Do people convert to Catholicism for "emotional" reasons?


This post was made on the recent Francis Beckwith thread:

I can’t speak to this poster’s experience, but does anyone see this as the pattern? I have made posts in other threads demonstrating empirically that people tend to leave the Catholic Church for emotional reasons.

Anyone who has ever heard Scott Hahn’s conversion story, or read any of the Surprised by Truth books, or heard Fr. Gray Bean’s story, or the guests of The Journey Home, has to know that it is not easy to come to the Catholic Church. Most of these people resisted it. They found themselves with no choice but to join despite their emotions.

In fact, I cannot think of a single convert to the Catholic faith who did not do so for a doctrinal reason. Not one. Perhaps they are out there, but consider why my examples would be the norm…

Thinking logically about all the Protestant conceptions of the Catholic Church as a “treadmill” of sacraments, and silly confessions to a priest, and mass obligations, and archaic contraception, pick up your crosses and suffer, etc…one could say the Catholic Church is designed to prevent people from joining based on emotion!

It’s much easier to join a church that says you can accept Christ right now and be saved for life, than one that demands you to pick up your cross, submit to the authority of the Church, and remain on the path for the rest of your life. If not for the Truth, it would indeed be tough to join the Catholic Church.


Well, if you cannot accept all of the doctrine and dogmas of the Church, then you cannot be a Catholic. The mental aquiesence to those may involve emotions or may not, depending on person.

I believed almost all of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church long, long before I became a Catholic, because I read the Bible and came to believe in the Petrine supremacy, the sacredotal authority to pronounce absolution, the Real Presence, etc. But what finally kick it over the top for me was attendance at Mass for the first time in my adult life (I’d been to weddings and funerals as a kid), at a Carmelite monastery. It was the standard Pauline Mass, with a monastic austerity to it. I left at the end of the Mass, weeping, and nothing could have kept me from joining the Catholic faith after that. So yes, emotion played a part in my conversion, at least.


I believe that emotion plays a bigger part in the Charismatic Service than during the Catholic Mass. Apparently, everyone knows in their heart of hearts what they believe, so the cosmetics of the church service is superficial. In the First Epistle General of John:

“But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you:” (1 John 2: 27)



Sorry, I’m not understanding you. There was nothing slightly charismatic about the Carmelite monastery. It was very, well, austere, as I said. But I would also have to sort of disagree based on the fact that I have, on occasion, wept at Communion. Sure, that’s not jumping around and waving one’s arms about or falling on the floor, but it does involve emotion.


Some worshipers start laughing and can’t cant stop during a Charismatic Service, and it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that causes it. Your spiritual experience at the Carmelite Monastery was most likely the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The First Epistle General of John applies to everyone, so the anointing that you received at Carmelite Monastery abideth in you, and you need not that any man teach you. (1 John 2:27)

Welcome to the club of the super spiritual.



I dunno about that but I have wept during Mass at the consecration, and at Compline…it is utterly beautiful


The anointing that you received will abide and remain in you forever until Jesus comes.



I don’t think it has to be an either/or proposition necessarily (and I don’t mean to suggest that that’s what you said); I think that both of them can play a part in the process. As human beings are both rational and emotional, with some folks tending more strongly to one and others to the other, then I think God certainly calls each one according to his personality and character.

In my case it was mainly intellectual, but it did begin as an emotional response. I had first become a Baptist, and then when I was fifteen years old I was given a little book about the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima and it absolutely floored me! I fell in love with devotion to the Blessed Virgin and to the rosary instantly. It just struck an emotional chord with me, right in my heart. But afterwards, I went to the public library and started to check out every book I could find on Catholicism. I think I blew through every book they had in record time!

So, in my case anyway, what ultimately drew me in were the Church’s doctrines, but what first got me hooked was the rosary.


I hope that they do: we are who we are. God gave us passions, imagination, intuition, and we are made by Him in His likeness. To say this is not to endorse the ‘burning in the breast’ approach of certain sects, or to claim that faith resolves itself in emotion, turning one way one day, another another day.

But something essential would be horribly missing, on the whole, if the word love meant other than what it means in the commandments and in Christ’s words.

What emotions did Christ feel upon beckoning “the little children” to come to him?

Newman wrote that “the whole person” is moved in conversion, and he meant our passions as well as our reason.

He was right.


Emotion definitely played a part in my conversion to Catholicism from evangelical Protestantism.

I am NOT an emotional person by nature. I was raised in a very staid family that didn’t express affection physically or with tears. I did not ever enjoy attending “charismatic” or “Pentecostal” style Protestant churches, although my husband grew up in the Assemblies of God. For those who don’t know much about Protestantism, usually evangelical Protestant churches caution against emotions and emphasize teaching and study and faith.

So in the evangelical churches, I did NOT experience emotion other than frustration and anger. So much was wrong about these churches!

But when I started attending the Catholic Mass, I was extremely emotional. The presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was wonderful–yes, I recognized Him.

And the songs–Haugen and Haas!–were so beautiful! Wonderful words and haunting melodies. The song “Gather Us In” was especially meaningful to me, because it expressed the way I felt–I wanted to be “gathered in” to the Catholic Church!

And the traditions–yes, it was an NO Mass, very contemporary as Masses go, and the church building was ultra-modern. I know that many of you consider these Masses bereft of tradition and heretical and abusive and all the rest, but to an evangelical Protestant like me, it seemed like medieval times, and very welcome and peace-filled after years of “Seeker Services” in the evangelical churches!

And the mystery! God was still a Friend, but He was no longer a buddy in the Catholic Mass. He was back to being God again. (Yes, in the NO Mass.)

All of this made me (and my husband) very emotional. So I would say that it was the emotional experience that encouraged us to investigate the doctrines of the Catholic Church, and the doctrines which eventually convinced us to convert.


Hmm, I’m not by nature a very emotional person. It’s not that I don’t feel, but I tend to be reserved. I can’t stand to be at Charismatic services since all that arm waving and clapping turns me off, but I have been deeply moved at Catholic services. It usually happens during Benediction and I have wept a quiet tear or two.

But the trouble with emotionalism is that emotions are so changing. I’ve gone through dry spells where you could have had the Pope and the Sistine Chapel choir say Mass at my home parish and nothing would have happened to me. I went through a period of anger and disgust when the sex scandals broke, but I never quit my belief in the truth of the Catholic Church. If I had been “emotional” I would have quit in despair or stormed out in disgust. But I stayed - because I am convinced in my intellect and that is stronger than fleeting emotions.


People differ.

But we all have passions. Which the word emotionalism cannot cover.

Part of the RCC is the philosophical tradition She inherited and incorporated, which defines man as a creature of free will, reason, passion, and virtues: to divorce any of man’s nature, positively defined, from faith is, I think, to misunderstand faith.

I’ll go out on a limb to quote what will seem like, but is not, an extreme assertion, by David Hume:

“Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”



What a great witness to hear: thank you.

God bless.


I do not believe anybody converts to Catholicism for just “emotional” reasons. There are many however who leave for Pentecostalism because of emotional reasons. They will say things like “I never felt that much love in the Catholic Church at all, but now I’m on fire with the Holy Spirit!” If hard-pressed for a deeper reason of why they left the Catholic Church, they will often say things like “Well, now I can confess my sins to God instead of to a man.” :rolleyes: From the people I know who have left Catholicism for Pentecostalism (or whatever else) it seems to me that they did not feel happy or nourished in the Catholic Church because they were not catechized.

Personally I do not think it is possible to convert to Catholicism for simply emotional reasons. Emotions (and I wonder if they are so much emotions as promptings of the Holy Spirit) can certainly trigger a conversion to Catholicism or help to complete a conversion, but by themselves they cannot be enough for conversion. To become a Catholic, you have to learn the faith and come to believe all of it, which takes a lot of studying and praying.


Some people like scary movies, and some may never expect love in the RCC:

but anybody who never felt love in his RCC would be perfectly reasonable to leave it, assuming he can feel in the first place.

Why did God become man?

To denigrate human nature, body and soul?

Where does Jesus not appear to have emotions in the New Testament?

Should we portray human nature as alien to human history, literature, art, and music–all of which the RCC has nourished to the highest degree–as alien even to the NT?

Studying–the root of the word is studium, Latin for zeal–and prayer are as passionate as anything I can imagine.


I agree with most of what you said. Although I think that if a person has never felt love in the Catholic Church he should first ask himself “Why don’t I feel love in the RCC? Is there something I don’t know?” before leaving. Otherwise, the person would be assuming that the reason he doesn’t feel love is the RCC, and not his own ignorance about the Catholic Faith.

I just think that there is a problem when “how I feel” becomes the absolute or primary rule of a person’s actions. Reason has to have a part too.


I have no idea why this is on the wrong forum it belongs on evangelization, but it does not surprise me that it only took a couple of posts to go off-track with an attack on the Charistmatic renewal (which is a topic which belongs on spirituality).

People convert to Catholocism for myriads of reasons, and sometimes cannot even explain to themselves or others why they are converting. Nor should they have to explain. It is coming home. Nobody needs to explain coming home, it is just what you do when you finally realize it is where you belong, and noplace else is home.


Thanks, but I would never argue the second to last point you raise.

I would only like to stress the necessity–obscured by some, for reasons not hard to understand–of the passions in our faith.

I agree that a mature thinker or believer would ask the question you helpfully raise.

However, as I look back on the causes of my lapse–I’m back now, praise God–one of them was the very unfriendly RCC I was attending: as a teen, I felt and saw no love whatever and I heard, perhaps through my own fault, no love in the homilies. As a cradle Catholic, raised strictly but lovingly, and with our closest family friends priests and nuns, I found, I now see, the experience deeply foreign alienating.

The church my family and I now attend is gorgeous, as is the liturgy, though they need to respond fast to the motu propio to get a Latin Mass going, organ, and choir. It is filled with passion, beauty, and truth, all of which can be seen in the faces of our parishoners, who come from around the world.

I would like to recommend to everybody a hard but very rewarding book by John Saward: The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty.

God bless.


I’m sure some of them do, but why is that a bad thing? I think that Christians undervalue emotions these days.


I think traditional Catholics have every reason to consider conversion as a topic for discussion: may conversion become a larger and larger part of traditional Catholicism!

Nor would I equate the necessity of the passions with Charismatic renewal.

I strongly agree with your last paragraph: faith is a gift quite beyond us, and, as my nearest and dearest said to me last night with utmost sincerity and sweetness and tranquility:

I feel no need at all to defend my faith. I accept my faith.

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