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RCIA Notes on “Conversion and Salvation”

With the stipulated proviso that these are only rough notes and worth the price of free it’s costing to get them, I thought I’d post the talking points I collected for our RCIA class this past weekend on the topic of Conversion and Salvation.  If you can find something in them of use, I’d be pleased as punch.  (Can punch be “pleased” given that it’s inanimate?  Just asking.)  Again, they’re talking points, not something read verbatim – I’m not someone who reads from a script or teleprompter well.  That said, it’s all below the fold, if you’re interested.


Open with a reading from Ezekiel 36:22-32.

In the liturgy of the ancient Church, after the homily the Bishop or the one who presided at the celebration, the principal celebrant, would say: “Conversi ad Dominum”. Then he and everyone would rise and turn to the East. They all wanted to look towards Christ. Only if we are converted, only in this conversion to Christ, in this common gaze at Christ, will we be able to find the gift of unity. – Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 23 January 2008

Life shared with God, eternal life within temporal life, is possible because of God’s living with us: Christ is God being here with us. In him God has time for us; he is God’s time for us and thus at the same time the opening of time into eternity. God is no longer the distant and indeterminate God to whom no bridge will reach; he is the God at hand: the Body of the Son is the bridge for our souls. Through him, each single person’s relationship with God has been blended together in his one relationship with God, so that turning one’s gaze toward God is no longer a matter of turning one’s gaze away from others and from the world, but a uniting of our gaze and of our being with the single gaze and the one being of the Son. – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God is Near Us

Look at the story we find in John 4, “the woman at the well”. Hers is a classic case of conversion. Unlike St. Paul’s Road to Damascus conversion, a truly extraordinary event, Jesus draws her to her conversion in several small steps. Take a look at the words with which she addresses Him: she starts with “Jew”, a de-personalizing insult because the Samaritans and Jews, to say the least, did not like each other. Jesus draws her a little closer. She calls him “sir” – now at least a respectful title, but still to her He is only a man. Jesus then challenges her, calls her to admit to her failings. Now the title is “prophet” – a man of God, but still only a man and not God. He lays out God’s plan for our salvation and opens to her His true identity. Her reaction is precisely the mirror-image of the Apostles at their first call – they were called and came to see Him; she saw Him for who He is and went out to tell others. Conversion, even slow and difficult conversion, is apostolic.

Faith is a personal act – the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith. – CCC #166

“Are you saved”

In the Catholic Church we take a more nuanced route to the question of eternal salvation than the immediate and final question posed by some Protestant denominations – “are you saved” or “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior”. These are excellent questions and a good start to discussion on the issue, but they are not all there is to say. First we need to look at three terms: justification, merit and grace.

We just discussed the topic of Conversion. The Catechism tells us Conversion and justification are related (CCC # 1989): “The first work of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Mt 4:17).


  • Detaches man from sin (#1990)
  • Is the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. (#1991)
  • Has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. (#1992)
  • Establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. (#1992)


  • Is the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God. (#1996)
  • Is a participation in the life of God. (#1997)
  • Is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life. (#1999)
  • Can be split into two categories: habitual grace, a disposition that helps the soul to live and act in keeping with God’s call and actual grace, referring to specific interventions of God. (#2000)
  • Escapes our experience and cannot be known except for through faith because it belongs to the supernatural order. (#2005)

Merit refers in general to the recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members. (#2006) “The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace.” How did this come about? We have been adopted as sons of God through the actions of Jesus Christ – the Son has become man so that men may become sons of God. Again, we cannot merit our own salvation, no matter how pious and holy our actions or how noble our intentions – salvation comes purely through Christ.

So, am I saved?  The Catholic response is to say, with St. Paul, that we are “work[ing] out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12).

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