After presenting the mission of Jesus and the conflict it causes, Matthew takes up the call to conversion. What does it really mean to “accept Jesus”?
We hear all sorts of conversion stories. Some strike us as sincere and solid; others as emotional and questionably motivated. Many, perhaps most conversions are not from no religion to religion, or from one religion to another, but within the same church, from one level of understanding and engagement to another, more enlightened and more deeply personal.
Frequently we hear people say, “I’ve been a Christian all my life, but it was always just routine observance. Now I know what it is to deal personally with God.”
Is it something missing in our pastoral approach that makes this possible? Do we need to look at what authentic conversion to Christ involves, in order to lead people to that from the beginning?
Granted, conversion is a continual, lifelong process. Not to grow is to stagnate. But from the beginning, there are certain elements in our acceptance of Jesus that we need to be aware of, to look for, and to realize in ourselves and others.
Many of us just “grew up in the faith.” We were given the light of faith in Baptism, as infants. By that light we were able to accept without difficulty what we were taught. The fire of divine love, though it wasn’t passionate, was enkindled in our hearts with the gift of the Holy Spirit. We took for granted the ideals of Jesus insofar as they were interpreted and embodied in practice by those with whom we attended church. We were committed to them in a general way, although we may not have looked explicitly at many of them, or embraced them specifically in a conscious, determined way.
It would not to be completely true to say our acceptance of Christianity was like our acceptance of the American way of life; that is, less a positive choice of Christianity itself than the absence of a reason for choosing anything else. We cannot deny the enlightenment and empowerment of grace. Nevertheless, to some extent, we remained Christians by inertia.
Don’t knock inertia. Positive inertia can be a powerful force. It is inertia that keeps the planets in orbit. Once an object is launched into motion, its tendency is to keep moving forever. And Baptism was a powerful launching of our spiritual lives. But there comes a moment when each one of us has to make a conscious, explicit, radical and affective act of acceptance of Jesus Christ and of the divine life of grace. That is the moment of personal conversion.
Question: When did you consciously and personally enter into relationship with Jesus Christ? What adjectives would you use to describe the characteristics of that choice?
The goal of the reflections that will follow in coming days is to make clear the basic and necessary characteristics of authentic conversion to Jesus Christ as Matthew explains them in the beginning of his Gospel. They are drawn from the book A Change Within, which is available on paper for purchase or free by PDF download (coming soon).