In our last post, we introduced the issue of the low expectations many Catholics have for their faith. Sherry Weddell, who has worked with thousands of Catholics and parishes all over the United States, says that “The majority of adult Catholics are not even sure that a personal relationship with God is possible.”
This issue of a personal relationship is at the heart of explaining why so many Catholics leave the Church and why many of those who stay have a passive approach to being Catholic. It’s not unusual for people who identify as Catholics think that “going to Mass” fulfills their obligations as Catholics. The Mass is, of course, vitally important, but the whole point of the Mass is to unite us in a powerful way with Jesus. It’s not clear at all that the majority of Catholics who attend Mass are convinced that the Mass brings them closer to Jesus and brings them graces that change their lives.
In Sherry Weddell’s book, Forming Intentional Disciples, and an authoritative book written by Ralph Martin, The Catholic Church At the End of an Age, both authors conclude that what one hears from former Catholics who left the Church is some version of the statement, “I never met Jesus in a living way in the Catholic Church.”
So what should our expectations be? I provided some guidance in the last post, but in this post I’m simply going to quote the process and goal of conversion as described by Pope Saint John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio in 1990:
The proclamation of the Word of God has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith. Conversion is a gift of God, a work of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Spirit who opens people's hearts so that they can believe in Christ and "confess him'' (cf. 1 Cor 12:3); of those who draw near to him through faith Jesus says: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (Jn 6:44).
From the outset, conversion is expressed in faith which is total and radical, and which neither limits nor hinders God's gift. At the same time, it gives rise to a dynamic and lifelong process which demands a continual turning away from "life according to the flesh" to "life according to the Spirit" (cf. Rom 8:3-13). Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple.
The Church calls all people to this conversion, following the example of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Christ by "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mk 1:4), as well as the example of Christ himself, who "after John was arrested,...came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God and saying: 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel'" (Mk 1:14-15).
Conversion begins with what is called the kerygma, a Greek term for the basic statement of belief in Jesus Christ. We’ll rely again on Pope Saint John Paul II, who described the kerygma as “the initial ardent proclamation by which a person is one day overwhelmed and brought to the decision to entrust himself to Jesus Christ by faith.” Catechesi Tradendae, 25.
In our next post, we’ll look at the elements of this kergyma, this proclamation, which serves as the foundation of our Catholic faith.