The Case for Conversion: The Missing Ingredient for Spiritual Growth

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the number of Catholic books, videos, and podcasts? Where do you start? Just because your friend liked a book, does that mean it’s the best for you right now?

Perhaps you prefer spiritual “classics.” Maybe you stick with the most popular authors or choose a publisher’s newest offerings? Or it might be as simple as saying “That sounds interesting?” At one time or another, I’ve followed all of these. Yet, it sure would help if we had a better guide when gazing out over the virtual “flood” of resources.

Parish leaders face the same dilemma. With limited time available to read and research, how do you decide which parish growth and renovation approach you should follow? Do you go with the “22 Steps,”1 the “52 Ways,”2 or the “75 Really, Really Practical Ways?”3 They’re all excellent resources. And just because someone found their methods worked for them, does that mean they’ll work for you?

While it’s impossible to address all the personal reasons for choosing a spiritual aid, I do know one important principle we should never overlook: “Will it promote conversion to Christ?” Conversion is central to everything we do as disciples. Let’s take a brief look at what the Catholic Church teaches about the role of conversion. *

1.Disciples first come to Christ through conversion.

Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.’ In the Church’s preaching this call is addressed first to those who do not yet know Christ and his Gospel. Also, Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life. (CCC 1427)

2. Conversion doesn’t stop with our Baptism and  Confirmation but should be ongoing.

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. (Redemptoris Missio 46)

3. Catechesis is not just about acquiring knowledge. It  should lead to a conversion of the whole person.

Catechesis aims therefore at developing understanding of the mystery of Christ in the light of God’s word, so that the whole of a person’s humanity is impregnated by that word. Changed by the working of grace into a new creature, the Christian thus sets himself to follow Christ and learns more and more within the Church to think like Him, to judge like Him, to act in conformity with His commandments, and to hope as He invites us to. (Catechesi Tradendae 20)

4. We need conversion to receive graces conferred  in the liturgy and realize the fruits of a holy life.

The assembly should prepare itself to encounter its Lord and to become “a people well disposed.” The preparation of hearts is the joint work of the Holy Spirit and the assembly, especially of its ministers. The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Father’s will. These dispositions are the precondition both for the reception of other graces conferred in the celebration itself and the fruits of new life which the celebration is intended to produce afterward. (CCC 1098)

5. Prayer, essential to the life of every disciple, depends on conversion.

Once committed to conversion, the heart learns to pray in faith. Faith is a filial adherence to God beyond what we feel and understand. It is possible because the beloved Son gives us access to the Father. He can ask us to “seek” and to “knock,” since he himself is the door and the way. (CCC 2609)

6. Social change requires inner conversion.

It is necessary, then, to appeal to the spiritual and moral capacities of the human person and to the permanent need for his inner conversion, so as to obtain social changes that will really serve him. The acknowledged priority of the conversion of heart in no way eliminates but on the contrary imposes the obligation of bringing the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions when they are an inducement to sin, so that they conform to the norms of justice and advance the good rather than hinder it. (CCC 1888)

7. Evangelization is a response to our experience of  conversion to Christ.

Goodness always tends to spread. Every au­thentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any per­son who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. As it expands, goodness takes root and develops. If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good. (Evangelii Gaudium 9)

For the love of Christ impels us. (II Cor. 5:14)

8. Personal and ecclesial renewal pours forth from the  Gospel received in our hearts anew.

Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always “new.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 11)

Every renewal of the Church is essentially grounded in an increase of fidelity to her own calling. Undoubtedly this is the basis of the movement toward unity. Christ summons the Church to continual reformation as she sojourns here on earth. The Church is always in need of this, in so far as she is an institution of men here on earth. (Unitatis Redintegratio 6)

It’s no secret that our society continues to slide further from God. It is critical that we, the disciples of Christ and his Church, do not slide with it. We don’t just protect our professed doctrine, although that is a must. We must act true to its lived expression. If our secular brother or sister looks at us and sees nothing substantially different from any other direction of gaze, how can we expect them to want to know Christ?

The lived expression of our relationship with Jesus demands authenticity. The Missionariemother-teresa-and-the-express-novenas of Charity are one example of genuine discipleship. Those who had lost faith in both God and men tell of how they turned back to God when they saw how the sisters cared for the sick and dying. Why? The stark beauty and contrast of the love of Christ against a background of selfishness and bland religion jolted their failing hearts like a defibrillator. For others to encounter Christ through us goes beyond our good behavior. It means a radical expression of the love of Christ.

The world will put us to sleep. Our human nature will seek security and complacency. There is only one way to avoid this fate: conversion to Christ. This transformation doesn’t stop with the first profession of faith but continues day after day. Without this, using great resources or participating in a multitude of programs may give us the illusion of spiritual growth, but fail to produce any truly, meaningful change.

1 Reinhardt, James N. 22 Steps to a Great Catholic Parish: Practical and doable ways to improve parish life! New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 2010.

2 Paprocki, Joe. A Church on the Move: 52 Ways to Get Mission and Mercy in Motion. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2016.

3 White, Michael and Corcoran, Tom. Tools for Rebuilding: 75 Really, Really Practical Ways to Make Your Parish Better. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2013.

2 thoughts on “The Case for Conversion: The Missing Ingredient for Spiritual Growth

  1. I often feel that parish groups only focus on spirituality, but do not express outward signs to encourage conversion among the people they encounter everyday. I believe this must be a intentional effort of the parish group simply because it is out of the comfort zone of so many Catholics. I am speaking in terms of having even action items to which the groups can report back on when they meet that were expressions of conversion. It can be as simple as I smiled at the people I came across today, I gave a prayer card to someone today, I gave an encouraging word from the Bible to someone today. I think it is so easy for believers to go the whole day without mentioning the name of Jesus, except in their own private prayer. When in reality, speaking of our faith should be as much a part of us as breathing for we are to pray without ceasing and be an outward sign of Christ.

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    • I agree. We need to “break the silence” when it comes to talking about Jesus. While there are many reasons for that silence, one of the largest is the influence of secular culture, which in turn influences our parish culture. As I believe it’s possible to change our local culture, I am also hopeful we can improve. And the first person to change, as in all reform, is me.

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