The word 'conversion' can be used to mean a lot of things: You can convert currency, convert your attic into a bedroom, convert feet to metres, temperatures, covert a try and even yourself! What's common to all these uses is that conversion involves some sort of change.
Often people speak of conversion in terms of a St Paul-like experience, when something dramatic happened to them which made them reevaluate what they were doing and how they were doing it. Whatever this experience was, it was enough to wake them up. It could have been an encounter with illness, poverty, death or some kind of spiritual experience on a pilgrimage, retreat or during quiet prayer. That's one type of conversion but not the only one.
Small, yet deeply profound, conversions happen to us all the time. Everytime we encounter another person we are converted in someway: we learn a little bit more about ourselves and about others. We grow, slowly, in the direction of wholeness and that's what conversion is all about. When you convert your attic or kitchen, it's usually because you need more space. Spiritual conversion is no different. As we make our way through life, we expand and we need more space. The process of conversion allows us to look at the aspects our our lives that we can build upon and those that can be demolished.
I believe conversion is a process, whether it is the St. Paul type or not. To begin with we need to have an awareness of a world beyond ourselves. That there are people, around the world, that we are connected to through our shared humanity. Their suffering is our suffering to. We also need to have an awareness that we are spiritual beings. Spirituality is as much apart of our DNA as anything else. This awareness allows us to be open to experiences and not to just float through life in a trance. It allows us to really experience what we experience and to grow as a result. We have to want to be in the conversion process. We have to want to grow as human beings in the image and likeness of God. We have to want to love one another as we are each loved by God. Finally, we have to work at it. Conversion is a process and so each day we take steps that bring us closer to God and to each other.
Conversion and vocation are intimately linked. Often, it is through engaging in a process of conversion, that we begin to hear the still small sound inside which calls us to follow Christ, in a particular way. Pope Francis, in his message to launch the day of prayer for vocations, speaks of the importance of listening. We listen to a voice, God's voice. This is quite a special thing if we stop and think about it for a second: God is speaking to us and all we have to do is to listen. This shows how close God is to us and how important we are to God. The sound of God's voice is constant yet often we have turned up the volume on other noise which drowns it out. The Desert Fathers often said 'In silence you will know yourself and know your God'. Pope Francis also speaks of creating the right environment to allow a vocation to grow. This begins in the family home, in school, among friends, at work, in our parish and most importantly, in our own hearts. It is in the silence of a listening heart that we will hear the awesome still sound of God's voice calling each of us by name to 'come follow me'.
Br Martin OFM Cap