There is always something inspiring about conversion stories. They are often triggered by simple events, or generous responses, and gravitate into solid spiritual commitments. The encounter of Levi Roach with Jesus is one of such. It was published in the May edition of The Tablet and I find this good for our reflection this week, alongside the calling of Saints Peter and Paul. Levi had approached the Church for the baptism of his two daughters and that was the start of his journey to the faith. His wife is a Catholic but he was not and had no understanding of the sacramental life. So he imagined the baptism of his daughters as ‘a voyage’ on which he had to accompany them. He later explained how their baptism ignited ‘a gradual awakening in him’. He started attending Mass with the family, joined in the preparations for and the celebration of their baptism – only to realize that at some point, “along the way, it became clearer that the Church is where he belonged”. Today he is converted and practices the Catholic faith with the family – thanks to God and the living faith of the community of believers.

God intends all humans to be saved. The Church explains this as the preceding grace – the grace which precedes and prepares one for conversion. St. Augustine in his Confessions says – “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”. And St. Paul added that ‘for no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit (1Cor.12.3). We can safely say then – that the Divine Mercy draws out the willingness to be saved in all converts. The conversion experience brings the convert into the richness of the Christian faith – a gift of God that is to be savoured every day.

In the Damascus experience, St. Paul cried out – ‘who are you, Lord?’ (Acts 9.5) Later the persecutor was given a new name and became an apostle of the Gentiles. He trusted the rest of his life to the purpose of the Lord – for the experience opened him to grace and conversion. He wrote the greater part of the New Testament. He bore witness to the Lord in Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. Great indeed was this encounter with the Lord. St. Peter pleaded with Christ on his knees, ‘depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Lk.5.8) – because he was conscious of his inadequacies. The Lord in turn – gave him Cephas (the rock), made him the custodian of the keys, and the head of the apostles. Just as in every encounter with Jesus – there was a change of name, a welcome to the faith and mission. This faith is to be sustained by adherence to the teachings of the Church and to be made appealing by our words and deeds. Let us continue to pray for an increase in faith and a growth in our number.

Fr. John Olaniran