It Must Be Hard To Convert To Catholicism

The world has become a very sinful place. Grave sins have become accepted, as if they were good and normal acts. The daily lives of many persons contain multiple objective mortal sins. And, for some persons, many very grave sins are thoroughly ingrained into their lives. So what happens if one such person wishes to convert to Catholicism?

I’m not referring to myself. I’m a cradle Catholic. That means I was born into a Catholic family, baptized in a Catholic Church in infancy, and raised Catholic with Masses and CCD classes from an early age. I didn’t go to a Catholic school. But I attended a Catholic university and received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology. So, I’ve been Catholic all along.

Consider those persons who are not raised Catholic or Christian at all. What if they live a very sinful life, but mostly without realizing that their deeds are objectively immoral? If such a person decides to become Catholic, some years into their adult life, they face many obstacles.

One of the biggest issues is sexual ethics. Most non-Christians commit many acts which are gravely immoral under Catholic teaching. An unmarried person who converts must give up sexual acts of every kind. They must live a chaste life, and refrain from all sex, until and unless they marry.

A married person who converts may have a number of changes to make in the area of sexuality. First, they and their spouse must not continue using contraception. They can use NFP, if they wish. Also, married persons who convert must remove from their lives any sexual sins, including pornography, unnatural sexual acts, masturbation, sex toys, and any other immoral sexual acts. The only moral sexual act is natural marital relations open to life. And if they conceive a child, they cannot obtain an abortion.

From a devout Catholic point of view, these may not seem like big changes to make. After all, these are very grave sins. But many persons have lived their lives, year after year, perhaps decade after decade, believing that these grave sins are moral. It must be hard for them to change.

Another serious issue for married persons who convert is their relationship with their spouse. Suppose that their spouse lives a very secular and sinful life, and does not convert. The Catholic convert faces a very difficult decision: whether or not to remain with their spouse. It is not moral for a Catholic spouse to have marital relations when the other spouse is using contraception or abortifacient contraception or committing grave sexual sins during marital relations. If the wife uses abortifacient contraception, the Catholic husband cannot morally continue to have relations with her. For then he is committing formal cooperation with abortion and contraception. And the Catholic wife, if she is the convert, cannot morally continue to have relations with her husband, if he continues to use contraception (whether it is a condom or the withdrawal method). She would be committing formal cooperation with his grave sin. Similarly, a devout spouse cannot continue having marital relations, if the other spouse commits grave sexual sins in conjunction with natural marital relations.

So, in some cases, the devout Catholic must separate from their spouse, rather than continue to cooperate with grave sins.

If a person has a homosexual orientation, I suppose that it is even more difficult to convert to Catholicism. For the Church does not support same-sex marriage or gender ideology or homosexual acts. A Catholic with same-sex attraction must remain chaste, and also must believe what the Church teaches on sexual ethics, marriage, and gender. Such a person faces greater obstacles than a sinful heterosexual who converts. Fr. Z. has a recent post on this subject.

Aside from sexual sins, a convert to Catholicism might need to change the way they do their job. Many secular persons have incorporated sins into their profession. Maybe they cheat their customers. Maybe they overcharge their clients, whenever they can get away with it. Maybe they abuse their authority over their employees. And as a result of changing their behavior, they might lose their job. Their coworkers or boss might object to a new attitude of justice and love of neighbor.

A convert might lose some of their friends. If you hang out with people who commit the same sins as you do, and then you give up your sins, they might not be so willing to spend time with you anymore. Sometimes sinful secular “friends” encourage one another in their sins. If you start encouraging your friends to give up their sins, they might reject you as a friend.

If a person converts from a sinful life to a life as a devout believer, a lot of things can change: the things you think about, the way you spend your time, the people you associate with, and much more. And change can be painful.

As the years pass, society becomes ever more firmly rooted in grave sin. They seem to be able to invent new sins to commit. And so it becomes ever more difficult to win converts from sinful secular society. The changes required are staggering, for some persons. With the grace and providence of God, people can repent and convert.

But we Catholics are making it harder for them to convert, because we can’t seem to agree among ourselves on any issue in faith or morals. If we want to be more successful in fishing for souls, we must repair our nets. We need to have a clear understanding among ourselves on all the major questions of faith, morals, and salvation. But that day seems to be far away.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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15 Responses to It Must Be Hard To Convert To Catholicism

  1. Matt says:

    Venerable Sheen often told the story of Elisabeth Leseur. After marrying Felix Lesure in 1889, Felix abandoned the Catholic faith and became editor of an atheistic newspaper. Elizabeth, who deeply loved her husband, and fearing his eternal destination, asked God to send her sufficient suffering to buy Felix’s soul. Eleven years of suffering, at her deathbed, she told Felix that he will return to the Catholic faith and become a Priest. He laughed it off and told her she is delirious. She died in 1914. He then visited Lourdes to try to prove the apparition as a fraud. However, in an instant the Holy Spirit descended on him and he was given the Gift of Faith. He became then a Catholic Priest. Venerable Sheen was taught by Father Felix in the 1920’s at a retreat.

    If you have a unbelieving or faithless spouse, after your return or conversion to the faith, pray for your spouse. Offer all your sufferings to God. Your spouse will return to the faith. The Sacrament of Matrimony is powerful.

  2. Tom Mazanec says:

    Ron, it is very difficult to change to any serious religion. All serious religions require you to shape your life to their precepts. If you change, you must admit you were wrong about the most important thing all your life. Your friends and relatives will likely not like your change.
    A Muslim, an Amish, an Orthodox Jew, a Hindu…any of them could write an article like this one showing how it is difficult to convert to them.
    And every religion has dissidents in them muddying the waters. The dogmas of the Church can be found in the Magisterium whatever some priests and laity may falsely teach as well.

  3. Emanuel Costa says:

    Great article. Thanks for that

  4. Marco says:

    @Ron

    “It is not moral for a Catholic spouse to have marital relations when the other spouse is using contraception or abortifacient contraception or committing grave sexual sins during marital relations. ”

    “So, in some cases, the devout Catholic must separate from their spouse, rather than continue to cooperate with grave sins.”

    Ron, leaving aside abortifacient contraception (which can lead to killing an innocent), do you realize that what you wrote means that nearly all catholic spouse should separate from their husband/wife? Because nearly all Catholics use “normal” (not abortifacient) contraception.

    I think that the problem is that catholic sexual ethic is almost inhumanly. Every other religions (except the case of gnostic sects) allow many more things in matter of sexual ethic than our religion, for example the ortodoxes (which are the most “near” to our faith) allow non abortifacient contraception and sometimes even premarital sex when there is a relationship going on.

    In other matters of everyday life the catholic religion is not so hard, but when it comes to sexuality it imposes restrictions which are nearly impossible to live, if you are a normal person and not a monk.

    In other religions the line between want is demanded to normal folks and what is demanded to religious people like monks is much more defined. In Catholicism there isn’t much difference expect for the fact that our religious are not allow to marry. But if you are not marry you are expected to live thoroughly like a monk or a priest under the pain of eternal hell fire (which means both the pain of loss and the pain of senses).

    I’m an old man (I’m nearly 75), so these things are not a problem for me anymore, but for young people our precepts are a very hard pill to swallow. And i’m personally very frightened about the fate of the young Catholics that die every year.

    • Ron Conte says:

      {19:9} And I say to you, that whoever will have separated from his wife, except because of fornication, and who will have married another, commits adultery, and whoever will have married her who has been separated, commits adultery.”
      {19:10} His disciples said to him, “If such is the case for a man with a wife, then it is not expedient to marry.”

      Yes, the teachings of Jesus are difficult. Most Catholic marriages are not holy and do not please God. NFP should be very widely practiced, in place of contraception.

    • Marco says:

      And that’s why in the “question and answer session” i wrote that it’s very important to pray in order to obtain the Grace of contrition https://ronconte.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/question-and-answer-session-2/comment-page-1/#comment-4327

      I don’t subscribe to the “weak” view of Grace which you seem to accept, and i don’t believe that a more “strong” view of Grace estinguishes free will.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Neither. Proper theology on grace is a balance, with each thing, grace and free will, taking its proper place. But it would be too lengthy to explain here. See my book, The Catechism of Catholic Ethics, chapter 30, Grace and Salvation. or my book Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone, chapter 2, the Need for Grace.

    • Marco says:

      But if the thomistic view on grace was wrong, why didn’t the Magisterium condemn it? Because it is still tenable, as far as I know.

      I think that your view regarding free will implies the “libertas indifferentiae”, but this view is very modern and it would be wrong (in my opinion) to embrace it without question.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I’m not going to entertain further comments from you on grace. Your view is overly simplistic, and incompatible with magisterial teaching on the balance between grace and free will. You fail to take into account the many magisterial teachings on grace and free will, such as at Trent and the Council of Orange. For example, at Trent:

      After this, [the Synod] declares that the beginning of the same justification, in adults, is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is, from His calling whereby, with no existing merits of their own, they are called. Then those, who through sins had been turned away from God, are disposed, by the stirring and assistance of His grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to, and cooperating with, the same grace — such that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, neither does man himself do nothing at all upon receiving that inspiration, in as much as he is also able to reject it.

      And yet he is not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself to justice before Him. Thus, when it is said in the sacred writings: “Turn to me, and I will turn to you,” [Zech 1:3] we are admonished of our liberty. And when we respond: “Convert us, O Lord, to you, and we shall be converted,” [Lam 5:21] we confess that we are preceded [Latin: preveniri] by the grace of God.

      CANON IV — If anyone says that the free will of man, moved and stirred by God, in no way cooperates, by assenting to the stirring and calling of God, toward disposing and preparing itself to obtain the grace of justification, and that [free will] is not able to refuse its consent, if it chooses, but that, like something inanimate, it acts in no way whatsoever and is merely passive: let him be anathema.

    • Marco says:

      Why Jesus said to Saint Faustina that “If you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith, on behalf of some sinner I will give that soul the grace of conversion” if He can’t do that unless the sinner is willing to be converted? http://www.divinemercy.org/index.php/elements-of-divine-mercy/3-o-clock-prayer/108-interceeding-for-sinners-at-3-oclock-by-val-conlon.html

      If He can’t “cause” a conversion and He is powerless before a hardened sinner, then what is the point in those words?

      They would a spiritual fraud; and the Church shouldn’t have allowed those devotions because in that case they wouldn’t come from God.

      What is the point of saying “The prayer most pleasing to Me is prayer for the conversion of sinners. Know, My daughter, that this prayer is always heard and answered (Diary 1397) if, at the and of the day, we can offer 30 Masses a month for a sinner and pray the chaplet for him, and he still we be lost?

      The view of Grace which is most widespread today in Catholicism doesn’t allow real faith in God, because at the end of the day all depends on us, and God only gives us an unstable prevenient Grace which only works if we wish to allow it to work.

      So it could be the case that someone had prayed the chaplet for a dying relative, thinking that God will give him the grace of conversion, only to discover, at the end of the day, that this relative has been lost.

      Where is hope, here? We are left to ourselves, according to this vision.

    • Marco says:

      @Ron

      “I’m not going to entertain further comments from you on grace. Your view is overly simplistic, and incompatible with magisterial teaching on the balance between grace and free will. You fail to take into account the many magisterial teachings on grace and free will, such as at Trent and the Council of Orange. ”

      No, my point is that God can cause someone to want to accept Grace. It’s not that someone is forced to accept it, I’ve never said such a thing.

      Correct me if i’m wrong, but the canon of Trent says

      “If anyone says that the free will of man, moved and stirred by God, in no way cooperates, by assenting to the stirring and calling of God, toward disposing and preparing itself to obtain the grace of justification, and that [free will] is not able to refuse its consent, if IT CHOOSES ecc ecc”

      I’ve never disputed that man retains free will when receiving Grace. What I’m saying is that God can arrange things in a way that we will want freely to accept Grace, I don’t know if with intrinsically efficacious Grace or congruous Grace, but the point still stands.

      I accept to be corrected if I’m wrong, of course, but i would like to know which Magisterial teachings implies that God cannot save someone and cannot arrange things in a way suitable to cause his free conversion.

    • Ron Conte says:

      If God arranges things so that we will want to accept his grace by our free will, then free will is not truly free. Trent taught that we can freely reject His grace (subsequent grace). We can neither cooperate with, nor reject prevenient grace. But prevenient grace alone does not save us poor fallen sinners.

    • Dora says:

      Since the husband is the head of the wife, she must follow him, realizing that while he is the head, she is the neck who can change which direction he looks, which should be in the direction of the Church. As the “helpmeet” and the weaker vessel, she can do little more, even following him into grave mistakes, for which he is culpable. She cannot fight him, a house divided will not stand. If she wants to leave, it is not the answer, because in fact their marriage can never be lost, it is what God has joined together. There is no new beginning or fresh start before one of them dies. A wife’s only hope is to let God be God and use her wifely submission as his tool.

    • Ron Conte says:

      No, that is not Catholic teaching on husbands and wives. Per Casti Connubii, the wife is the heart, and she is not required to be obedient to him if he is sinning, especially gravely. She is required to follow her own conscience and the moral law. She is not immune from sin and culpability if she is following her husband into sin. You have an exaggerated and false understanding of wifely submission.

  5. Dora says:

    Thank you, Ron.

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