Gifts, Charisms, and Conversion

Authentic entrance into religious life always involves a conversion. Every conversion begins with feelings of dissatisfaction about one’s present situation. A conversion seeks a fulfillment that one’s past and present has yet to deliver. Conversion pursues something new.

For many, this something new is a person with whom one falls in love. Marriage is a conversion from the single-state to a committed life with another. As regular as that move is, it is a significant conversion of life style for anyone who chooses it.

Entrance into a religious order is also a conversion. But religious life, which is a conversion toward the person of Christ in a more unique manner, is never experienced in a generic way. It is always found in a particular form. It’s the founder’s gift (charism) that makes each religious order distinct. It’s also that gift which draws an inquirer toward a more radical commitment or often a recommitment to Christ and his Gospel.

Just as that gift originally shaped the founder’s commitment to the Gospel, so too, it shapes the commitment of every subsequent person who joins. It is the group's gift, first found in the founder, which stirs and excites others, moving them too toward conversion. So entering a religious order should always be about conversion. If it’s not, the motive to join is likely not from God.

There are a variety of ways the founder’s gift can be experienced by others. First, it can be through direct experience with the founder if you’re lucky enough to be alive at the same time. This was possible with Mother Theresa of Calcutta during my lifetime. After the founder’s death, this is done through the founder’s writings or portrayals of her or his life.

Ss. Dominic and Francis
The founder’s gifts also can be encountered through a modern charismatic member of the congregation. In this case, the modern religious might appear like a new incarnation of the original founder. Often, searchers encounter the founder’s original charism through the work and lifestyle of modern members of the congregation. Here, the group projects a particular branding that makes them known to the public, including those searching for a new way to radically live the Gospel.

As a vocation director, I delight when an inquirer experiences an aha moment upon finding what he has been hoping or searching for. I also know it is right that an inquirer moves to a different order or lifestyle because my Capuchin set of gifts and charisms did not move him to a more radical conversion or commitment.

After all these words, I want to return to the central ideal of this post: It’s all about a deepening conversion to Christ and his gospel.

If you are on a search for your path of conversion, religious orders may be the way for you. It’s about discovering their charims or gifts, and knowing whether or not they can lead you to that deeper commitment to Christ.