Wednesday, January 22, 2020 - Updated: 3:19 pm
QUESTION: They had some kind of welcome ceremony for converts to the Catholic Church this weekend at Mass. It got me thinking: Why don’t more people convert to being Catholic?
ANSWER: It might be best to begin with a bit of clarification on terms. The word “convert” is not used by the Catholic Church in the same way it once was. In former times, we most often spoke of “converts” as those who entered the Catholic Church from other Christian denominations (e.g. Lutherans, Methodists, etc.).
Today, the term “convert” has a more specific meaning and refers to a person seeking baptism in the Catholic Church from non-Christian religions or from no religion at all. Their entrance into the church is now more precisely called a “conversion” because they are for the first time being baptized into Christ. Those who enter the Catholic Church from other Christian denominations are already incorporated into Christ. Today, when these people join the Catholic Church it is more properly called “entrance into full communion” with the Catholic Church.
Beginning with the encyclical letter of Pope Pius XII (“Mystici Corporis”), we began to refer to membership in the church more in terms of communion with Christ. Hence, we more often used the image of the body of Christ.
The Second Vatican Council declared that the church of Christ “subsists in the Catholic Church” (“Lumen Gentium,” article 8). This declaration, made after much discussion, states that the church of Christ is recognizable and visible, but does not simply coincide with the Catholic Church. Importantly, the council went on to speak of the Catholic Church and added: “many elements of sanctification and truth can be found outside her visible structure” (“Lumen Gentium,” article 8).
Based upon this teaching, our work at “converting” has undergone some change. Today, likely our first direction is toward those who are in no way in communion with Christ. This would mean not only non-Christians, but many who are “unchurched.” Therefore, far from being less interested in making “converts,” we should be more so.
But our efforts at this process should involve our living Catholic life as well as we can. Our first effort at evangelization is the life we lead. In that light, our “outreach” should be one of invitation. We should be asking others to join us at the Eucharist. We can’t do that if we do not attend ourselves.
We should also emphasize the entire truth and beauty of the Catholic Church. The church is not essentially a book of rules, but a way of life. There are rules, of course, but what is attractive about the church is that it helps to fill in what is lacking in our lives. That leads to happiness in this world, but also eternal life.
Part of the life here is a vision of the value of all human life and of each person. That should inspire others to join us on the journey. The fullness of Catholic sacramental life and our fellowship in a worldwide Catholic communion with the successor of Peter is the gift we have been given and the gift that we must share.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.