Catholic Position on Conversion Experiences


#1

I asked this in “Ask an Apologist” but I haven’t seen it come up yet. If so, apologies.

I’m a cradle Catholic who has gone through the typical sacramental process “on schedule.”

However, at age 32, I actually grasped the core teaching of Christianity and made a commitment to Christ for the first time. Protestants would say that is being “saved” or “born again.” I’ve had a priest tell me that I had a “conversion experience.”

Whatever label you put on it, the experience was extremely positive and has put me on an unexpected spiritual journey for the past seven years.

What exactly is the catholic explanation for such an experience? I’ve checked the chatechism on conversion, but what I’ve seen has been in the context of justification. Since I was a baptised and “sacramental” Catholic, that shouldn’t describe my situation.

So … what’s the right terminology, and if possible, can someone refer me to what the chatechism says about this subject?

Thanks!


#2

The Catholic Church has the concept of “ongoing conversion”. Essentially growing in faith and holiness.

While many can have a sudden spiritual awakening, or even a sudden conversion experience, we still have a lifetime ahead of us and many spiritual struggles to overcome. So that awakening, or conversion, is really only the beginning.

This is why we have the sacraments of confession and Holy Communion. It is also why we need to pray, meditate, engage in spiritual reading, and do other good works motivated by our faith. These sacraments, and the pious practices, strengthen us spiritually and help us to be able to better hear to often soft voice of God quietly speaking to us.


#3

You may experience such conversions many times in your life. The Lord opens doors. He opens hearts. He draws you to Himself.

You are fortunate. Many people live their entire lives without ever having such an experience. That doesn’t mean they are less graced. It certainly does not mean they are not “born again” or “saved” – those things are acts of love and will. But a good “converson experience” can certainly sweeten the relationship.


#4

Thanks for responses. A little more …

Prior to the conversion experience I truly hadn’t fully grasped atonement, at least on a personal level. I knew the words “for our sake he was crucified …,” but I had no clue of what that really meant.

I’ve got to believe there are plenty of folk out there who went through the sacramental process yet still were in a similar boat. I think this is an understated/undertaught element of our faith – that these experiences occur, and what to do when they happen.

IMO there is indeed some common ground between this experience and what a Protestant would call being born again. Also IMO, our protestant brothers (as a whole) are better trained to give spiritual nourishment to one who undergoes such an experience, and to mentor them along.

In my personal case I really felt alone, and for a while I felt separated. I don’t feel that way now at all, but I’d like to be able to help others in the same boat. Frankly I feel that it’s my calling.

PS - can you explain the Tiber swim team stuff?


#5

I have no problem calling it a conversion experience, because your story is almost exactly what happened to me. I was baptized, received First Communion, Confirmation, Confession, etc., but that is about as far as it went–there was no real meaning to me. Then when I was about 28 or 29 The Holy Spirit totally transformed my mind, suddenly and unexpectedly, and profoundly. I was not at any religious function–I was at home, by myself, and I happened to be reading a popular religious book when it happened.

I cannot explain it, but I do know that I was seeking something, and God graciously came into my life, not gradually, but like a bolt of lightening.:smiley: I have never been the same, and that was 30 years ago. Now I have backslidden at times, become less devout at times, have had times of darkness, etc. but there has never been a day since when I have not awakened and one of my first thoughts has been about the Lord.

And I know many other Catholics that have had such experiences, including Priests and Deacons. It is not rare. Yes, I know that we are being constantly called to ongoing conversion, and I am in full agreement with that, but many of us have experienced that initial and profound conversion that “got the ball rolling.”

My suggestion is that when you meet a person newly converted is to offer him/her Catholic fellowship and get them involved in a Catholic BibleStudy, spiritual group, or something where they can learn and grow. Because what happened to me was that I found this in Evanagelical Protestantism for a while, as they were the ones who reached out to me. That did not last long, as I could not accept some of the things they were telling me, and I could not give up the Eucharist, but the plain fact is, we Catholics do not evangelize as well as they do. We are almost afraid of that word. And we are losing Catholics because of it.


#6

The Tiber River runs through Rome.

“Swimming the Tiber” is slang for converting to the Catholic Church from some other religion. In my case, I had a sudden, supernatural and miraculous conversion from atheism.


#7

#8

Sorry, but I don’t have any in’s on terminology. However, when I read Augustine’s “Confessions”, William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience,” St. Francis’ “Little Flowers,” and the Catechism, I knew, I want to say “exactly” what they were talking about. All that happened to me.

Oh, In James’ book, he does cite experiences Catholics had.

I’ve just reordered a hard bound Catechism because I read and studied my paperback one to pieces. The information contained in it – awful word in this context, “information” – requires a response from me. Pulls it right out of me. Since these things be so, how can I remain as I am. I could not.

Gods grace and the pillar and ground of truth, The Church, is so wonderful and awing, I don’t have the right words to express what I want and mean to say.

A little snippet on protestants. God bless them heretics one and all. Many don’t know more than what they’ve just been told by someone they admire. Same can be said of Catholics of course. But they’ve got 2 things to overcome: anticlericalism and it’s over emphasis on individualism (a VERY easy sell) and an ignorance of history.

Does no good to tell someone, Hey! You, you heretic over there, I’m talking to you! Hows it feel to be ignorant of history and self absorbed?"

Of course, there’s Catholics like that too no doubt. And it does little good to talk about scads of people as if they are homogenous. But we could be. And that’s a great and signal grace. Christian unity. Instead of disparate we’d be unified. God’s done the heavy lifting on that one, plus the Apostles, Church Fathers, Martyrs, and others.

No Catholic need be stuck in a rut. No protestant need remain protestant. Easy to see now that I’m this side of the Tiber. Grace and truth: The Church’s grand deposit of faith works wonders. Literally!


#9

I’m with you completely. In the wake of my CHRP retreat I’ve started a Bible Study with my CHRP class, and a couple of folks from previous classes at my parish. I’ll be on the team giving the next retreat in the next class, and my “witness” aka “testimony” aka “story of faith” will discuss this subject closely. The Bible Study will be open to the next class as well.

I fully agree with this. Evangelilcals reached out to me far more than Catholics did, and I hung out in those circles for a while. I even gave a testimony at a major function in St. Louis (I spoke right after the Mayor and right before NFL and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner). I learned a lot there regarding the Bible. For I while I was on the verge of becoming Protestant, but that time is over.

In my opinion there is a need out there for internal Catholic evangelization, for just this purpose. IMO issues of spiritual growth/devlopment are adult concepts, and most of the teaching that occurs within the Church (at least in my experience) is finished by then. I very much want to help in this area, beginning in my parish but possibly also at the diocese level as well. The CHRP retreat was the starting point.


#10

Whatever you want to call it, it’s definitely the prodigal son coming back to his father! You are now truly walking in His friendship.

I hear you brother. Feel free to check out my story if you have a chance.

The conversion continues, and I think that’s the heart of the Catholic perspective. He wants to perfect the good work He has started in us, so that we will be in complete union with Him.

In Christ,

JB


#11

As others have mentioned, such experiences can come at any time in the life of a person. They are not really associated with the Protestant concept of being born again, since very few Protestants on first “being saved” will necessarily have the strength of experience you describe. Rather, once a person has responded to God they may be ever more closely united to him through such experiences over time. I know various saints have written about the stages of Christian growth involving such conversion experiences.

So what you experienced was not being born again - that happened at baptism. Rather, you experienced a growth spurt. :slight_smile:


#12

I too can witness to a conversion experience. My theory is that it happens when the Holy Spirit manages to break through and one suddenly realizes that the claim of God’s love for him is true. It seems in my experience with others I have observed this happening to are somehow ready to make Jesus the center and power that drives their lives. It has also happened to friends of mine in other churches. Suddenly out of the blue their lives become centered on the Lord and heavy drinking,illicit sex habits, etc. are put behind them. Jesus is allowed to hold the reigns. It is a wonderful experience, but it does not have to stop there. Crosses continue to come, but with Jesus at your side they are bearable. Some from other churches might say you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. As a Catholic I would say you have suddenly become aware of what effects your Baptism can have on your life. Like taking a gift received as an infant down off a closet shelf and unwrapping it


#13

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