Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The first Mass reading from Acts is Paul’s address to the people describing his conversion.
When we look at Paul’s great conversion moment on the road to Damascus, we have a tendency to think conversion is a sudden or dramatic single event. I think we forget that although that was an important moment of transformation for Paul, a foundational religious experience for him, it was really the beginning and not the end of his conversion. So we would do well to hear today’s reading while keeping in mind something Paul wrote to the Philippians:
It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
Paul came to know Jesus, he had a deep experience of Jesus, but still he knew he hadn’t attained “perfect maturity,” he hadn’t reached “the goal.”
This is such an important message for us. It reminds us that wherever we are on our spiritual journey at any given time, there is still need for growth, still need both for the deepening of our relationship with God and the strengthening of the fidelity with which we live out the consequences of that deepened relationship.
Among other things, understanding conversion as process helps us understand how important are each of the steps we take along the path of our spiritual journey. We have such a strong tendency to judge harshly what we in hindsight view as missteps along the way. It is so very easy for us to forget that everything we experience and learn from contributes to our growth process, is part of who we have become and how we relate to God and others, and is a potential source of grace.