Some help with the Catholic concept of conversion


Howdy folks!

I’ve been exploring the Catholic faith over the past few years and recently started RCIA classes. My dad was raised in the Catholic Church, and after having a conversion experience in college became a non-denominational Christian. In some ways, his Catholic upbringing has been quite useful to me on my faith journey. (For example, his rejection of the idea that Catholics believed in a works-based salvation, gave me confidence to read further about the Church, etc.) Furthermore, he does not bear any particular animosity towards the church. However, the down side, is that since he felt compelled to leave the Catholic Church, he naturally thinks my joining is a mistake. He is not opposed to it; he probably thinks it’s just not the brightest decision I’ve ever made. With that introduction, I’ll get to the point.

I got a letter from him recently, describing a visit he and his sister had with a priest, while they were in college. I hope he’ll forgive me for quoting part of it here.

“Your interest in Catholicism makes me think of Father Nick. He was (and maybe still is) a nice priest at Redemptorist, where Susan went to high school…We had a nice visit and agreed on many points. The thing that remember specifically was that we empasized the importance of the new birth. Father Nick commented that this was what the Church would call “conversion.” I realized that this was a big divide. We had all experienced the new birth, but here was the rub. We had never heard of it in our religious training. I am convinced that it is not something that can be scheduled at confirmation or be gotten in a series of little doses via communion. I am convinced that you are born again, and I think I understand your affinity for the many things that the Catholics do well…”

I am interested if any of you have any thoughtful responses to this. I looked up ‘conversion’ in the catechism, and came up with some semi-useful explanations of it in the context of the sacrament of reconciliation. Conversion in this sense appears to be a series of reconversions after committing mortal sins throughout one’s time as a Catholic.

I guess what would be really useful, is if any of you out there knew of a good Church document or Papal Encyclical or something like that emphasizing that the Church does care that its members not only fulfill all the obligations of the church, lead good lives, etc, but that these things are made alive through faith in God and Jesus Christ. I firmly believe this, but I would like something a bit stronger than my impressions to back me up.

If any of you Catholic reverts have any light to shed on this topic, I would be particularly interested, or any cradle Catholics for that matter. Did any of you go through a time of simply going through the motions of the church (albeit with good will) and then have some sort of conversion experience where you began to participate in the life of the church with faith? I’m not implying that everyone has to be able to come up with some watershed moment in their lives when they first realized the relevance of Jesus Christ to their lives. Many times we can not trace the beginnings of faith. However, if any of you have had an experience similar to my dad’s, it would be interesting to hear how you came to view things differently!

By posting this thread, I’m not trying to come up with some great comeback for my dad or anything. I think it would bring him a lot of peace to know that the Catholic Church does value each of its members coming to a point in which they personally decide they want to follow Christ.

Also if any of you can elaborate more fully on what the Catholic idea of conversion is, I would be interested to hear your responses! Thanks!


Conversion, at its heart, it about turning towards Christ. Conversion is about keeping your entire self focused on Jesus. It is a moment and a process. For some people, they have a specific experience that they call their moment of conversion or born again and then continues throughout their lifetime. For others, their conversion is much slower and continous over time and they may not be able to define a specific moment but still have that conversion. Both are valid and are unique to the individual and how Jesus calls to them.

As someone who has always been Catholic, yes, for a while I did go through the motions. I never left the Church yet there were times during that time that I didn’t take seriously or care to take seriously my faith. I understood what I believed but that did mean much beyond a test knowledge, meaning if I was asked test questions that required specific answers I could give them with no underlying understanding of what I was saying.

When I did start taking my faith seriously, it wasn’t so much a conversion as a need to be able to articulate what I knew into intelligable answers. That occured about two years ago. It’s only recently in reflecting over that time that I realized that my faith and my relationship with the Church, with Jesus has changed. That has happened over time and will continue to do so. In some ways, that slower, longer over time process of conversion allows for greater and sustained growth. You keep plodding along even if you don’t see immediate results because you trust Jesus, even if you doubt, to not lead you astray.

As for your dad mentioning that he never heard it before, that’s quite possible. I don’t know your dad’s catechisis in that regards. That doesn’t mean the Church doesn’t believe in conversion and that new birth. The Church understands it as a life long process that may, in some people, be jumpstarted so to speak by a specific moment or experience. Jesus isn’t limited in how he calls people to choose to follow him.

We have free will. We are free to follow or not to follow Jesus. The Catholic Chuch treates us as adults in our ability to make choices in regards to our faith because of free will. No one is forced to follow Jesus. But it is up to the person to make that choice. The Church does care about its members and their desire to follow Christ but it is a personal decision and that it may take years for a person to come to that decision to follow through and actually follow through.

I hope this helps a little. I wish I could articulate some of this better than I did.


What Father was saying is the the Protestant idea of being “born again” or “new birth” actually refers to a conversion experience or a deeper conversion.
We receive grace in order to repent and accept Jesus and convert, but this “born again” experience is NOT the same as what Jesus means by being “born again”.

What Jesus means by being “born again” or a “new birth” is being baptized. For adults, baptism comes after the conversion experience, or being born again.

The teachings the apostles handed down is that after we convert and decide to follow Jesus, then if we want to receive this grace that frees us from the inclination to sin we will be baptised. At baptism we are also freed from original sin, become children of God and receive the right to heaven. This grace gives us a new birth or we can say we are “born again”. This is the teaching the apostles handed down. Most Protestants get a different teaching that comes from Luther and Calvin.

We don’t receive all the grace to be freed from the inclination to sin at baptism, we receive more from the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Thus, the Eucharist is the sacrament that makes available the most grace that Jesus earned on the cross. That is why the mass is so important.
We also receive more grace through private prayer, and through suffering in union with Jesus.

All this grace makes it possible to be freed from the inclination to sin (concupisence) and thus have some degree of happiness here and if we make use of this grace by obeying God then we are united to Him. If we continue until death we will have permanent union with him in heaven. If we choose to reject this grace and live in sin, then we are rebelling against God and we will choose hell for eternity.


Catholic teaching recognizes all kinds of conversions. Not just the “sinners prayer” or OSAS variety.

St. Paul is the only follower of Christ who received this instantaneous conversion where he (in Protestant terms) accepted Christ immediately. The other apostles, including Peter, followed their Master faithfully but it was only when Christ asked them directly who they thought He was that Peter had his “moment” of full conversion, stating our loud “You are the Son of the living God”. In other words, it was a process for all of them.

We are baptised at birth into the life of Christ and His Church. We embark on this faith and conversion journey. If we are truly blessed and faithful, we can stay on the road and continue our growth, enjoying a deeper and more profound understanding of our relationship to God. Many of us who leave (or flee, in my case!) come back through a process of conversion. Some of us are blessed enough to have a “St. Paul” moment where our heads get spun around and we see a glimpse of the truth, and want more.

The Sacraments are there for us to participate in the life of Christ, to shower ourselves in grace, and share in the community of believers. While a person who is about to be Confirmed may not experience a conversion “moment”, the graces bestowed upon him through this and the other Sacraments, will carry him through the life long conversion process.

Hope that helps!


As a cradle Catholic I would say that yes there is a conversion for the devout Catholic. Somehow I always felt called by God. I would also say that every person in any given religion would have times when they were going through the motions.
That being said I can say I have had 2 conversions outside of the Sacraments. #1 was after I went to Cursillo (Spanish for “a short course” in Catholicism) in 1992. It made Jesus real for me which was an epiphany. My life was never the same afterward but many years later with much more water under the bridge, a divorce, remarriage, an annulment and having that marriage blessed in the Church I have to say my faith was shaken. Not in God but in the Church. The annulment process seems very unfair to the person who wants to stay married. So I strayed away from the church for a time.
#2 was about 6 weeks ago when a fellow Catholic gave me “The Lambs Supper” by Scott Hahn to read which reveals the Mystery of the Mass. This book simply blew my mind. I couldn’t read it fast enough then read it again. After I finished it the first time I went strait to confession and then Mass. I feel this book caused a conversion some fifteen years later when I was searching for a reason to be fully Catholic. I’ve never been so on fire for God. I even bought more copies to give out as I was called so more Catholics could understand what the Mass is all about.
Anyway, that is a personal experience of God through my brothers and sisters in the Church. Unfortunately it is not “Apolegetic” in nature but noone can deny my experience/testimony.


You might find the following papal documents helpful:

Pope Paul VI’s apostilic exhortation, On Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi), especially paragraph 10:10. This kingdom and this salvation, which are the key words of Jesus Christ’s evangelization, are available to every human being as grace and mercy, and yet at the same time each individual must gain them by force—they belong to the violent, says the Lord,[24] through toil and suffering, through a life lived according to the Gospel, through abnegation and the cross, through the spirit of the beatitudes. But above all each individual gains them through a total interior renewal which the Gospel calls metanoia; it is a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart.[25]

Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Mission of the Redeemer (Redemptoris Missio), especially paragraphs 46:46. The proclamation of the Word of God has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith. Conversion is a gift of God, a work of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Spirit who opens people’s hearts so that they can believe in Christ and “confess him” (cf. 1 Cor 12:3); of those who draw near to him through faith Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6:44). From the outset, conversion is expressed in faith which is total and radical, and which neither limits nor hinders God’s gift. At the same time, it gives rise to a dynamic and lifelong process which demands a continual turning away from “life according to the flesh” to “life according to the Spirit” (cf. Rom 8:3-13). Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple. The Church calls all people to this conversion, following the example of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Christ by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4), as well as the example of Christ himself, who “after John was arrested,…came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God and saying: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel’” (Mk 1:14-15). …

Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, On Catechesis in Our Time (Catechesi Tradendae), especially paragraph 19:19. The specific character of catechesis, as distinct from the initial conversion - bringing proclamation of the Gospel, has the twofold objective of maturing the initial faith and of educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ.(49)
But in catechetical practice, this model order must allow for the fact that the initial evangelization has often not taken place. A certain number of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit; and opposition is quickly created by the prejudices of their non-Christian family background or of the positivist spirit of their education. In addition, there are other children who have not been baptized and whose parents agree only at a later date to religious education: for practical reasons, the catechumenal stage of these children will often be carried out largely in the course of the ordinary catechesis. Again, many pre-adolescents and adolescents who have been baptized and been given a systematic catechesis and the sacraments still remain hesitant for a long time about committing their whole lives to Jesus Christ - if, moreover, they do not attempt to avoid religious education in the name of their freedom. Finally, even adults are not safe from temptations to doubt or to abandon their faith, especially as a result of their unbelieving surroundings. This means that “catechesis” must often concern itself not only with nourishing and teaching the faith, but also with arousing it unceasingly with the help of grace, with opening the heart, with converting, and with preparing total adherence to Jesus Christ on the part of those who are still on the threshold of faith. This concern will in part decide the tone, the language and the method of catechesis.


Besides the issue of one-time event vs. process, the Catholic understanding differs from the evangelical Protestant one in that Catholics don’t trust “experience” as an indicator of grace. In other words, you might make a good confession and re-enter a state of grace without feeling any different. (You might even, if you love God very much and He thinks you can take it, go through years and years of no experience at all, like Mother Teresa.) Or you might commit a mortal sin and lose the life of God in your soul while still having wonderful “experiences” of what you think is God. Experience, in the Catholic understanding (unless I have seriously misunderstood the Catholic view, in which case I ask the Catholics to correct me), is the icing on the cake–you may have it or you may not. A “conversion experience” is therefore something some people go through. But what matters is that you believe in Christ with a faith formed by love, and persevere in doing works of charity and trusting in God’s grace, whether you feel that grace or not.

As I understand it, Karl Rahner did have more room for experience in his understanding of grace, and this has influenced much post-Vatican-II Catholicism, at least in the Western world. You will find varying opinions among Catholics as to whether Rahner is orthodox, but as far as I know he was never condemned as a heretic.



Well everyone,

I have to say I have been touched and impressed by your insightful responses. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts! I plan on sharing your responses with dad. I think he would really enjoy them as I did.

Pacbox, blessedtoo, and travelingrns, thanks so much for sharing your personal experiences. I think you all expressed them beautifully. And it’s encouraging to see that the Church not only officially believes some things, but that those beliefs are manifested in the lives of individuals. It’s in each other’s lives that we witness the reality of belief.

Todd Easton, thanks for the references! That was exactly what I was looking for. I can’t wait to read the docs in their entirety.

dcdurel, nice explanation of the new birth! I hadn’t heard it from quite that angle before.

Edwin, I enjoyed your discussion of the role of experience in the life of faith. I’ll have to look into this Rahner guy now.

Again, many thanks everyone, and God bless you all!



Please forgive this very dumb question–I’m asking because I’m ignorant and do not know the naswer.

What if a person who has never been to church, baptized, or christian his whole life watches alot of EWTN, reads the Catechism and the Bible, hears a Catholic Evangelist or someone like Father Corapi preaching and becomes utterly convinced that Jesus is Lord and that they want to become a Christian and enter the Church.

Say they immediately go to the nearest Catholic priest and tell him that and that they want to repent of their sins and become Catholic and follow Jesus.

Would the priest offer them the Sacrament of Reconciliation and hear their confession


Would the priests question them about the Catholic Faith and offer them the Sacrament of Baptism


Would the priest tell them to go to the next RCIA class and be Baptized at the next Easter Vigil?

Should such a person make an act of perfect contrition while they wait to be Baptized


Not make an act of perfect contrition because they already have a Desire for Baptism and that will cover them until they’re Baptized?

What happens when someone converts to the Catholic faith like that who has heard and studied the Catholic faith–believes it–feels sorry for thier sins and desires to be Catholic?


#11 Unabridged
**con·ver·sion **

  1. the act or process of converting; state of being converted.
  2. change in character, form, or function.
  3. spiritual change from sinfulness to righteousness.
  4. change from one religion, political belief, viewpoint, etc., to another.
  5. a change of attitude, emotion, or viewpoint from one of indifference, disbelief, or antagonism to one of acceptance, faith, or enthusiastic support, esp. such a change in a person’s religion.

For some it is an “act” for others (like me) it is a “process”


Exactly what I was getting at but didn’t. Thanks Edwin. And thanks to the others who explained what I forgot. Experience is nice but not something we as Catholics concern ourselves with. Feelings are nice but they do not define our faith or our conversions, as Edwin so apptly put it.

Conversion for some is that “ah-ha” moment when their studies or their prayers lead them to the conclusion that the Catholic faith is the faith and Jesus has led them to that conclusion. If you read the conversion stories on these forums, you’ll see that it’s this moment of “I get it” that leads them to follow Jesus into the Catholic Church. For others, its grasping over time and is practically imperceptible, the understanding and turning towards Jesus though the understanding of the Catholic faith.


Was St. Peter wrong for not sending 3,000 souls at Pentecost to RCIA class?

Did those people have an “ah-ha” conversion moment?

Was Pentecost the only time in history that the Holy Spirit converted souls that swiftly–that in the present moment–and did any of those people Feel it–and could they remember it later as a distinct moment in time?

I’m not saying that people always come to the Catholic faith that way or even that RCIA or catechesis is a bad thing.

All I’m saying is that it would be wrong to think that the Holy Spirit Never works that way.

In other words it would be possible for a Catholic evangelist–either a priest, deacon, bishop, or the pope to preach the gospel–people to hear it–and yes for people to be converted at that specific time to faith in Jesus!

I wouldn’t say that they should necessarily be immediately baptized–that is for the Catholic Church to discern–but to act like people don’t ever convert in a moment to faith in Jesus or the Catholic Church is wrong.

If Catholics preach the gospel–some people will convert!

The main thing is that when they do the Catholic Church needs to sheperd them and not leave them hanging til the next RCIA class!

I don’t think any Catholic intends to leave any new convert sheperdless but does it ever happen? Unfortuanately Yes.

Let’s all do whatever we can to keep it from happening.

Can we all agree on that?


I really enjoyed the comments thus far, and thought I’d add one of my experiences. I’m a cradle Catholic who has gone through many cold/lukewarm/hot phases in practicing my faith. I say that because as long as I can remember I’ve believed in God and the Church but haven’t always lived a good life.

The Lord delivered me from a drug and alcohol addiction and my love for Jesus was strong, but I was dealing with alot of skeletons in my closet. I arrived at church for a young persons meeting after Mass and saw all these people praying with the priest and most fell over, others weeped loudly, and it was the case for almost everyone who went up. I thought what’s going on here so I asked my mom who was there. She said they are being slain in the spirit. It seemed very foreign to me.

I went up and prayed while waiting for the priest, and when I had my chance I asked “pray with me father I have alot of skeletons I’m trying to deal with”. He started praying but it was in another language and I couldn’t understand it. He was talking softly and I strained to hear him. All of a sudden my knees buckled and I was on the floor. A huge wave of peace came over me and I heard an inner voice tell me “I have always been with you”.

This is one of the most profound things that has happened to me. It deeply affected me and sad to say I’ve had cold/lukewarm phases since. God has gentlely nudged me with his presence and knocked me off my feet. Although I have always believed in God it was a very concrete proof for me that he exists and loves me. It has also given the Eucharist more meaning to me. I have to be vigilante in doing God will or I drift away, I guess what I’m saying is I thank God for the spiritual experiences He’s given me but staying on track is hard work. Praise God!

An interesting side note. I talked to the priest later that evening and he said he was shocked at first when The Spirit started working and he was afraid what people would think or say. But, his very next thought was Thy will be done!


Coming to the Lord in baptism is the first step–that is where we are born again. Confirmation is another step. But along the way we should be continuing the process of metanoia, complete and unconditional turning to God. Conversion is not some one time emotionalistc experience, but a constant battle of crucifying the felsh, carrying our Cross, warring with the devil and his minions, and being sanctified and inflamed by the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion strengthens us and nourishes us for this process :thumbsup:


It’s impossible for me to believe that The Church acts this way. I can FULLY believe that people (within the Church) do, though.

My experience is that Priests have told me to deepen my faith by investigating doctrine (which I want nuts with and studied in extremous) and going to mass (daily if possible) to immerse myself in it.

To imply that “it’s wrong” to not immediately make a “spontaneous emotional/intellectual convert” a FULL MEMBER of the Church, without giving them a grounding in what they’re in for, is to “cheapen” full membership, which is MORE than simply “having faith”,…

…which returns us the whole subject area of the “solas”.

If Catholics preach the gospel–some people will convert!

The main thing is that when they do the Catholic Church needs to sheperd them and not leave them hanging til the next RCIA class!

I don’t think any Catholic intends to leave any new convert sheperdless but does it ever happen? Unfortuanately Yes.

One could also make the observation that “protestants” let people “in” lightly and then, due to not feeding them properly, lose them to “religious narrow-ism” or atheism in some form (relativism/materialism/spiritualism/etc).

The point is that people need to be supported in their new faith, but “giving them the keys to the car” before they can drive isn’t a particularly good answer to the problem.

Let’s all do whatever we can to keep it from happening.

Can we all agree on that?

Hear hear…!! :slight_smile:

Mahalo ke Akua…!
E pili mau na pomaikai iaoe. Aloha nui.


Did Peter give the converts at Pentecost the keys to the car?

Was the possesor of the keys wrong for giving them the keys to the car?

Dd they have enough Catechesis after hearing him preach?

Was he wrong for baptizing them without giving them a period of catechesis?



The car wasn’t “all there” yet. There was much to be “doctrinally developed”, but the people had what they needed at the time, just as we all have what we need from God at all times FOR THOSE TIMES in terms of our development, if we do what God says to do to allow ourselves God’s always freely given graces.

Was the possesor of the keys wrong for giving them the keys to the car?

See above. They were not given the keys to the car. But they were allowed to “play with it” so as to learn.

Dd they have enough Catechesis after hearing him preach?

No. You can never have ENOUGH catechesis.
*) Did they have ENOUGH to be Christians? Yes.
*) Did they have ENOUGH to be POPE in the year 2007? No.

Was he wrong for baptizing them without giving them a period of catechesis?

They DID have a period of catechesis!

They were given that catechesis by a SINGULAR act of the Holy Spirit (if you consider that Pentacost as such), which was a direct experience (teaching/catechesis).

The catechesis was appropriate for the time and conditions.

Your definitions of your terms are too narrow to be applicable to what you’re trying to talk about.

Some catechesis is generally in order for those who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Mahalo ke Akua…!
E pili mau na pomaikai iaoe. Aloha nui.


So the question is: is that the only time in history that the Holy Spirit performed so swift of a catechesis?

Exactly when after conversion from hearing the gospel in the history of the church was a period of catechesis required?

Wasn’t the Ethiopian baptized rather quickly after being taught the scriptures in the book of Acts?

I’m not saying that it is wrong for the church to catechize people for a period after they convert–all I’m saying is that it hasn’t always been so and the universe doesn’t blow up if there isn’t a long or formal period of catechesis after conversion and before baptism.

Why is it that people back then could “have the car to play with it so to learn” but people today can’t?

Don’t tell me that converts are never told to WAIT for the next RCIA class–I think that is a waste of time and a golden opportunity for Satan!


Could be. I don’t have much documentation on ALL TIMES IN HISTORY when catechesis was “imbued”, though, so it would be difficult for me to say.

Exactly when after conversion from hearing the gospel in the history of the church was a period of catechesis required?

You have a basic misunderstanding of the word “catechesis”. Look it up.

The MORE catechesis one gets, the better for the catechumen.

The “requirement” is that as much as possible happen. That’s all. We can “afford” to spend more time on it now, and should do so.

Wasn’t the Ethiopian baptized rather quickly after being taught the scriptures in the book of Acts?

I’m not saying that it is wrong for the church to catechize people for a period after they convert–all I’m saying is that it hasn’t always been so and the universe doesn’t blow up if there isn’t a long or formal period of catechesis after conversion and before baptism.

True. We agree. Do we agree that the more the better, then?

Why is it that people back then could “have the car to play with it so to learn” but people today can’t?

People today have HUGE amounts of material to “play with” Catholicism before entering into “formal” catechesis.

I “played with it” for over a year in a very deep and determined way.

Don’t tell me that converts are never told to WAIT for the next RCIA class–I think that is a waste of time and a golden opportunity for Satan!

Being “instantly initiated” without knowing as much as possible is to “cheapen” the experience of initiation.

Your think it a “waste of time” because you think the Church is a social club, slobering for new members so as to drive up revenues.

One can act as a full Catholic without being fully initiated, and these are the type of people that the Church needs,… not “liturgy addict” fanbois, waiting for the “next big thing” in the way of cool new religious experience.

You want nifty hats,… join the masons.

Mahalo ke Akua…!
E pili mau na pomaikai iaoe. Aloha nui.

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