"Pray for my conversion."
I remember coming across these words when reading about Brother Andre Bessette, the pious porter who was known as the miracle maker of Mount Royal, in Quebec.
It struck me as an odd statement.
Brother Andre, proclaimed blessed in May 1982, was a very holy man. How could a living saint ask someone to pray for his conversion"? He's already been 'converted'!
I think a lot of us, myself included, think of conversion as a one-time thing: “My conversion is when I was baptized and became Catholic,” “My conversion was when I returned back to the faith,” "I'm a cradle Catholic, I never converted!" etc.
But statements like the one attributed to Brother Andre remind us that conversion is a process that occurs over a lifetime. It's the act of looking at ourselves and discovering the obstacles that prevent us from growing closer to God. When we find those obstacles, we turn away from them and turn towards God.
Pope Benedict XVI also reminds us of the importance of conversion in his Sunday Angelus
He says that conversion is an effective means to counter evil:
Christ invites us to respond to evil first of all through a serious examination of conscience and with the commitment to purify our lives. … [Conversion], despite the fact it does not preserve us from problems and adversities, enables us to address them in a different "way." ...
In short, conversion overcomes evil at its root, which is sin, though it cannot always avoid its consequences.
So in seeing evil, we should not only be disgusted by it. But we should also look within ourselves to see if that form of evil, or what forms of evil, exist in our lives. When we see that evil, or that sin, we can uproot it; we can convert our hearts so that we shun such behaviour. Conversion doesn't mean that we will never experience evil or suffering, but it gives us a more positive way to deal with such experiences.
This is important advice from our Holy Father to consider during this season of Lent.
I'd like to conclude with the prayer to Our Lady that Pope Benedict recited in his Angelus:
Let us pray to Mary, who accompanies and supports us in our Lenten journey, to help every Christians to rediscover the grandeur, I would even say the beauty, of conversion. May she help us understand that to do penance and correct our conduct is not simply moralism, but the most effective way to improve both ourselves as well as society. An apt maxim explains it very well: It is better to light a match than to curse the darkness.