Section 278 of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference is one of the more important passages from the Latin American and Caribbean bishops. The five aspects of discipleship are a benchmark not only for the people south of the US, but also for us in North America.
After the initial encounter with Jesus, our attention is drawn to the conversion experience. Earlier in the section we were reminded that these fundamental aspects … are closely intertwined and draw nourishment from one another. The second topic beckons:
b) Conversion: It is the initial response of those who have listened to the Lord in wonder, who believe in Him through the action of the Spirit, and who decide to be His friend and go with him, changing how they think and live, accepting the cross of Christ, conscious that dying to sin is attaining life. In Baptism and the sacrament of Reconciliation Christ’s Redemption is actualized for us.
When Evangelicals speak of conversion, we might hear “born again.” It’s that personal event, a moment of “rupture,” if you will in which our relationship with the Lord changes from knowing about Jesus to knowing him as a person. How would a Christian know she or he has experienced conversion? The checklist here might indicate. Has there been a change in how one lives–priorities, desires, thoughts, and aspirations? An orientation away from sin? And by this, not a personal perfection, but an acknowledgement of being a redeemed sinner? For those familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, this is first week work.
For Catholics and others who follow a sacramental way, there is no conflict. Baptism and renewal of promises as well as the sacrament of penance provide opportunities for self-examination. While a life-changing conversion event may take place for a Christian, the opportunities for confession bring the possibility of a personal continuing conversion.
A final thought: it is important not to underestimate the importance of relating to Jesus as a friend. Anchored to a more devotional approach to belief, it can be just another title. And some Christians find the thought mawkish. It can be. But the mystical traditions of Christianity point to many repeated experiences of those who have lived out a friendship as part of a substantial public witness for the gospel.