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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Conversion and Easter Sunday...


The Conversion of Saint Paul by Caravaggio
For me, there's nothing like a good conversion story.

From the story of St. Paul, who was persecuting Christians and was thrown from his horse when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, to St. Augustine of Hippo, who was living a life of paganism and debauchery, before his conversion, I truly enjoy reading and hearing stories of people turning their life around to follow Christ.

I guess, it may have something to do with the Bible verse that states, "there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” On the other hand, maybe, it has to do with my own reversion, or being fortified by other people's struggles and the ways they overcome questions, doubt and internal adversities. In any case, my wife would tell you, I can’t get enough of them.

Reading books such as Scott and Kimberly Hahn's, Rome Sweet Home, Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain and Patrick Madrid's Surprised By The Truth and Surprised By The Truth II, which are a series of conversion stories from people from different faith backgrounds, including non-faith, have helped me delve deeper into my own faith and get a better grasp of what it means to be Catholic.  I also enjoy watching Marcus Grodi's The Journey Home on television, and listening to conversion CD's in my car. 

As former Protestant Minister and Theologian, Scott Hahn often says, "Sometimes it takes an immigrant to the faith to teach cradle Catholics what it means to be Catholic.”

That is very true because most adult converts study and read their way into the Church through either Sacred Scripture, the writings of early Church Fathers, the moral teachings of the Church or simply are drawn by its beauty, richness and history.

However, while the media is fast on reporting cases of abuse, scandal and impropriety involving the Catholic Church, it is slow to report on the good, and the thousands of converts coming home to Rome every year, especially in recent years. 

Almost five hundred years after Martin Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses and broke away from the  Church because of corruption and his own perspectives on sin and salvation, thousands of Lutherans and Anglicans (Episcopalians in the U.S.), including clergy and entire congregations, are making their way back in droves into full communion with the Church.

Last year, in the United States alone, 150 thousand people entered the Church during the Easter Vigil.  This year, thousands more are expected to follow suit. 

According to a recent press release by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, while there's no mention of any Scott Hahn, Robert Novak, Richard John Neuhaus, John Henry Newman, Thomas Howard or Peter Kreeft, among the ranks entering the Church, there are several noteworthy converts, including a former a former administrator of an abortion clinic. 
In the Austin, Texas, area, Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director and author of the bestselling book “Unplanned,” is getting ready for yet another “unplanned” conversion that will bring her into the Catholic Church. In September 2009, Johnson was asked to hold the ultrasound probe during an abortion. In the monitor, she saw the baby struggle to get away. This experience, and her unease with Planned Parenthood’s emphasis on increasing abortions, gave her the courage to leave her job and undertake a journey of conversion. She went to the Coalition for Life’s office down the street, a Christian pro-life organization whose members were a constant, prayerful and peaceful presence outside the clinic. There she received practical help as she navigated joblessness, legal problems with Planned Parenthood and broken friendships. Her pro-life advocacy also met the disapproval of her pro-choice church. Many of her new friends are Catholic, and through them she has learned about the faith. She and her family will join the Church at Easter, along with 911 others in the Austin Diocese.
Conversion takes humility and succumbing to God's Will.  I can only imagine how difficult it would be to leave the faith of your upbringing, the strain it creates on relationships with family and friends, the feelings of solitude that many converts experience and, in the case of ministers, the loss of their livelihood.

And, while we celebrate those who will enter the Church this Easter, we must pray for them because it doesn't end at the baptismal font.  Conversion is a never ending process.

As Billy Graham once said, "Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion - it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ."

Happy Easter...

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