Here is an excerpt from my newest article of the same title. It appears in the March issue of St. Anthony Messenger.
When I hear the word conversion, I tend to immediately think of persons who became Catholic but were not born and raised Catholic. Those converts chose to be Catholic. Some may have done so for reasons having nothing to do with the Church. My grandfather, for example, apparently converted from the Presbyterian Church so that he could marry my Irish Catholic grandmother. There are others who become converts because they found something within Catholicism that drew them.
In its basic meaning, conversion points to a process of transformation, a change in something essential. Other words relating to conversion include metanoia (a change of consciousness), spiritual awakening, and redemption. Literally, “conversion” means “to turn to”.
Some indeed turn to a new spiritual path. But for many of us the possibility of a new path is thrust upon us, arising out of a place of spiritual and psychological brokenness. In the depths of despair, we may be offered a path of healing and, ultimately, transformation. But we must choose to be open to that conversion.
For some such as St. Paul or Bill W., the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, this transformation may occur dramatically and in an instant. But for many of us, the process of conversion is experienced quietly and gradually, perhaps over time. The invitation to conversion doesn’t come in a burst of light but slowly, as if through a whisper, just as Elijah experienced in his moment of fearful brokenness (1Kings 19: 11-12)
There are many different experiences of brokenness that can be a doorway to conversion. Four potential doorways are addiction, trauma, depression, and facing one’s death.
The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous had the wisdom to point out the strong spiritual component to addiction. Essentially when addicted we have made some thing –alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, etc. – our god. When troubled we turn to our god. When happy we turn to our god. We look for release. We look for comfort. And, for the short term, that god works for us! But that god comes with a price. Loss of family or employment. Financial crisis. Legal problems. Isolation. Shame. And especially the spiritual equivalent of cancer – self-hatred. In the midst of such turmoil, some addicts choose to confront their addictions and seek help.
Addicts soon learn that the conversion from addiction is just the beginning. For addicts, the process of conversion is ongoing. It is a process of fearless self-awareness as well as gratitude. It continues for a lifetime.
I often wondered about the story in the Gospels of the healing of the ten lepers. Jesus heals all ten yet only one returns to express gratitude. Jesus never seemed to me to be a person who reveled in the gratitude of those He healed. So why did he ask the Tenth Leper “Where are the others?” For me, there is an important lesson in that story. Jesus, I believe, was pointing out to the Tenth Leper (and to us) that the removal of the scars of leprosy was just a beginning and that, to continue to heal, the lepers would have to continue the work of conversion. This would include ongoing gratitude.
Concerning addiction, then, conversion involves turning to sobriety – learning how to work at a sober spiritual life with honesty and gratitude.
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