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Conversion Conversations: From the Head to the Heart

Matt Swaim
March 20, 2024 No Comments

In speaking with those who are exploring the Catholic faith, we sometimes notice different themes emerge. It can be helpful to hear how those questions are answered by others as we consider our own responses should we ever be on the receiving end of the question ourselves. Below is an excerpt of a conversation between an inquirer and Matt Swaim, Director of Outreach:


INQUIRER: How do you balance the onslaught of information in religious education with becoming a Catholic who has a personal relationship with God—how do you solve the head/heart conundrum?

MATT: I absolutely had to sort through that kind of thing on my way toward the Catholic Church; I still do with some regularity, if I’m honest. I think it comes from the particular kind of Evangelicalism I was raised in, which emphasized the familiar/relational aspects of God—a lot of language about “personal relationship” and a primary emphasis on friendship with God.

At the same time, there wasn’t a strong emphasis on the intellectual aspects of Christian faith—at least not until I got to college. When I discovered them, it was like walking into a candy store, and I got very prideful about what I was learning, a lot of which was pointing to the transcendent, infinite, and philosophical questions about Christianity. It was confusing and exciting at the same time, and when I got beyond C.S. Lewis and into people who’d been dead a lot longer than him, it got even more exciting and confusing.

Catholicism wasn’t on my radar until well into this exploration, and while I can’t put my finger on all of it, I can say that the Church is very old and wise and understands human beings very well. The Church knows that if she is to be universal, and the true Body of Christ, there has to be room for peasants and kings, for scholars and those with intellectual disabilities, for introvertsand extroverts. St. Gregory once described all of it as being like a river, where it’s shallow enough for a lamb to cross in one part and deep enough for an elephant to swim in another part. It has to hold up to intellectual scrutiny, but it also has to speak to the deepest desires of the human heart. St. Paul appeals to the intellect when he says “test everything; hold on to what is good” (1 Thes 5:21), but he appeals to our human longings when he says “the Spirit himself intercedes for us in groans that cannot be expressed.” (Rom 1:26)

In terms of the head/heart conundrum, my advice is to tap back into the realizations that got you excited about Christianity in the first place, because those are absolutely still valuable. I know I can get inside my own head, and sometimes I just need to experience silence, meditation, and prayer instead of research and study and diving into arguments. Have you checked out Eucharistic Adoration yet? Or had a chance to visit some beautiful area parishes to just look around and soak it in? I know those things have helped me when my head and heart seem to be in conflict with one another. But most of all be patient with yourself; absorbing Catholicism is like eating five thousand elephants.

And while there’s plenty to learn as Catholics, I have to constantly remind myself that Catholicism isn’t about knowing a lot of information. It’s about entering ever more deeply into a relationship with God, Who is love. St. John Chrysostom, one of the smartest people in the history of the Church, said that “In the evening of our life, we will be judged on love alone.” Or as St. Bonaventure put it, a little more pointedly, when asked if only the learned could be saints: “Any old woman can love God better than a doctor of theology can.”

Matt Swaim

Matt Swaim is Director of Outreach for The Coming Home Network.

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