Spirituality of Conversion

This Reflection is based on material found on page 3 of 18 ff, in the 

"Penitence - Conversion" section of the F.U.N. Manual

"Conversion is the particular character of Secular Franciscan spirituality—it is the signature concept which specifies the uniqueness of the Secular Franciscan spirituality within the Franciscan family even as minority is for the Friars of the First Order. So what is conversion or as we find it referred to in Franciscan writings—"doing Penance."

..."Conversion is a complex process of transformation involving various conscious movements of the human person. These dynamics, such as the distorting power of bias and the clarifying endeavor of questioning, are themselves complex movements of the intellect. In attempting to explain the conversion experience, the greatest dilemma for Christian spirituality is the understanding of the working of grace, which is itself a mystery. Conversion is caught up in the mystery of grace operating within the human person.

"The clearest understanding and example of the experience of conversion can be discovered through the personal biography. A biography offers a unique understanding of conversion for several reasons. The story of life, in its various stages and crises, can offer insight into the unfolding history of a specific person. The life stories of many of the saints are classic examples and stories of conversion.

Then there is a long dissertation on the RCIA process, where candidates seeking conversion into the Catholic Faith experience conversion as they progress in their study topics. You should read the original text on this subject which is a good source of instruction. [to page 8 of 18].

"From the RCIA, and the process of initiation that it supports, several insights about conversion can be noted:

  • conversion is symbolized as a journey of transformation led by the movement of God.
  • it is a communal experience involving the entire community in its encouragement and witness.
  • the RCIA considers conversion as an ongoing process, celebrated in stages and finding its greatest Christian expression in the celebration of the Eucharist.
  • conversion is not a one-time experience but rather a lifetime transformation that is absorbed in appreciating the mystery revealed by Christ.

"In the earliest time, the members of the Secular Franciscan Order were known as Brothers and Sisters of Penance."

The penance in St. Francis' life was very strict. He was hard on himself, and he lived at a time when "public, external acts of penance were considered as outward expressions of an inward reality—conversion of heart. It was not that external acts brought about conversion, rather they were seen as an outward sign of the inward change that they signified."

[p.13] "In St. Francis' time, not all the members of the Order of Penance were in harmony with Church leadership. This was a time of clerical corruption and worldliness of the hierarchy and lax and abusive conduct of the clergy. This often led to dissociation from the Church leadership and heresy by attempting reform but carrying their efforts too far."

"Francis went into another direction. As a penitent. Francis sought God with his whole heart and aimed to focus upon conversion. He saw the Church as the Body of Christ and wished to relate to it as an obedient son rather than a critic. In order to maintain his bond with the church he sought out the approval of the Pope."

In the "First Letter to the Faithful", considered the first or Proto Rule, five fundamental elements for the penitential lifestyle are given [p.15 of 18]:

  1. To love God
  2. To love our neighbor
  3. To resist the sinful tendencies of our fallen nature
  4. To receive of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist
  5. To act or live in conformity with our conversion

"Even today, more than 800 years later, there is little more that can be added to live a sincere and authentic penitential life. Living according to this plan will immerse us in the very life of God in the Trinity itself. We have Francis' own words to confirm this:

--The Holy Spirit will come to rest on his penitents and dwell in them
--We are children of the Heavenly Father when we do His will
--In the Holy Spirit we are united to Jesus
--We become spouses, brothers and mothers to the Lord Jesus
--We carry him in our hearts and bring him forth by means of our holy works

Truly, one cannot be more closely united to God than this. This is the Franciscan life in a nutshell. It is always important then for Secular Franciscans to read and re-read the Prologue to our Rule where we find this First Letter to the Faithful in order to constantly renew and revisit the original inspiration of Francis for the Secular Franciscan Order. It is here that we experience the meaning of conversion from the uniquely Franciscan viewpoint.

Note: This "Reflection" consists of portions of the text in "Conversion 3-23-2011 page 1 to 18 of 18" Those in formation should read or be instructed from the F.U.N. Manual. The Reflection is more intended for on-going formation. There are Appendices, 1. "Concerning Those Who Do Penance," and 2. "Concerning Those Who Do Not Do Penance."- again, see "F.U.N. Manual" for this text, or click on: RULE.

Peace and Good,

Fred Schaeffer, OFS
June 30, 2012