By James Hanvey, SJ - Secretary for the
Service of Faith, General Curia
[From "Jesuits 2021 - The Society of Jesus in the world"]
are born Christian or have become Christian, conversion is a central experience
for everyone with a living faith. There would be no Christian community without
it. In whatever way conversion actually happens, in a sudden moment or quietly
and gradually over time, as event or process, it changes a life. There will be
a new direction, energy and purpose. There will be a sense of peace and
integrity in living the reality of faith, which does not diminish over time,
even under the pressure of opposition. In many ways, “the ordinary” can remain
but, somehow, we inhabit it in another way. The one thing that all
“conversions” have in common is an encounter with the living reality of Christ.
In this sense, conversion is always a turning to him.
though it may take many different forms, every genuine experience of conversion
will reflect some common dimensions.
First, it will be experienced as a grace, that is, something that is given and
has not come directly from ourselves and our own desires no matter how well
intentioned. Of course, we will all experience many changes in our lives, some
we have wanted and initiated, others not sought but which circumstances have
made necessary. With conversion, however, we recognise something different.
Even when it is mediated, it will always have the character of something that
comes to us from another. There will be a sense that we are “summoned”. At the
same time, though it may have its own force and logic, genuine conversion
cannot be imposed; rather, it invites our “fiat”, our assent and consent.
that in the Christian tradition, conversion will always have the structure of a
relationship. It must entail the affect and the will as well as the intellect.
It is more than a “eureka” moment of insight, no matter how momentous and
original this may be. In this respect, as Fr. Pedro Arrupe says, it not only
has the power of falling in love, but staying in love, and letting that love
become the raison d’être of one’s
life. Far from removing us from the world, such experiences of conversion open
up another way of living in it more intensely and appreciatively.
how, with all those we meet in Scripture or in the subsequent history of the
Church, conversion is never a call to a solitary journey. It is the entry into
a community, which is itself the fruit of conversion.
Second, conversion effects a change. In this way, the reality of
conversion becomes incarnate in the circumstances of a life; it becomes a
shaping force, giving a new sense of purpose and direction. As such, it reaches
out to other lives and has an effect on them. Over time it becomes more stable
by building up new patterns of acting and relating. It becomes a “habit” or “a
way of proceeding”. Nevertheless, conversion is never just a change of
behaviour it also needs to become interior transformation: a new way of
perceiving and understanding, a new mind and heart.
well as transforming an existing culture, conversion often has the power to
generate a new one. In doing so, it becomes an effective grace for others by
creating the relationships, the cultures or environments through which others
may discover and embrace redemptive and generative change in their own lives