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LIVING IN THE LIGHT Spirituality for the Lay Person The Joyful Journey of Conversion Dr. Patricia Cooney Hathaway P ope Francis is calling us to a conversion of mind and heart so that rooted in the values of Jesus we will form a band of joyful missionary disciples committed to spreading the good news of the gospel. That task is easier said than done. Conversion is never a once-and-for-all achievement but a journey to integration and authenticity that takes a lifetime. In his writing on conversion, Fr. Bernard Lonergan, SJ, describes three modes of conversion that serve as a criteria for distin- guishing between authentic and inauthen- tic conversions. He states that conversion is not merely a change or even a develop- ment; rather, it is a radical transformation that follows on all levels of being: religious, moral, and intellectual. Such conversion, he emphasizes, is found in our experience. As such, it is per- sonal to each one of us. Let’s take a look at how each mode of conversion finds expression in the life of a few special friends of God. RELIGIOUS CONVERSION Father Lonergan describes religious con- version as a falling in love with God in an unrestricted fashion. It involves the discov- ery of God as real. Dorothy Day describes such an experience when she was seven years old. She was playing with her sis- ter, Della, in the attic of their family home when she came upon a musty old bible. She began reading the Bible to her sister: “Slowly, as I read, a new personality im- pressed itself on me. I was being introduced to someone. I knew immediately that I was discovering God. Here was someone that I had never really known before and yet, felt to be One whom I would never forget, that I would never get away from.” Dorothy knew her life would be forever changed. She spent the rest of her life serv- ing God in the poorest of the poor through the Catholic Worker Movement. INTELLECTUAL CONVERSION An intellectual conversion takes place when a person radically changes his or her way of looking at reality. It involves the search for truth, an unrelenting desire to un- derstand and find the meaning of one’s life. Thomas Merton’s search for truth inten- sified when he began studies at Columbia University. One afternoon, while browsing in a book store, he picked up the book The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy by Etienne Gilson. This Neo-Scholastic philosophy of God was the first understanding of the Christian God he had ever encountered. The philosophy was not a simplistic an- thropomorphism. Its concept of Aseitas, God is Being Itself—that is, the power of a Being to exist absolutely in virtue of itself— would revolutionize his whole life. “I had never had an adequate notion of what Christians meant by God,” Merton explains. This way of thinking about God dismantled his former image of God as “a dramatic and passionate character, a jeal- ous, hidden being.” The rest, we know, is history. Merton’s conversion to a Christian concept of God, one that his brilliant intellect could accept, was the beginning of his eventual entrance into the Catholic Church, his monastic vocation as a Trappist, and his becoming one of the most influential spiritual writers of the twentieth century. MORAL CONVERSION Moral conversion leads to a conscious shift in our criteria for decision-making from self-satisfaction to the pursuit of value. It pursues self-consistency between the val- ues one affirms and the deeds one lives by. Surely one of the most well-known sto- ries of the journey to moral conversion is found in the life of St. Augustine. He strug- gled for years with a passionate nature that pursued self-satisfaction in many areas of life, particularly in sexuality. The surrender of his total being to Jesus Christ through grace, described so poi- gnantly in the Confessions, eventually en- abled him to learn to love everything and everyone in God. “My conversion to You,” he states, “was so complete that I sought no more a wife, nor anything else one hopes for in this world.” What does each of these conversion sto- ries reveal to you about your own story? Which one was the catalyst through which Jesus called you to discipleship? Which one is the most challenging as you seek fur- ther integration and authenticity—the goal of Christian conversion? Dr. Patricia Cooney Hathaway is professor of spir- ituality and systematic theology at Sacred Heart. shms.edu 29