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!