Labeling Our Conversions

I find the expression 'gospel conversion' is spoken of with two distinct meanings, which occasionally are used interchangeably, and thus a source of confusion. In one sense we mean an initial commitment to Christ which is cause for new life through the Sacrament of Baptism and incorporation into the Body of Christ. The term 'convert' applies here if one is experiencing Christian initiation.

In a second and distinct sense, 'gospel conversion' means a renewal or deepening of faith. Often this is experienced as awakening, zeal or renewal of spirit. Other manifestations include the return to (or beginning of) religious practice, realignment of life towards the gospel, purification of sin, etc. Baptized Christians often speak of 'reversion' to signify this delayed or renewed sense of conversion.

The first form of conversion can happen only once, while the second should happen daily. We should distinguish between the two aspects of 'conversion' in order to carry them out meaningfully. If we use them interchangeably without understanding the progression, then we're bound to confuse ourselves and others.

An important point to consider is that for most of us our first 'conversion' happens without our knowledge or consent. With infant baptism the child is initiated into new spiritual life based upon the faith, love and commitment of parents and godparents. Some dissenters are thrown by this fact, but fail to consider that in a very real sense, new spiritual life is transmitted in the same fashion as natural life – through the action of others.

It's very much an act of humility to accept our new life as a true gift with it joys, burdens, and responsibilities; even if we did not chose it directly. With new life (both natural and spiritual) we are impelled necessarily to grow beyond the seed. And we must grow in Christian values through attachment to the source of life, the 'true and living vine' spoken of in John 15:1-6.

Ongoing conversion is the process of daily transformation (Franciscans say conformation) to Christ. Part of the 'ongoing conversion experience' involves awareness initially, and then a call to action. In many ways our paths are similar (devotion to prayer, liturgy and sacraments), but in other ways are paths are unique, with the Lord calling us to particular vocations and specific tasks; all with the purpose of bringing about the Kingdom of God here on Earth.

Here is an article from the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order regarding our union with Christ through conversion "…let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls 'conversion'. Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily. On this road to renewal the Sacrament of Penance is the privileged sign of the Father's mercy and the source of grace. (Article VII – SFO Rule) Clearly the first form of conversion/initiation is presumed and the focus is on conversion as transformation and renewal which includes reconciliation.

Those of us who have fallen away or lapsed from church attendance and practice, often remember with great joy some moment of return and reinstatement. For many, the renewal is so great as to create a sense that the past was all for naught. But in fact, grace builds upon grace and renewal builds upon foundations; even those unseen. For Catholics, with our practice of infant baptism, we have the inspiration to impart new spiritual life based upon the faith, love and commitment of others (parents and godparents), all with the hope that our new members will take up their own 'ongoing conversion' as they mature.


Daughter Of St.Francis said...

I have been reading your blog and am finding it very enlightening. I am currently discerning a call as a member of one of the Lay Franciscan groups, Confraternities, or Associations.
Pax et Bonum

KAM said...

What a great insight on an event in one's life that is hard to explain to others, never mind one's self. My wife and I will profess this October, God willing, and it has been, still is and ever will be a challenge. The Way of The Lord is a challenge, as it should be. None of us can imagine just how small that eye of the needle is until he or she walks that path. We have been blessed with a wonderful group of Seculars to help guide our small group, plus our Franciscan friars.
I'll continue checking in with your writings and musings. I have you on my favorites! Enjoy the final days of Lent and have a blessed Easter season. Peace Be To You! k

Tausign said...

Dear DOSF:
Thank you for stopping by...may the Lord give you great insight into discerning a vocation. You might try one of my past posts: "Finding Your Spiritual Family" listed in the archive of posts. Peace and all good.

Tausign said...

Dear KAM:
We're ever grateful for new professions; blessings to you and your wife. Thanks for stopping by. Peace and all good.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the post! "Conformation" to Christ leads to intimate knowledge of God, what St. Bonaventure called "contuition."

Pax et bonum!

Ralf said...

Dear Tausign,

I'm hoping for new posts!

Tausign said...

Hi Ralf,
I've slowed down abruptly with my reflections and just felt generally distracted. I've been away from the blogosphere for months now. I think it's time to pick up the keyboard and start again. Thanks for the nudge.