Conversion stories always move me mainly because they give me hope. From big sinner to little stumbler, God’s mercy floods a soul, and the soul responds, sometimes with joy and sometimes with bewilderment. But often there can be some kind of movement—eventually!
Lately, I’ve been reading Wounded Shepherd by Austen Ivereigh. This is a very honest look at the pontificate of Pope Francis as it weaves the Pope’s personal life with the many decisions he has had to make to date as Pontiff. Throughout his life, Pope Francis had many “conversion” moments, and he brought these experiences to his role as Shepherd of the Church.
I am struck by how our Mandatum is reflected in this story. No doubt, Pope Francis turns to contemplation as he walks with God through the many decisions he has to make. He is a definite champion of neighborly love and emphasis on the care of the poor. His listening presence exudes being merciful, joyous and poor.
It is his surrender to ongoing transformation that most strikes me at this moment in time. This Pope calls the Church and us to a “pastoral conversion”—one that builds bridges and opens arms of mercy and inclusion. He is a leader who listens, reflects, prays, and then makes decisions that move the Church forward. He is honest in realizing that he didn’t always do things right.
One paragraph in the book seems to sum up this “ongoing transformation” of Pope Francis:
Cardinal John Henry Newman, canonized by Francis in October 2019, famously observed that “to live is to change” and that “to be perfect is to have changed often.” What matters in the spiritual life is ultimately this openness to be changed, which requires trust—or as Christians say, “faith.” What blocks it is the fleeing from this openness: trusting, rather, in ideology, structures, or an idealized sense of self. A saint is one who has moved out from those “false” selves to become what God calls her to be.”
We don’t have to wait for huge moments of transformation. Each day we are invited to surrender in numerous ways to this ongoing transformation. In fact, it is probably the smaller moments of transformation that prepare us for the “big ones”! Thank you, Pope Francis, for being humble enough to expose your own moments of conversion and transformation!
Each day we can reflect and see where the invitation to ongoing transformation was presented to us. What did I notice? How did I respond? Did I change? Did I surrender to this invitation to ongoing transformation?
“Led by God, let them begin a life of penance, conscious that all of us must be continuously and totally converted.” (TOR Rule 6)