Pope Francis, when receiving the delegations from other Churches and Christian denominations who had come for the inauguration of his pontificate, spoke about his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI and the year of the faith and said, ‘He wanted to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II by offering a sort of pilgrimage to what is essential in being a Christian – a conversion and personal relationship with Jesus Christ the Son of God who died and rose again for our salvation’. The essential thing for a Christian is ‘a conversion and personal relationship with Jesus Christ’. What does the word conversion mean in this context?
It is the word that Jesus himself used at the beginning of his ministry. He proclaimed: ‘Repent (convert), for the kingdom of God is at hand.’ (Mt 4:17) In Greek, the language in which the Gospels were written, the word is ‘metanoia’, that is to say ‘turn back’. A conversion is a change of life, a complete turning upside down, like a pancake!
The Gospel shows us that such turnarounds – Zacchaeus who converted, promising to give back everything he had stolen, Matthew who abandoned his money changing table to follow Jesus, Mary Magdalene came to ask forgiveness for her sins while shedding tears on the feet of Jesus, Peter himself who wept bitterly for having betrayed his master etc. All these conversions are explained by Zacchaeus, Matthew, Mary Magdalene and Peter meeting Christ. Their meeting with Him was so momentous that it was no longer possible to live as they had before.
For 2000 years, men and women have continued to encounter Christ and have experienced profound conversions. Francis of Assisi was so changed that he devoted his life to following Christ. It was said that no one on earth has ever resembled Christ as much as him.
Today, Christ still calls us to conversion
He is alive, He shows Himself and people propose to change their lives, to convert in order to follow Him, in order to love Him. For conversion, par excellence, is to be transformed by love in order to be able to love like Christ. This does not happen in one stroke! Conversion is a slow, continuous process, which gradually changes our hearts if we want them to be changed. In this process, we are not alone – God gives His grace to those who want to follow Him – and He also gives His own joy! The conversion is not off-putting – it leads to true joy!
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