Saul's Conversion Print
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 25 January 2008 11:42

Tom Shanahan, SJ, comments on the readings for today at Creighton University's Daily Reflection. Among other things he notes,
The drama of the entrance to Damascus is all about conversion. In Saul/Paul’s case the conversion was immediate and historically decisive. He was baptized; he preached in the Synagogue at Damascus; he recognized and proclaimed vigorously that Jesus was the Son of God. What an incredible turnabout!

For most of us the conversion, the turnabout, is more gradual and much less dramatic. Conversion is a process and a process takes time and effort to be properly effected; it is not a once and for all situation.

Actually conversion is a lifetime project. A dramatic conversion story like Paul’s invites each of us to reflect on where we are along the line of that process, and how we might enhance or open ourselves to enhancement of that most important project of our lives. Ultimately our conversion has to do with relationship: the relationship with Jesus the Christ, the object of our Christian faith.

Absolutely, correct, Fr. Shanahan!

However, I would like to point out something; a basic presumption that I have heard many Catholics say over and over again - myself included. "Conversion is a lifetime project." So true. But what is the length of my lifetime - ahh, that's the rub! My parents are 85, and up until a few years ago were in remarkable health. My aunt is 90, and as spry as can be. But am I guaranteed so much time to ripen?

Saying "conversion is a lifetime project" has been for me an excuse to not take conversion very seriously; to presume that it'll just happen so long as I don't do anything extremely bad, or stop going to Mass, or quit being nice. Slowly and gradually I'll become like St. Paul - willing to travel the world and speak fearlessly of my relationship of love with Jesus of whom I will be able to say, "I no longer live; Christ is living within me." Unfortunately, I might be 80 by that time, and somewhat limited in my mobility. Unlike my parents, I might have some dementia. "I no longer live; someone else is living in me... oh, what's his name again?"

Saul's conversion was so dramatic, I believe, because he was so zealous for God and his Jewish faith. There were plenty of Pharisees in his day, but not all of them were willing to take their life in their hands and travel cross country to apprehend heretics (i.e., Jewish converts to Christianity). No, perhaps Saul's conversion was so profound and so rapid, and perhaps the Lord Jesus spoke to him in a blinding light because He knew He could put that zeal to good use. He could "convert it" to His own plans.

Am I really undergoing conversion day-by-day if I'm not passionate about a relationship with God? Fr. Shanahan correctly points out that conversion has to do with my relationship with Jesus, but as I look back on my life, my closest friendships and deepest loves have been - and are - with people with whom I have consciously pursued a relationship. They didn't "just happen." I wasn't content to let them grow untended, haphazardly, or without conscious effort on my part. I had to spend time with them, learn about them, grow in trust, take occasional risks and be vulnerable. Isn't it much the same with our relationship with Jesus?

Conversion means a turning away from direction we were heading. It means turning from ourself towards Jesus and our neighbor. Considered that way, no wonder we're content to let conversion be a life-long project. But is that what God wants for us? If my behavior is selfish, self-destructive, detrimental to loving human relationships, and contributes to the injustice found in the world, should I be content with a slow, inexorable turn like that of the Titanic from the iceberg? (I find it kind of ironic that the pain and suffering so many people endure is considered an argument against the existence of God. Often, pain is one of the clearest signs of God trying to wake us up and turn toward him.)

Yeah, perhaps dramatic conversions like Saul's are rare in our day. Maybe that's a problem.