’ve written before about my mom’s journey to the Catholic Church. She was raised in a family that did not attend church. But as a teenager, she felt called to visit all of the churches in the town where she lived.

Her mother was tolerant of this quest but drew the line at an old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone tent revival, the kind popular in early 20th-century America. My mother would always remember her mother, marching down the main aisle of the tent and pulling my mom and her little brother out of the front row and marching them back out.

At 16, Mom made her choice and joined the Catholic Church with her little brother.

For some Catholics, that’s what the word "conversion" used to denote. You joined the church, case closed, problem solved. For my mother, no doubt, joining the church wasn’t an end in itself but the place where conversion started.

It was the home where she would struggle and journey with mystery until the end of her life.

Although many people, including some of the great saints, have electric moments of conversion, the Catholic attitude is that conversion, in general, is an ongoing event.

For most Christians, as we acknowledge our salvation in Christ, we recognize that each day calls us to another decision for Christ.

When I visited the Vatican, I climbed the stairs to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s a lengthy hike, with the stairs winding and narrow, particularly as you near the top. But to emerge and view St. Peter’s Square and the city of Rome beyond makes it well worth the effort.

That’s why great spiritual writers sometimes illustrate the faith journey as stair steps. It can occasionally tire us, this daily climb, but it’s the only way to get there. That’s conversion, joyful step by sometimes-weary step.

But we trust the outcome is worth it. We trust that God makes all things new, including us, even though we arrive still not perfect. God provides the perfection.

Of course, history is full of wondrous moments of conversion. St. Paul provides the classic example, being struck blind on the road to Damascus.

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero provides a beautiful moment of conversion within conversion. He already was a good and holy man when the death of a Jesuit friend opened his eyes to the political and economic plight of the poor in El Salvador. Within his vocation, he changed yet again, a change that led to his murder while celebrating Mass.

Sometimes, we all desire a road-to-Damascus experience, a moment of certainty. Sometimes we receive one. Nevertheless, we’re all invited to conversion, even though sometimes we lack fire or direction. Sometimes, we are weary of the journey.

That’s why I like Lent. I’m a person who appreciates structure. The 40-day time frame of Lent is a perfect opportunity for a short course in conversion.

Our church abounds with resources for Lent: Parishes and Catholic websites provide guides, books, classes and special prayer opportunities. Take advantage. Make a plan.

For 40 days, I can commit to a daily prayer time, listening in silence for the God who wants to change me. For 40 days, I can commit to one positive daily action for another in Christ’s name.

For 40 days, I can observe my growth by journaling. Lent provides the structure. I provide the commitment to conversion.

Caldarola is a columnist for Catholic News Service.

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