Converting the Baptized
By John Mallon
I once read that Pope John XXIII made a comment that there were many “baptized pagans” in the Church. If that was true in his time it is certainly more true in our time. I concluded the last installment in this series [The Clueless Catholic] citing the need for conversion among our own congregations stating, “The key to understanding Catholic beauty and truth is ultimately conversion, and goes back to the First Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
The question is not so much how do we convince Catholics of the truth and beauty of Humanae Vitae and other vital teachings but how do we lead them into a real and vivid personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the joyful center of their lives. Otherwise Church teachings risk remaining mere “subject matter.” A man truly in love with his wife does not need to be told adultery is wrong, the very thought of it horrifies him. His love is filial not servile. He knows adultery could kill the love he cherishes.
So too, Jesus Christ says, “If you love me you will keep my Commandments.” (John 14:15) Not “If you love me you’d better keep my commandments.” We are motivated by love, a love that shows Him trustworthy, even when we lack understanding we trust Him in what Vatican II calls the Obedience of Faith.
Embracing this love affair with Christ the Bridegroom, and growing in it, is what I am referring to as conversion.
Fifty of so years ago when you referred to conversion almost all Catholics immediately thought of it as leaving another faith and becoming a Catholic, which remains a legitimate use of the term.
What we saw last week, in the case of Mrs. Deveny’s Newsweek article, was a case of someone who was barely catechized, and, evidently, not at all evangelized. I am not at all judging Mrs. Deveny, merely holding her up as an illustration, since she has gone on public record about her faith. She acknowledges being a “cafeteria Catholic," and speaks of her dissent as if it were the only reasonable default position. Still she says, “OK, so I'm divorced (twice!) and I haven't always been, um, a paragon of virtue. Still, I consider myself a practicing Roman Catholic. I take my kid to church most Sundays. (In the winter, at least.)”
She just doesn’t get it. One almost senses she wants to, but for a modern secularist (apparently her de facto religion), the thought of passing through the needle’s eye is daunting. One wonders if she were living by faith, rather than secularist “conventional wisdom” if she would have married the same men or if her marriages would have failed. We don’t know, and we shouldn’t judge. However it would be a safe bet that, at least according to what she says she would have had no problem using contraception in those marriages, and as we shall see later in the series contraception is notorious for destroying marriages.
In any case we do not know Mrs. Deveny’s relationship with the Lord, but we do know that there is absolutely no sound theological reasoning for dissenting on or using contraception despite what a generation of dissident theologians have said. We have seen the damage done in the forty years resulting from the dissent from, ignorance of, and plain disobedience of Humanae Vitae. I don’t know for sure but it seems like Mrs. Deveny is a prime example of an unwitting victim of the damage. This series will unpack some of that damage that Pope Paul predicted in the great encyclical.
When people tell me they like the Catholic Church but “disagree” with many of her teachings, I tell them they have the cart before the horse. It’s hard to be faithful to a spouse you’ve never met. Just focus on getting to know Jesus, seeking Him, and the rest will fall into place as that relationship develops.
If any priest were to ask me for a practical suggestion to jumpstart conversion in his parish, I would suggest preaching nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, allowing the power of God to manifest through apostolic preaching of the Word of God. Then I would suggest a weekly evening Mass followed by a healing service. This is not complicated. Announce the Mass and healing service. Watch the throngs show up. Some may reply that they have no gift of healing. I counter that every validly ordained Catholic priest has this gift to some degree through his ordination.
The healing service could consist of simple laying on of hands and a brief prayer or a sacramental anointing to all who come forward. Then get out of the way and watch the Holy Spirit act. Be prepared for a long night and many surprises. Those who experience the power of God directly have little problem following His words, and conversion is the greatest healing. You may even receive some evangelizing, healing and conversion yourself!