Dear St. Martin of Tours Family and Friends,
Many of us have a friend or a loved one who is an unbeliever in God. We pray for that person; we ask God to
remove obstacles to their acceptance of the Faith; we ask God to remove their hardness of heart; we ask God
to conform their intellect and will to the Truth and Goodness of God. Eventually, such a soul will come to a
point of decision, and we will be asked by that soul some version of the question, “How do I believe?” Often
the person is expecting “something” to “happen” to them: some mystical revelation; some infused insight, vi-
sion, or voice; or some inner feeling which, once experienced, that soul will emerge from the moment of spir-
itual grace and then — all the sudden — without their being aware of it — the soul is transformed: “Amazing
grace! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see!”
How often do we hear of a story of some wretched lost soul, who hits rock bottom, finds himself in prison or
in the ICU or the psych ward, who then in an act of desperation humbles himself in prayer and says, “Lord, if
you are there, help me!” And then, as described by the person, a sudden influx of grace pours into their soul,
and in an instant, that person has become a believer?
Let me reveal to you a secret that, for some reason, almost all of us have never been told: Conversion does not
work that way. In fact, let me be more direct: Conversion never works that way. The reason is because God
has given to man something called “free will.” Every soul has the perfect freedom to accept or reject God. No
soul is “predestined” to belief and salvation (by some mysterious act of grace which by-passes free will); and
no soul is “predestined” to unbelief and damnation. Every soul — yours included—has to make a choice. Even
a soul which has been baptized must, in his or her first moral act, make that choice to believe in God by doing
right or wrong.
Now what this inviolability of free will means is that belief in God, and by extension belief in the truths of the
Catholic Faith, are an act of the will. That is, a person makes the transition from unbelief to belief, from dam-
nation to salvation by their own free choice.
So, for example, when I converted to God, to Christ, and to the Catholic Faith, which indeed my decision to
convert was strengthened by my own study of the Faith, by the prayers of others, and by my own soul search-
ing, nevertheless in the final instant, it was my decision to make a choice to believe which brought me to sal-
vation, and which allowed God to embrace my soul and to prepare it for Holy Baptism.
Where do we get the idea that God circumvents our free will to cause us to believe—as is implied in the
Protestant hymn “Amazing Grace”? In the Reformed Protestant theology of John Calvin, the founder of Pres-
byterianism, he posits the idea of “irresistible grace,” which teaches that when God elects someone for salva-
tion, that individual must come to faith and cannot resist God's call. Free will is circumvented. The corollary
of Calvin’s “irresistible grace” is quite sinister, namely that if a person is not of the “elect” to receive this
“irresistible grace” then no amount of wanting to be saved on the part of such a soul will suffice. The person is
damned even if he chooses to believe, since the choice has a human origin, and nothing of a human origin
(according to Calvin this is called “utter depravity”) can rise to any level of holiness.
Catholic theology rejects the concept of irresistible grace because it conflicts with the idea of human free will.
According to Catholic teaching, God offers grace to all individuals, but it is up to each person to choose to ac-
cept or reject that grace. While God's grace can be a powerful aid in helping individuals choose to follow Him,
it does not necessarily guarantee that they will do so. The decision to accept or reject God's grace is ultimately
left up to each individual, and not predetermined by God.
So if your friend finds his or her soul at a point of decision, tell them the truth: “You must choose to believe!
God is waiting! He will encourage you, but He will not interfere with the dignity of your Free Will.” Does this
mean conversion involves a kind of leap of Faith? Does it require courage? Does it involve a radical trust in
God’s promises? Yes, it does. So, friend: Leap! Have Courage! Trust! But the choice to believe — that is
yours and yours alone! It belongs to each one of us to accept or deny salvation.