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Awakening (Part II) – Initial Conversion: to Search, to Encounter & to Follow [A1]

Updated: Feb 6, 2022

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2. To Encounter


The search leads to an encounter, with a Person.


Pope Benedict XVI explains this:


“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person [Jesus Christ], which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Deus Caritas Est, “God is Love” (2005), 1)


Following from the story above about Andrew and John, after spending the day with Jesus, it was clear that they both had a profound encounter with Jesus. This is evident from Andrew excitedly going to his brother Simon Peter and telling him, “We have found the Messiah”, and then bringing Peter to see Jesus (John 1:40-42).


For the first disciples, just like it is for us today, encountering Jesus gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.


It is Different for Everyone – But Leading to the Same Lord


Every disciple’s personal encounter with Jesus is unique. Some are dramatic. Some are singular events. Others go through a gentle and gradual process over time. But for each and every unique manner of encounter, it is the same Lord, Jesus Christ.


Dramatic and singular encounters with Jesus are all over the Bible, and in the life of the Saints. Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians, when a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard the voice of Jesus, who revealed Himself to Saul (Acts 9:1-9). Nathanael was amazed by Jesus having seen him under the fig tree even before Philip called Nathanael, and he believed (despite being initially sceptical when Philip told him about Jesus), declaring to Jesus, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God” (John 1:45-51).


We have seen above, Augustine’s profound encounter with Jesus in the garden and through the text of Romans 13. St. Anthony of Egypt, already pondering the words of Scripture in his heart, entered into Church and heard the words of the Gospel to go sell everything and follow Jesus. The Word of God acted upon Anthony, and he did exactly that, going on to become the father of monasticism and a great Saint.



"Visit of Nicodemus to Christ" by John La Farge (1880) / Public Domain image

Gentle and gradual encounters with Jesus over time are also in Scripture and all over history. The Pharisee Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, debated with Jesus in the dark of the night (John 3:1-21), paving the way for him over time to, firstly, defend (before an assembly of Pharisees) Jesus’ right to be granted a hearing before He is condemned (John 7:45-52), and secondly, eventually identify openly and fearlessly as a follower of Christ, as Nicodemus boldly assisted in the burial of our Lord on Good Friday (John 19:38-42).


St. Edith Stein is a Carmelite Saint and martyr of the second world war who died in a concentration camp. She essentially read her way into conversion, having encountered the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila while alone at a friend’s house with nothing else to do. It was then she knew she had to be Catholic – which took place 12 years later. Even before this, as a thoroughly secular non-practising Jew, she had experienced 3 key moments of grace, which laid the foundations for her eventual conversion.


First, by listening to the teachings of Max Scheler, who spoke about angels and spiritual matters. St. Edith mused:


“It was my first contact with a world that until then had been completely unfamiliar. I cannot say that it led me directly to faith. But it did open up a whole new realm of ‘phenomena’ that I wouldn’t be able to pass by blindly anymore.”


Second, when Edith visited the widow Anna Reinach, to console her for the loss of her husband. Yet, Edith was herself consoled by Anna, a faith-filled Protestant Christian. Edith remarked:


“It was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power that it bestows on those who carry it. For the first time, I was seeing with my very eyes the Church, born from its Redeemer’s sufferings triumphant over the sting of death. That was the moment my unbelief collapsed and Christ shone forth—in the mystery of the Cross.”


Third, by observing a lay Catholic entering a Church in Frankfurt in the middle of the day to pray. Edith described the indelible mark that this left on her:


“In the synagogue, as in the Protestant churches I had visited, people only went in at the time of the service. But here was someone coming into the empty church in the middle of a day’s work as if to talk to a friend. I have never been able to forget that.”


The Important Role of Philosophy, Theology and Accompaniment


For Singaporean Catholics, many would have encountered Jesus in singular and somewhat dramatic moments. Conversion experience retreats or events, for youths, young adults and adults, are very important sources of conversion experiences or encounters. We need to keep encouraging, supporting and even serving in these essential ministries.


Yet, the manifold ways of conversion (and of God) need not (and should not) be disdained or neglected. In particular, there is a strong need to rediscover the role of philosophy, fundamental theology and respectful dialogue in the process of aiding and leading to initial conversion.


We pause here for a moment to define “fundamental theology”. This is the study of God’s Revelation (how do we know it is really God’s Revelation), and our response in faith. This discipline explains the relationship between faith and philosophical thought, and the inseparably strong connection between faith and reason. It is a type of “apologetics”, but which is able to engage even those who do not yet believe in the Bible or the Church.



"Faith and Reason United" by Ludwig Seitz (ca. 1880) / Public Domain image

Pope St. John Paul II, in his teaching on the relationship between faith and reason, explained that:


“… fundamental theology should demonstrate the profound compatibility that exists between faith and its need to find expression by way of human reason fully free to give its assent. Faith will thus be able ‘to show fully the path to reason in a sincere search for the truth. Although faith, a gift of God, is not based on reason, it can certainly not dispense with it. At the same time, it becomes apparent that reason needs to be reinforced by faith, in order to discover horizons it cannot reach on its own’.”


(Fides Et Ratio, “On the Relationship between Faith and Reason” (1998), 67).


St. Ambrose helped Augustine to come to faith, through fundamental theology, exposing the fallacies of Manicheanism, and explaining why the Catholic faith is completely reasonable. The fruit of this important process was that Augustine’s human reason was fully free to give its assent to the gift of faith.


Invite, Inspire and Illuminate


In a similar way, the process of searching for and encountering Christ requires accompaniment by older or maturing Catholics. These include parents, catechists, lay and religious spiritual mentors or directors, older friends, or even peers. They are there (or rather, we are here) to do three things, to invite, to inspire and to illuminate.


First, to invite their children, friends or colleagues to begin the search, by telling them about Jesus. Just like how Andrew invited Peter, and Philip invited Nathanael.


Second, to inspire their children, friends or colleagues by being living examples of joyful discipleship which attracts others to the faith. Just like how Anna Reinach’s unwavering faith in the midst of loss was a powerful living testimony to Edith Stein.


Third, to illuminate. By helping to remove objections to the faith, to form the intellect, through dialogue, philosophy and fundamental theology. So that the path to conversion and grace is open, and objections are cleared, in order that “human reason [is] fully free to give the assent of faith”.


A Work of Grace, and Grace-Driven Work


The process of searching (which leads to encountering, and then following Jesus) is “guided by the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the Kerygma” (General Directory for Catechesis (1997), 56). God works through and with the help of Man. Knowing this is both comforting and compelling.


Comforting, because the work of conversion is initiated, sustained and completed by the grace of God. Humans are powerless, by themselves alone, to make this happen.


It is also compelling, because God has chosen to share this divine work with us. The growth of our own faith, and the birth of the faith of many others, depend on us answering this call to partake in this divine work, which includes boldly announcing the Kerygma (see the speech of St. Peter on Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2:14-40 for an example of the Kerygma).


3. To Follow


“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… [Initial conversion] brings with it adherence to Christ and the will to walk in his footsteps.” (General Directory for Catechesis (1997), 56)


Herod eagerly searched for and eventually encountered Jesus, but he did not convert, and he did not follow Christ (Luke 23:6-15). He wanted the signs, but not the sonship. He did not transform his searching into a firm option for faith. There was no considered and matured choice – and hence there was no adherence to Christ, and no will to walk in His footsteps.


The Church teaches that “Faith involves a change of life, a "metanoia", that is a profound transformation of mind and heart; it causes the believer to live that conversion.” (General Directory for Catechesis (1997), 55). In stark contrast to Herod, Zacchaeus lived out this metanoia by his resolute commitment to Jesus to donate half of his possessions to the poor and to make reparations four times over to those he had extorted (Luke 19:1-10).


"The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew", by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-1311) / Public Domain image

Today, Jesus invites you personally, “Come, follow Me, be My disciple”. Will you answer His personal call to you, in a considered and matured decision (beyond a merely emotional one), having carefully counted the costs of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33)?


This is where true and intentional discipleship begins. An amazing, life-giving and exhilarating journey with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, adhering to Him and walking in His footsteps, sharing in His inheritance as co-heirs, partaking in His suffering and Resurrection, and committed to a common mission – the Father’s mission, to make disciples of all nations.


This conversion is initial. And it needs to be constantly renewed and deepened. For Catholics who have already had this initial conversion, we are likewise called to renew and deepen it.


Conclusion


As we live out our faith at the start of the 3rd century of Singapore’s faith just after Catholic200SG, may we all begin, renew or help others in this essential process of initial conversion.


Indeed, the future and hope of the Church, and the world, depends on as many Catholics as possible embarking on and experiencing an Awakening (or re-Awakening) of their faith.


Closing Prayer


You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”.


Lord God, renew your Church with the Spirit of wisdom and love which you gave so fully to Saint Augustine. Lead us by that same Spirit to seek you, the only fountain of true wisdom and the source of everlasting love. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.[1]


Recommended Closing Songs



Recommended Reading

Books I & VIII of The Confessions

 

Reflection / Sharing Questions


To download this section in PDF:

A1 Awakening - Initial Conversion Questions [FINAL]
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An “awakening” is a personal awareness of an “encounter” or conversion of heart to Christ. People experience different kinds of awakenings i.e. a sudden significant event, an instantaneous attraction, or a gradual falling in love over time, or a combination of different experiences related to Christ.


Post-Confirmands


Before Confirmation, you had support from Catechists in knowing Christ. Now it may seem like you are all on your own journey in life.

  1. Try to recall your first awakening/encounter with Christ? What was the experience like?

  2. How can that first awakening/encounter remind you of God’s love and help you on your life journey without the help of Catechists now?


Young Adults


You have now entered the stage of adulthood, independence, and responsibility, and it may feel daunting.

  1. Try to recall your first awakening/encounter with Christ? What was the experience like?

  2. How can that first awakening/encounter remind you of God’s love and help sustain and protect you in the amazing yet daunting world on your life journey as a young adult?

Working Adults


As working adults, we have a million and one things to juggle with: work, finance and relationships, etc.

  1. Try to recall your first awakening/encounter with Christ? What was the experience like?

  2. How can that first awakening/encounter remind us of God’s love and not taking him for granted in the million and one things that are shouting for your attention in your life?

Married Couples


We might pray together as a couple but we often fail to talk about our experiences with God to each other.

  1. Try to recall your first awakening/encounter with Christ? What was the experience like?

  2. Take turns to share with your spouse about your first ‘awakening’ or ‘encounter’ with Christ.

  3. Share how similar or different this experience was compared to falling in love with your spouse.

Parents


Don’t we wish that our child/children have their own ‘awakening’ towards Christ? As parents we can help our children nurture a habit of reflecting upon their relationship with God.

  1. Try to recall your first awakening/encounter with Christ. What was the experience like?

  2. Share with your children about your first awakening with God.

  3. Ask your children to share about their own awakening with Christ.

Single / Separated / Divorced / Widowed


We all go through different stages and circumstances in life that involve separation and heartbreak.

  1. Try to recall your first awakening/encounter with Christ? What was the experience like?

  2. How did the first awakening/encounter with Christ help sustain you through your heartbreak and change in life?

Footnotes


[1] Taken from the 2nd Reading, Office of Readings, Feast of St. Augustine.


© Presented by the Catholic Theology Network (writers / contributors / sound): Dominic Chan (M.A., Theology, Augustine Institute), Nick Chui (MTS, JPII Institute for Marriage and Family, AU), Keenan Tan (M.A., Theology, Augustine Institute), Debra Dass (Diploma in Theology, CTIS), Marcia Vanderstraaten (Diploma in Theology, CTIS); publicity & design: Chandra Nugraha.

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