Today the Church celebrates the conversion of St. Paul, the day when he was thrown from his high horse, according to popular belief and many artistic representations of the event.
Yet, if you examine the accounts of Paul’s conversion in the Acts of the Apostles, there is no horse. He is merely surrounded by light and falls to the ground.
This image of sudden conversion and being thrown off one’s high horse has affected many of our ideas of conversion. Many evangelicals, in fact, emphasize knowing the day and the hour when they were saved.
But conversion doesn’t always happen that way. There is not always that sudden moment when everything changes.
There are, I believe, for most of us key moments when the call of God is clearer and more forceful. But real conversion is a process, with many moments.
I think that conversion is never finished – until the final moment when God calls us to live in His presence.
Conversion is a turning, a moving away from our self-centeredness to the all-embracing love of God, an ongoing process of letting God’s love change us and open our hearts to all people, to all creation, and to the God who is “all in all.”
The Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan also talks about different types of conversion, all of which are passages from “self-preoccupation” to “self-transcendence.”
Religious conversion is from alienation to recognition of the Holy Mystery; theistic conversion is from impersonal mystery to the recognition of a personal God. Christian conversion moves from an incomplete community between God and humanity to the recognition that Jesus is the Christ. Ecclesial conversion moves us from individualized religion to incorporation into the People of God, the Church. Moral conversion is the passage from selfish indifference to values to a moral life. Intellectual conversion is from “undifferentiated consciousness” to the “holistic view of truth.”
I find these distinctions helpful – but incomplete. For in all this, conversion is letting God work in us; it’s not all up to us. It’s God’s work – which needs our consent.
And so not all of us will be struck down to the earth in a moment of conversion; most of us will struggle daily on the road of conversion.
But we need to remember that many have gone on this path before and there are many by our side. And most of all, God beckons us: “Come.”