by Marcus Grodi

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After 40 years of ministry, half as a Protestant and half as a Catholic, I’ve come to the deep conviction that every single person needs continual conversion, especially when it comes to me. I’m constantly being startled by new aspects of this wonderful Catholic faith, which I thought I had come to understand, but which in reality I understand only as “in a mirror dimly.” And I believe the cause behind most of the conflicts that divide Christians stems from this need for continual conversion, from the top down.

Allow me to illustrate this with a diagram:

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The above three circles represent:

CIRCLE A: An individual’s formation before and apart from the person’s formation as a Catholic Christian. This represents all the sources of information—pastors, teachers, books, media, experiences, family, friends, etc.—that form an individual’s understanding of God, life, religion, self, etc., before the person receives specific instruction as a Catholic Christian. For converts to the Catholic faith, this includes their non-Catholic formation and convictions as well as any non-Catholic bias and false representations of Catholic beliefs. For life-long Catholics, this sometimes could include childhood formation at home, school, or parishbefore they experienced an “adult awakening” which instills within them a desire to “relearn” their faith and live it more fully and faithfully.

CIRCLE B: The new “Catholic” sources of formation that awaken an individual’s desire for a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith and/or a conversion to the Catholic religion, as well as the ongoing formation of that individual’s understanding of the faith. This includes teachers, books, media, experiences, family, friends, even sometimes Catholic television programs.

CIRCLE C: The true fullness of the Catholic faith, teaching, and experience, which is not necessarily equivalent to (B) what Catholic teachers, writers, media spokesmen, or even some members of the Catholic clergy proclaim. This represents what is in fact true.

The following combination of these three circles is one way of representing an individual’s present formation in relation to the three sources mentioned:

combined-circles-300x150
In other words, there are at least five kinds of knowledge and/or experiences that make up our present state of formation:

“A” represents the residual “baggage” of our past knowledge and experience, which continues, sometimes subconsciously, on into our present religious life, but still needs examination and correction.

“A-B” represents those aspects of our past knowledge and experience that did not need to change as a result of our conversion, areas of equivalence.

“B” represents things we learned from “Catholic” sources that are not precisely in line with the fullness of the truth; things we were taught to be true and necessary by sincere believing Catholics, but instead are less than accurate expressions of the Catholic faith, some of which may remain undetected until challenged.

“B-C” represents those aspects of Catholic truth we learned, which required radical changes from our past. Doctrines, ways of living, ethics, and morals, that we had to relearn or correct.

“C” represents those aspects of Catholic truth that we have yet to learn.

For example, in my own journey:

“A” includes lingering presumptions I have about the surety of my salvation, based on my previous longstanding presumptions of “once saved—always saved.”

“A-B” includes my continuing belief in the Trinity and Mary as Mother of God.

“B” includes certain devotional practices and radical misrepresentations of Church teachings.

“B-C” includes many things, like the trustworthiness of Sacred Tradition, the authority of the Magisterium in union with Peter, and intercession of the Saints.

“C” includes lots of stuff (!) I’ve yet to learn!

If you reflect on the significance of this diagram, you will see how different it is for each person, sometimes radically different even between life-long Catholics. We each have differing levels of residual baggage from our formative years (A), of less-than-accurate information we’ve picked up along the way from less-than-accurate sources (B), and, of course, lots of the truth we’ve yet to learn (C).

And it is the conflict of these differences that continues to plague the Christian community, because every Christian confronts other Christians with differing combinations of formation, which is one of the reasons every single one of us (maybe mostly me) needs continual conversion.

When St. Augustine said, “In essentials unity, non-essentials diversity, in all things charity,” he didn’t foresee the extent to which modern Christians are divided over what are essentials and non-essentials, and the extremes to which we would forget charity.

I chose not to say that we need “continual catechetical instruction,” because what is needed is not merely a matter of continual education, but of spiritual change, a change that is primarily the work of God, not of ourselves, a growth in holiness.

What this requires is a continual recognition of the inadequacies, holes, and blind-spots in our spiritual formation, and a humble willingness to continually examine our understanding and practice of the faith. As Jesus himself instructed in his Sermon on the Mount, we need the “attitudes of the Beatitudes”: poverty of spirit, mourning for our sins, meekness, a hungering and thirsting for righteousness, purity of heart, etc., all of which lead us to grow more deeply in our union with Christ and His Church.

Our Lord once made a disturbing revelation to his followers:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness! (Mt 7:21-23)

How can our Omniscient Lord Jesus not “know” us? He knows us each better than we know ourselves! Most sincere Christians do all we can to “know, love, and serve” Him, but how is it that He might fail to know us?

Remember those five maidens who did not have enough oil for their lamps? Why didn’t the bridegroom let them into the marriage feast? Because He said, “I do not know you” (Mt 25:12).

In our journeys of faith, are we continually preparing ourselves to meet Him? And when we do, will He know us?

In light of the diagram, I believe one way we can become better known by Him, is through continual self-examination, identifying residual baggage that holds us back (A) as well as inaccurate new information (B) that needs to be purged from our hearts and minds, so that our knowledge and practice can grow more in union with Him and His Church (C).

This is essentially what Saint Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).

(This article was originally published on Marcus Grodi’s blog: From Our Back Porch)

Marcus Grodi is the founder and president of the Coming Home Network International, a lay Catholic apostolate whose mission is helping Protestant clergy and laity come home to the Catholic Church. Marcus is also the host of The Journey Home program on EWTN. Marcus’s blog is http://www.fromourbackporch.com.

  • Najib Nasr

    Thank you, Brother Marcus. That was a superb anatomy of Conversion. You are the only person I have come across who has gotten it right on Conversion.

    Allow me, as a convert, to say that the Catholic Church is the only entity on earth that has implicitly said, what I now explicitly say: That CONVERSION IS A DAILY, LIFELONG PROCESS. Nowhere does the Catholic Church put these three words together. In trying to simplify matters for my simple mind, I have found myself doing that for her and I will prove that she confirms that in her teaching:

    “To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often” (Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman). Change in Catholic Christian terms is called Conversion; and Conversion is a daily, lifelong process:

    Philippians 1: 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.

    1 Thessalonians 5: 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.

    2 Corinthians 4: 16 Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

    CCC 1435: Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.

    (All these gestures require knowledge of God and knowledge of His will for us – YT).

    Pope John Paul II’s Redemptoris Missio 47: Certainly, every convert is a gift to the Church and represents a serious responsibility for her … especially in the case of adults, such converts bring with them a kind of new energy, an enthusiasm for the faith, and a desire to see the Gospel lived out in the Church. They would be greatly disappointed if, having entered the ecclesial community, they were to find a life lacking fervor and without signs of renewal! We cannot preach conversion unless we ourselves are converted anew every day.

    So, CCC 1435 says that Conversion is a daily matter; CCC 1439 mentions Conversion as a process; and, Scripture says it is a lifelong endeavor.

    Other Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs on Conversion: CCC 1436; 1490; 1888; 2784. It is now time for me to join the Coming Home Network. God bless.

  • Hendo

    “I chose not to say that we need ‘continual catechetical instruction,’ because what is needed is not merely a matter of continual education, but of spiritual change, a change that is primarily the work of God, not of ourselves, a growth in holiness.”

    As one of the millions of malformed cradle Catholics born in the 1960s, I have to agree, much as I don’t want to. The Baltimore Catechism is a matchless work for whose reintroduction to juvenile (and adult!) catechesis I often pine. It distills the truths of our faith in a format that speaks strongly to this revert’s intellect.

    Those truths, though, need not only to be communicated to the intellect but infused into the soul. Catechesis is essential, but assembly-line formation will not suffice to save my generation or those succeeding — any more than they preserved the generations of my forebears, notwithstanding the good intentions of catechists then and now. A personally lived faith is what I crave, what I need for salvation, and what I must bear to the world.

  • RAY

    Thank you Marcus
    Most of my life and certainly in recent years, as I grow older, I realise ever more the necessity of daily renewal and cleansing in order to be ready to meet my Saviour and my God. Jesus makes it so clear in his very troubling, (and it is meant to be!) parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22 that, even if we make it into the wedding feast, we still stand the risk of being thrown out because our wedding garment is not clean and appropriate – or even missing entirely! “He (the King) said to him (the wedding guest), ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
    May God give us the grace and strength to ‘persevere to the end’ and like Paul, ‘receive the victor’s crown’!
    God bless all.
    Ray – Portsmouth UK.

  • stefanie

    Great visual explanation!
    As an RCIA Director for the past 8 years, I really have discovered so much more about our Catholic Church — and daily learn more. It does give my students (and potential students) great comfort when I tell them that I am still ‘constantly being converted’ to the beliefs, teachings, traditions of the Church. One must never stop the conversion process. To do stop the process, to me, is denying the Holy Spirit’s access to your mind, soul, and body.
    And yes, our bodies must too be converted — that has been a recent learning for me. It seems that sin starts with the mind, runs over the soul, and is given action by the body).