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Conversion: What's it got to do with me?

"Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple." - Mission of the Redeemer, Pope John Paul II

To be converted is to make a personal choice of faith, the choice to trust and follow Jesus. It's to say "Yes!" to God. God wants us to turn away from the darkness of selfishness, self-obsession and self-worship and turn towards His light by accepting the forgiveness of sins and new life offered through Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. This is a big step, even a difficult step, for two reasons:

1. It doesn't happen by default, automatically, just because we are baptised and/or go to church. (It's possible to go to church every week out of habit, convention, obedience or fear and never take advantage of the grace God offers there. It's possible to be a "Christian", but only outwardly; to know and recite the creed but not know God because you have never sought Him.) This is not something your parents or anyone else can do for you. You have to choose, you have to make a commitment.

2. Admitting we are not self-sufficient and need God's mercy because of our sinfulness goes against the grain. It goes against our pride. We have to admit to the dark corners of our hearts and we have to admit that God is the boss.

So, why bother? Why not just carry on regardless?

1. Because to deliberately ignore and treat with disdain God's crucified love is not only terrifyingly dishonest, ungrateful and loveless; it is the kind of sin that spiritually kills us by hardening our hearts. This is serious business. It is not a game, it is life and death.

2. Because what God offers, we need. In the end, many things in this world will claim to offer us "fulfilment," but, to quote a prayer of St Augustine, "You made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You."

Who needs to be converted? Anybody who is not spiritually connected to Christ through faith and love, either because they have never had that relationship or because they have lost it.

What does conversion involve? It consists of three parts, will, word and action, each involving two aspects, faith and repentance.

Will to Word
In the Old Testament of the Bible God says "Cast away from you all the transgressions you have committed against me and get yourselves a new heart" (Ezekiel 18:31) and the prophet Hosea says "Take words with you and return to the Lord: say to him 'Take away all guilt' " (14:2). In the New Testament St Paul states "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" in Romans 10:9. We need to turn our backs on everything opposed to God and follow the living Lord. We can put this into words using a prayer like the one below.

"God, I confess I have often done the wrong thing in my thoughts, words and actions. Like the rest of humanity, I am deeply flawed, a sinner. I thank you that Jesus came to suffer and die for my sins on a cross, and to rise again to give me new life. He accepted and overcame, on our behalf, the penalty and consequences of our sin so that we could share his resurrection-victory over evil and death. So I ask you, Father, to have mercy on me, to forgive me my sins and to give your Holy Spirit to live within me so that I can live the new life in Christ. I confess Christ is my Lord and Saviour. Amen."

Word to Action
Once we have walked the path of penitence and prayer described above, we make it a practical reality by allowing God to work in us by his sacraments and through us by our good deeds. For those not yet baptised &/or confirmed this means receiving these sacraments to unite them fully with Christ and his Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. For those who have received these sacraments, but who have drifted or fallen away from God, the normal way to come back to him is the sacrament of reconciliation. For all of us what comes next is to live the Christian life in earnest, obeying the commands to love God and neighbour. We can only manage this if we are continually sustained spiritually by the Eucharist, prayer and meditation on the Scriptures.

Will you take the step?

"Repent therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19).

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Repentance and penitence are words meaning being sorry for the wrongs we have done in the past and choosing to turn away from them from now on.

Sacraments are outward, physical actions and objects which are used by God in the Church to convey inward, spiritual benefits. For example, in Baptism, washing with water symbolises and also produces spiritual cleansing and new life. In the Eucharist, bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ which unite us to Jesus when eaten. In the sacrament of reconciliation (or confession) the declaration of forgiveness by the priest communicates forgiveness and spiritual healing by God.