We often hear the term “conversion” in the Catholic life. It is a term that comes from the Latin mean, “turn about.” It is a term that seems simple at face value. When I am driving, to change direction, I simply turn the steering wheel and I am now driving in a new direction, toward a new destination. If I am going to change directions in my studies at college, I simply fill out the forms and enroll in new classes, then I am directed toward a new career.
At the beginning of Lent, we often take a similar approach. Often, when we begin our season of Lent, we make beautiful resolutions and intentions with the Lord to eliminate certain vices and practice certain virtues. We intend to sin less and love more. It’s as simple as turning the steering wheel...right? Unfortunately, it is not. For to have a conversion of heart and soul, it is more than a singular moment like driving or enrolling. Spiritual conversion happens not in a moment, but over a lifetime. It is much more like the constant course corrections that are needed by a sailing ship at sea. When a ship is at sea, it may begin by having a certain trajectory, however, as it sails along, winds blow swells in the sea rise and fall, sometimes the horizon disappears. If the captain of the ship is not attentive to the instruments or the visual cues, the ship can easily fall off course, or even be headed toward dangerous rocks. This is why course corrections or conversion is continually necessary for ships...and so too with our spiritual lives.
It is very easy for us to forget to pay attention to the trajectory of our spiritual lives. We have many events in our lives that can cause us to drift off course. Some by our own making, some by forces outside our control. Regardless of their source, they cause our souls to go adrift from the direction that is needed for our fulfillment, for our salvation. It is in this moment where we reach out to the true guide, the real “captain” of our lives, Jesus Christ, and seek that course correction that is needed. Jesus is the one who will tell us which direction we need to go, what we need to remove from our lives, what we need to embrace, and he will even give us the grace to make these changes. We need only be open and seeking his love and mercy on a daily basis, because that is the ultimate conversion: Allowing myself to be loved by Jesus and loving him all the more.
As we continue to sail through our Lenten journey, let us not simply pass by the buoys that are there to guide us, but heed their direction and embrace the conversion of our souls so that we might be open to the love of Jesus more than ever before and love him in return.
Fr. Nels Gjengdahl