Lukewarm Catholics (Part 1): The Need for an Initial Conversion

Why are so many Catholics in Singapore lukewarm? Isn’t that the common complaint of priests at homilies? There is no one singular answer. Despite being born and raised as a Catholic, I was lukewarm myself too. That is, until June 2000, when I had my personal conversion experience.

B.C. 2000 (Before Christ, before 2000)

I was baptized at birth, and confirmed at 13. I went to Catholic schools at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. I served as an altar boy. I went for mass every Sunday. Yet, my faith never impacted me, never compelled me, and it never excited me. This hollowness became more pronounced when I was serving NS. By then, most of my fellow confirmands had already stopped going to Church.

Standing at mass one Sunday, attending it alone, I looked around and saw many lifeless faces, seemingly going through the motion. Recognizing the emptiness within, and in desperation, I cried out in my heart, “Lord! If you are indeed real, show me how real You are, and I will follow You with everything I’ve got!”

I have since learned – never challenge the Almighty. He will show up.

And He did. The following Sunday, I heard a moving testimony from a teacher from my school, who had attended a retreat. She gave her testimony at Mass, in front of thousands, about how during that retreat, Christ found her, healed her, and became her friend, brother and Lord. She shared very personal details. Only someone who had truly encountered a living and loving Person would unabashedly reveal such things in public.

I signed up for the retreat immediately. It was then when I personally encountered Christ in a way which changed my life forever. By His grace, acting upon and within me, I searched, I encountered, and I followed Him.

What the Church Says about “Initial” Conversion

In the General Directory for Catechesis (1997) (“GDC“), the Congregation for the Clergy explained at [53] that the Christian faith is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, making of oneself a disciple of Him:

“The Christian faith is, above all, conversion to Jesus Christ, full and sincere adherence to his person and the decision to walk in his footsteps. Faith is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, making of oneself a disciple of him. This demands a permanent commitment to think like him, to judge like him and to live as he lived. In this way the believer unites himself to the community of disciples and appropriates the faith of the Church.”

Later at [56], the concept of “initial conversion” was explained:

Conversion. This first moment of interest in the Gospel requires a period of searching to be transformed into a firm option. The option for faith must be a considered and mature one. Such searching, guided by the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the Kerygma, prepares the way for conversion which is certainly “initial”, but brings with it adherence to Christ and the will to walk in his footsteps. This “fundamental option” is the basis for the whole Christian life of the Lord’s disciple.”

Searching, Encountering and Following

My dear fellow Catholic – have you truly searched for Christ? One may attend Mass every Sunday for decades, be involved in Church ministry, be in Catholic schools, and be ostensibly raised as a Catholic, but yet never truly get to the heart of it all (like I once was): to be known and loved by God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and to know, love and serve Him. Lukewarmness is not your fault (unless deliberately chosen).

St. Augustine searched for meaning in life. He looked in the wrong places for a long time. After years of searching, Augustine met St. Ambrose, who pointed Augustine in the right direction. Augustine’s search for meaning in life finally became a search for God. With his heart and mind reaching the point of desperate hunger, and with tears in his eyes, he personally encountered Christ in a garden, through a passage in Scripture. The encounter changed his life forever.

The same Jesus who encountered St. Augustine in that garden is searching for you. And waiting for you. May His grace be upon you, and lead you to Him. So that we can say together with St. Augustine:

“Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.”
“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

 

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