There is no doubt about this. For us to feel the need for conversion, which is actually a constant need for us since we cannot help but fall into some sin, one way or another, we need to have faith.
This truth about us was highlighted in that gospel episode where Christ told a crowd that “this generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” (cfr. Lk 11,29-32)
Then he proceeded to say that the men of Nineveh repented because they believed in the preaching of Jonah. The underlying logic Christ tried to impart to the crowd was that people repent and feel the need for conversion because they are moved by their faith. Those who have no faith would not feel the need for conversion.
We really need to train our mind and heart to be filled with faith, with our belief in God, in his mercy as shown by Christ, so that we can always feel the need for conversion and penance. When our thoughts and intentions are simply driven by natural motives, and not by faith, the need for conversion would hardly be felt. And if ever we feel some need for it, such desire for conversion would not go all the way.
Let us remember that as persons, we move and act according to what we think and intend to do. If our thoughts and intentions are simply shaped by what we feel, what we see and hear, etc., with hardly any reference to our faith, to what God wants us to do and to be, then we would only be contented with natural goals, not to mention, the infranatural ones to which we are very prone.
The need to be with God, to be his image and likeness, which God wants us to be, would not be felt. We would not feel the need to pursue a spiritual and supernatural goal that is actually meant for us. We can only pursue that goal if we have faith, a faith which would unavoidably require us to have some conversion.
We should therefore try our best to develop an operative faith. Our faith should not remain only in the theoretical, intellectual level. It has to be a functioning one, giving shape and direction to our thoughts and intentions, our words and deeds. In fact, it should shape our whole life.
The ideal is that we should feel it immediately. Indeed, it should be like an instinct such that whatever we think, say or do, or whenever we have to react to something, it is our faith that should guide us.
We have to understand that it is our faith that gives us the global picture of things, since it is God’s gift to us, a gratuitous sharing of what God knows about himself and about the whole of creation. It is meant for our own good, for us to live out our true dignity as children of God.
It is a kind of knowledge that will lead us to our eternal life. It will make us relate everything in our earthly life, both the good and the bad, to this ultimate goal in life which is to be in heaven with God, a state that is supernatural. But it is a divine gift that we need to take care of. It is like a seed that has to grow until it becomes a big tree that bears fruit.*