Repent! Convert! Two Words that Need to Be Rediscovered.

080713Too many Catholics are uncomfortable using the biblical and traditional words, “Repent,” convert and conversion. To repent means to change your mind and come to a new way of living. To convert means to turn from sinful ways or erroneous teaching.

But too many Catholics, including priests are uncomfortable using words like this. We used to speak of convert classes etc. But now many prefer abstract descriptions like, “Inquiry Classes” or the even more abstract “RCIA”

Many draw back lest they seem to suggest that others are wrong, “going wrong,” need to change, or, heaven forfend, “sinful.”  Words like repent and convert more than suggest that there is right and wrong, true and false, sanctity and sinfulness, good and evil.

But the fact is, many, including us, need on-going conversion And a good number need outright conversion And a complete change of mind, heart and behavior.

Of course repentance and the call to conversion are a key biblical summons. repentance is not suggested, it is commanded, and without it we will not see the kingdom of God.

Perhaps a central reason for the embarrassment many feel at the call to repentance and conversion is that it runs a foul of a kind of  “consumer Christianity” wherein faith is reduced to using God’s grace to access blessings but not to give one’s life over to Jesus Christ in love and obedience. Consumer Christianity targets “seekers” looking for enrichment rather than disciples. The heart of discipleship is, as Jesus says, is to “Deny yourself, take up your Cross, and follow me.”

But when faith is reduced to personal enrichment, true discipleship seems obnoxious and words like repentance, conversion,  and concepts like self denial, and the cross are non-starters and rejected as negative, judgemental, and, to use consumer language, is bad marketing.

To be sure, the faith does enrich and words like repentance and conversion need not be accompanied with sour faces or with no reference to the joy of salvation. We need not act like the wild-eyed sidewalk evangelists screaming repent only as a tactic of cringing fear.

But as to the avoidance of any fear at all and the words repent and convert, nothing could be more unChrist-like, for Jesus led with the summons to repent. It was in the very opening words of his public ministry: He said, “The time is now! The kingdom of God is near! Repent, and  believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).

And why does Jesus lead with this? Because the joy and enrichment of salvation cannot be accessed except through repentance and conversion. Eternal Life cannot be accessed except through turning our back on this world and dying to it. Easter Sunday is accessed only through Good Friday.

Consumer Christianity cannot save. Repentance and conversion, even if not popular in marketing focus groups of “seeker-sensitive” mega-churches, must be recovered in the call and vocabulary of the Church. Watering down the very thing Jesus led with is no way to make true disciples.

Repent and be converted that the Gospel may fill you.

Fun but serious video I made two years ago.

18 Replies to “Repent! Convert! Two Words that Need to Be Rediscovered.”

  1. In order to repent a worldly person would have to believe in ‘sin, righeousness, and judgement’, unfortunately Jesus condemns these people for not believing in them or having a distorted view of them.
    The Our Father for me is the best way to humble myself when I believe in my mind that I am right but know in my heart that I am wrong. Then there’s the confessional, God forbid we should ever speak of having to first enter the confessional before receiving the graces of the Eucharist; anyway, God’s mercy is sometimes unfathomable.

  2. It was an aversion with me, before God called me to repentance and a change of heart. The images of crazed street preachers screaming “repent or be damned” kept playing in my mind, Now the call for repentance comes easily and comfortably, because i know it is the life saving medicine needed by the critically ill. Praise God for He is so very good!!

  3. That was a really nice video! Thank you for writing about serious topics. I feel encouraged that you are willing to tell me (well, all of us) the whole truth, not just that God loves me. I am struggling to die to myself…

  4. So true father, Thanks for always keeping us on our feet with new insights. God bless you

  5. Isn’t this call to repentence more easily spoken in the nonliturgical, bible only, churches? It’s so simple, yet true and basic, and yet why is it lost on us Catholics? Is it because of all the formal prayers and liturgy? I remember the first time I was asked by a nonCatholic if I was saved and I was shocked and offended by it. I just wish we were all truly united in such a way that we didn’t argue over how we practice Christianity.

    1. Margaret, I understand what you mean!

      As a young Catholic woman, “repent” and “convert” were words that carried little meaning for me – they were outside of my experience and no one ever spoke about the need.

      I started reading the Bible when I was 27 years old and within months, I felt a change coming over me. One night it hit me: I had greatly offended God over the years with my unloving, immoral, and selfish behavior. I was heartbroken and cried for HOURS. I knew I needed God’s forgiveness but wasn’t so sure He’d forgive me. At that time I didn’t really understand the gospel message. So I continued to cry… But my conversion followed!

      I am so grateful for this painful experience. No person could have convinced me that I needed to repent. It was God, through His Word and in His mercy, who helped me to see myself the way He sees me. He had opened my eyes and ears and softened my heart.

      “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound… I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

  6. Monsignor, I first heard about this blog a few weeks ago while listening to Catholic Answers on 1160 AM. That show is AMAZING (now I listen to the podcasts during work). The host Patrick Coffin had referenced your blog and I was shocked you were in the DC area (as am I), so I saved the link and now it’s part of my daily morning ritual. I’m telling everyone about it because I find it so educational and inspiring.

    I have a question though: I have a lot of Protestant friends and like Margaret above they always say, “are you saved?” … How can I answer that? Something like we’ve all been saved the moment Jesus went through with the Crucifixion and submitted himself not to his human will, but to our fathers will. Maybe that with the combination of being Baptized into the faith and the Catholic Church?

    Thanks Father!

    1. When I get this question, occasionally, I answer by saying I’m justified by the blood of Jesus who will save me an raise me up to life in heaven with him. Frankly, I don’t get the question frequently anymore because even most Protestants realize it’s not a very biblical question. Paul does not say in Romans 3, the text which they allude, that we are saved. He says that we are justified by faith. That is to say, we are put into a right relationship with the Lord so that, through that relationship we can save us. At any rate, the brief answer to the question is unjustified by the blood of Jesus. Perhaps, I will write on this next week!

      1. Paul,

        I like to answer, that I was saved, I’m being saved, and I will be saved in eternity.

        Meaning, I was saved by Jesus on the cross (in a historical sense), I’m being saved today still by His grace (growing through deeper conversion towards holiness), and I will be saved when He comes again in glory (the final salvation of the world).

  7. I have always liked Rev. Richard John Neuhaus’ “coming into full communion” and, more recently, have found the word “discovery” to be a great alternative to convert. Conversion is the discovery of the Truth.

  8. Thank you Msgr. Pope. Here, I know I will find writing on a topic that will not only stay with me through the day, but informs and strengthens my faith. The revival of true Catholicism is found on these pages; not the lukewarm, Catholic-lite, Catholic Community nonsense I find all too often out this way. Conversion for me has been a journey that has taken me away from worldliness and back in contact with the Kingdom of God. It’s been slow, but fruitful. This topic is right on time for me. As our nation continues to stride purposefully away from its Judeo-Christian foundation, I have found true hope in Christ. Words like “repent” and “convert” used to conjure up images of some ‘end times’ sidewalk preacher. Now, we just might be there! Despite our place on God’s timeline, the words “repent” and “convert” are completely within my Catholic experience. I experience both via the daily examination of conscience and spiritual reading put into action.

  9. Regarding ” Christians consumer vs. discipleship”, I recommend the book Rebuilt by Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran, a priest and layman of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

  10. So very apropos … I am now reading a book by Marcus Grodi (EWTN fame) WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED,,, I have also been asked if I was saved and if witnessing to non=Catholic Christians it is difficult to answer because their perception of “salvation” and the Catholic understanding are different …

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