Pope John Paul II once said, “conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving soverignty of Christ and becoming his disciple.” To be converted is to make a personal choice of faith, the choice to trust and follow Jesus. It is to say ‘yes’ to God. God wants us to turn away from the darkness of selfishness, self-obsession and self-worship and turn towards His light by accepting the forgiveness of sins and new life offered through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. This is a significant step, and even a difficult one to take, for two main reasons.
First, it does not happen by default, just because we are baptised and/or go to church. It is possible to go to church every week out of habit, convention, obedience or fear and never take advantage of the grace God offers there. It is possible to be a ‘Christian’, but only in appearance; to know and recite the creeds but not know God because you have never sought Him. This is not something anyone else can do for you. You have to choose, you have to make a commitment. Second, admitting we are not self-sufficient and need God’s mercy because of our sinfulness goes against the grain. It goes against our pride. We have to admit to the dark corners of our hearts and we have to admit that God is in charge.
So, why bother? Why not just carry on regardless? Because to ignore and treat with disdain God’s crucified love is not only terrifyingly dishonest, ungrateful and loveless; it is the kind of sin that spiritually kills us by hardening our hearts. This is serious business. It is not a game, it is life and death. But more importantly, it is because what God offers, we need. In the end, many things in this world will claim to offer us ‘fulfilment’, but, to quote a prayer of St Augustine, “You made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
Who needs to be converted? Anybody who is not spiritually connected to Christ through faith and love, either because they have never had that relationship or because they have lost it.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa explains how Baptism can be a bound sacrament
Who is he? In 1980, Cantalamessa was appointed the Preacher to the Papal Household by Pope John Paul II. He has remained in this position under the pontificate of Pope Francis. In this capacity, he provides meditations to the Pope and other high-ranking officials and is “the only person allowed to preach to the Pope.” Cantalamessa, a frequent speaker, is a member of the Catholic Delegation for the Dialogue with the Pentecostal Churches.
What he says: For most of us, Baptism is a bound sacrament. That means that while we have received Baptism in the Church, the Church gave it in the hope that at some point in our adult life we would confirm our ‘I believe’ in a personal, free act of faith. Until there is this act of faith in the life of a Christian, Baptism remains a bound sacrament.
The opus operatum of baptism, namely, God’s part or grace, has several aspects – forgiveness of sins, the gift of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (these, however, only as a seed), divine sonship – all of which are operated through the effective action of the Holy Spirit. But what does the opus operantis in baptism – namely, man’s part, consist of? It consists of faith! Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16). At the side of baptism, therefore, there is another element: the faith of man. “To all who received Him He gave the power to become children of God: to those who believe in His name” (John 1:13).
Baptism and Confirmation of Faith
At the beginning of the Church, Baptism was such a powerful event and so rich in grace that there was no need normally of a new effusion of the Spirit like we have today. Baptism was ministered to adults who converted from paganism and who, properly instructed, were in the position to make, on the occasion of baptism, an act of faith and a free and mature choice. In substance, they arrived at baptism through a true and real conversion, and thus for them baptism was a real washing, a personal renewal, and a rebirth in the Holy Spirit.
The favorable circumstances that allowed baptism, at the origins of the Church, to operate with so much power was that the grace of God and man’s response met at the same time, and there was a perfect synchronization
But now this synchronization has been broken, as we are baptized as infants, and little by little this aspect of the free and personal act of faith no longer happens. It was substituted instead by a decision by intermediary parents or godparents. When a child grew up in a totally Christian environment, this faith still could flourish. even though at a slower rate. Now, however, this is no longer the case and our spiritual environment is even worse than the one at the time of the Middle Ages. Not that there is no normal Christian life, but this is now the exception rather than the rule.
In this situation, rarely, or never, does the baptized person ever reach the stage of proclaiming in the Holy Spirit, “Jesus is Lord.” And until one reaches this point, everything else in the Christian life remains out of focus and immature. Miracles no longer happen, and we experience what Jesus did in Nazareth: “Jesus could not perform many miracles because of their lack of faith.” (Mt 13. 58)
It is an accepted fact that over the last few years there has been some concern on the part of the Church, among the bishops, that the Christian sacraments, especially baptism, are being administered to people who will not make any use of them in life. As a result, it has even been suggested that baptism should not be administered unless there are some minimum guarantees that it will be cultivated and valued by the child in question. For one should not throw pearls to dogs, as Jesus said, and baptism is a pearl, because it is the fruit of the blood of Christ.