Friday Book Pick: Conversion; Spiritual Insights to an Essential Encounter with God
by Fr. Donald Haggerty
In common parlance, “conversion” is what Kanye West recently experienced and has publicly attested to. We mean by conversion: going from no faith, nominal faith, or faith in a different religion to an overwhelming, decision-affecting, life-altering relationship with God by sudden onset. Kanye West is a current example of a conversion not unlike the biblical examples of St. Matthew, St. Paul, and others, who also experienced a life-altering adherence to Jesus and His teaching by sudden onset.
Often enough, people have this experience of a radical life-change in an instant though a powerful encounter with God. Other times, “conversion” happens by a slow, steady deepening of already held beliefs. In my experience, the word conversion doesn’t bring this second meaning as readily to mind. In fact, my own growth in faith is more like the second version of “conversion.” It could be likened to a time-release capsule or morning light growing in the eastern sky. Whether we’re talking about the instantaneous, more dazzling experience or the gradual maturing of faith, both means of conversion are the workings of grace, the workings of God, in a life. And also in both, the personal free “yes” of the person is indispensable.
Fr. Haggerty explains conversion in his illuminating book as “a radical ‘yes’ of personal fidelity to Jesus,” and as an “act that overcomes everything familiar and instantly attaches a life in a unique bond with Jesus Christ.” Father offers a reflective treatment of the phenomenon of conversion, and he further offers insightful answers to questions that arise in the wake of a conversion. He looks at the layers of conversion from a multidimensional perspective, beginning with the Gospel.
With chapter titles such as, Aftermath of a Conversion, The Understanding of Sin, and The Mercy of God, a kind of anatomy of conversion emerges from the text. But in my view, the remarkable contribution of this work is the thorough description of the so-called second conversion (Chapter 8: The Importance of a Second Conversion). This step in the conversion process, maybe less spoken and written of, is critically necessary for the disciple of Jesus Christ who seeks more than following—ultimately transforming union. What happens after the initial decision to follow Jesus? What is the trajectory of discipleship? How does a person continue to be transformed and conformed to the One he follows? What can we expect in the interior life (and in the exterior life also) once we have given ourselves over—not just to a Religion, or way of life, but to a Person? Fr. Haggerty addresses these questions. It’s not a book for beginners; it’s a book for disciples.
Also of particular value is Fr. Haggerty’s articulation of some of the fruits this second conversion yields: new love of the poor, simplicity of life, and love for the Eucharist. By his treatment of characteristics that frequently emerge in the life of a person making a genuine and deep surrender, the reader feels inspired to keep going in the spiritual life. Through understanding characteristics of true and intimate discipleship more deeply, the reader is fueled in his own desires for holiness, and even for sacrifice and self-denial.
The other night at dinner, this book came up in our conversation around the table. With my characteristic enthusiasm for worthy books, I wholeheartedly recommended it to my sisters who hadn’t yet read it; even though they are all vowed religious of many years, this book has something valuable to offer to seasoned disciples. The chapter on the poor, for example, offers ideas with which we are long familiar, yet Fr. Haggerty articulates them in a new and different way. I liken it to listening to someone speaking English with an accent; it can make a presentation captivating simply by the intonations, inflections and differences in emphasis. His way of putting things, along with his examples and stories, are so refreshing that he captivates the reader by shining new light on topics already well pondered. My experience with this book (and why I habitually recommend it to others) is that even though the topics are familiar, the way they are expressed make them so fresh it is like hearing the ideas for the first time.
Conversion never stops. This book will provide momentum to keep going! This is the time for disciples to become saints.
Mother Clare, CFR