Calling for a deeper conversion
Updated: Jan 11, 2022
Conversion is not a normal, everyday Catholic word. We have in the past often talked about converts as people who feel drawn to join the Catholic Church but we have rarely applied the word conversion to ourselves. Most of us were baptised as babies and all we have ever known is being Catholic. We do not normally see ourselves as in need of conversion.
Yet every time we acknowledge we have sinned, we see that we are in need of repentance and we hope our openness to God will help us become more holy. Every time we say we are not worthy, we hope and pray that we can become more worthy as time goes on. Each Mass, each Eucharist, we say words that recognise that we are in need of a deeper conversion.
So while conversion is not an everyday word for Catholics, it describes the most fundamental attitude we are called to have as Christians.
We are called to have an ongoing openness to God and to grow in our awareness of God and God’s creation. Our openness to God deepens our awareness of God’s will for us, and for all creation, and we are invited to change so that we respond in a way that reflects God’s will. Because of this, conversion is never a once and for all event but an ongoing lifelong journey.
Each day, each moment, we are called to deeper conversion.
Conversion is more than just a change of mind. It is about the direction we walk, the path we take in life. Our Christian call is to be continually open to God and God’s will for us. Our growing openness to God is what the Christian life is about. We learn about God through the words of Jesus, the experiences of the early church, the insights of the writers and prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, and through the Holy Spirit at work in the Church and the world today. Our task is to be open, to learn and to walk towards God, for it is God who will change us.
Conversion is always an act of God and so we are called to place ourselves in contexts that will make this more likely. We grew up knowing that prayer and works of love and charity are such contexts. Yet over the last century or so, we have recovered from scripture the awareness that contexts where we work for justice and seek to protect God’s creation open us to God and make an ever deeper conversion more possible. Prayer and charity are necessary but so are works of justice and care of creation.
Saint Pope John Paul II first talked about our need for an ecological conversion. Pope Francis took this a step further by helping us see that an ecological conversion also requires a conversion to community and to a new way of structuring our economic relationships.
In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis says that everything is interconnected and uses the term integral ecology to describe this. We cannot protect God’s creation without being committed to the common good and seeking to protect the most vulnerable in our community. We cannot protect creation and those humans most in need without changing our economic priorities and relationships. Our current economic structures place profit ahead of God’s creation and of the needs of the poorest in our midst.
In this year’s Social Justice Statement, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, our Australian Catholic Bishops draw on Pope Francis and talk of this holistic conversion. They see that we need to experience a conversion where we seek a new understanding of the universe and of our human role within God’s creation. We need a new commitment to community and to live more humbly and sustainably for the sake of God and what God has created.
So to be Christian is to be called to an ever deeper conversion. This conversion happens over time and calls for all of us to seek contexts that help us be more open to God. As we learn more about the interconnectedness of God’s creation we come to see the urgency of protecting creation and those who are poor and marginalised.
Laudato Si’ sees that God is present amidst actions protecting our climate, our water, our biodiversity, as well as actions standing with those who are poor and who suffer because of the breakdown of society. God is present when we challenge social, cultural and economic relationships that harm creation and increase inequality. When we open ourselves to God in these contexts we open ourselves to deeper conversion. When we deliberately seek a deeper conversion we are able to work better with God to realise God’s will on earth as in heaven.
Dr David Tutty
First published in Horizon Magazine, Advent edition, 2021
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