Conversion holds a crucial place in the faith journey of every Christian. However, the concept of conversion is often misunderstood, reduced to a superficial level that fails to penetrate the depths of one’s soul.
In truth, Jesus called upon his disciples to experience a conversion that would profoundly transform their lives. Jesus employed the Greek term “metanoia” to convey the essence of conversion, purposefully selecting this word. Pope St. Paul VI, in his Apostolic Constitution “Paenitemini,” elucidated the weight of Jesus’ choice of language.
“The kingdom of God, proclaimed by Christ, can only be entered through a ‘change of heart’ (‘metanoia’), which denotes an intimate and complete transformation and renewal of the entire person—shaping one’s opinions, judgments, and decisions in the light of God’s holiness and love, the holiness and love revealed to us in the Son and shared in fullness.”
Metanoia is often described as a complete “turning around,” wherein an individual is walking in one direction but then redirects their path toward a different course.
In the early Church, this metanoia found its symbolic expression in the sacrament of Baptism. Prior to receiving baptism, catechumens were required to publicly profess their faith before the priest or bishop and renounce their former way of life. The Catholic Encyclopedia elucidates the practice of this renunciation and profession.
“The catechumen, facing West, symbolizing the abode of darkness, stretched out their hand or even spat in defiance and abhorrence of the devil while making this renunciation. Subsequently, it was customary for the candidate for baptism to make an explicit commitment of obedience to Christ. Among the Greeks, this was referred to as ‘syntassesthai Christo,’ surrendering oneself to the authority of Christ… During this declaration of allegiance to Jesus Christ, the individual to be baptized turned toward the East, signifying the realm of light.”
Consequently, every Christian is challenged to examine their own lives and determine whether they have genuinely turned toward God in their thoughts, words, and actions. Even if they were baptized at a young age, Christians can still undergo a “conversion” (sometimes referred to as a “reversion”), where they willingly embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ and pledge their obedience to God.
Conversion should never be taken lightly, nor should it remain superficial. It is an encounter that reaches the very core of our existence, effecting a transformative change that molds us into new individuals. This is the true essence of conversion.