GDC 56: “The process of continuing conversion”

One significant challenge for many modern Catholics is how to absorb and integrate the need for continuing conversion. As long as faith is seen as an experience of the intellect, of absorbing the appropriate amount of information (but no more) and achieving a certain status, then “continuing conversion” remains a buzz phrase. When we fall short, it can be chalked up to sin. When others disagree, we can question their smarts. It’s probably the main reason why I harbor suspicions about the thrust of the new apologetics movement. It’s not a matter of changing someone’s mind. Faith is a matter of the heart. And by the heart, I suspect the Church means the very depths of the human experience, and not just the feelings, passions, and blood pumping organ:

56. Faith is a gift destined to grow in the hearts of believers. (156) Adhering to Jesus Christ, in fact, sets in motion a process of continuing conversion, which lasts for the whole of life. (Cf. Redemptoris Missio 46b.) He who comes to faith is like a new born child, (Cf. 1 Pet 2:2; Heb 5:13.) who, little by little, will grow and change into an adult, tending towards the state of the “perfect (person)”, (Eph 4:13.) and to maturity in the fullness of Christ.

The quote on note 156 is from John Paul II’s Catechesi Tradendae 20a: “It is in fact a matter of giving growth, at the level of knowledge and in life, to the seed of faith sown by the Holy Spirit with the initial proclamation.”

It’s a bit of a different image to suggest that a person who has completed initiation is more like a newborn than an adult, isn’t it? I don’t suppose our teens getting confirmed would appreciate it.

That notion of perfection: that should be daunting, too. It implies something toward which we will always be “tending.” I know I  have no confidence I can reach it without grace.

GDC outlines four moments on the journey of faith. Even Catholics baptized in infancy should expect a sojourn in each of them. If this were more of a spiritual reflection session, I would ask participants to identify an experience in each of them. A pastoral minister should be able to assist believers through these stages. Not to mention the need for people working in RCIA and with young people to facilitate community experiences for these moments. Let’s read:

From a theological viewpoint, several important moments can be identified in the process of faith and conversion:

a) Interest in the Gospel. The first moment is one in which, in the heart of the non believer or of the indifferent or of those who practise other religions, there is born, as a result of its first proclamation, an interest in the Gospel, yet without any firm decision. This first movement of the human spirit towards faith, which is already a fruit of grace, is identified by different terms: “propensity for the faith”, (RCIA 12.) “evangelic preparation”, (Cf. Eusebius of Caesrea, “Praeparatio evangelica”, I, 1; Sources Chrétiennes 206, 6; Lumen Gentium 16; Ad Gentes 3a.) inclination to believe, “religious quest”. (Christifedeles Laici 4c.) The Church calls those who show such concern “sympathizers”. (RCIA 12 and 111.)

b) Conversion. This first moment of interest in the Gospel requires a period of searching (Cf. RCIA 6 and 7.) to be transformed into a firm option. The option for faith must be a considered and mature one. Such searching, guided by the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the Kerygma, prepares the way for conversion which is certainly “initial”, (Ad Gentes 13b.) but brings with it adherence to Christ and the will to walk in his footsteps. This “fundamental option” is the basis for the whole Christian life of the Lord’s disciple. (Cf. Ad Gentes 13; Evangelii Nuntiandi 10; Redemptoris Missio 46; Veritatis Splendor 66; RCIA 10.)

c) Profession of faith. Abandonment of self to Jesus Christ arouses in believers a desire to know him more profoundly and to identify with him. Catechesis initiates them in knowledge of faith and apprenticeship in the Christian life, thereby promoting a spiritual journey which brings about a “progressive change in outlook and morals”. (Ad Gentes 13b.) This is achieved in sacrifices and in challenges, as well as in the joys which God gives in abundance. The disciple of Jesus Christ is then ready to make an explicit, living and fruitful profession of faith. (Cf. Synod of Bishops, Message to the People of God (1977) 8b; CCC 187-189.)

d) Journeying towards perfection. The basic maturity which gives rise to the profession of faith is not the final point in the process of continuing conversion. The profession of baptismal faith is but the foundation of a spiritual building which is destined to grow. The baptized, moved always by the Spirit, nourished by the sacraments, by prayer and by the practise of charity, and assisted by multiple forms of ongoing education in the faith, seeks to realize the desire of Christ: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. (Mt 5:48; cf. Lumen Gentium 11, 40b, 42e.) This is the call to the fullness of perfection which is addressed to all the baptized.

Those familiar with RCIA will note these stages correspond to the four main periods of the process of initiation: inquiry, catechumenate, Lent (purification and enlightenment), and mystagogia. Many pastoral ministers wring their hands over the post-baptismal period. There are no rites. Nothing to do. GDC 56d gives a set of rather concrete suggestions: liturgy, prayer, acts of charity, multiple forms of continuing formation. Probably those forms should be conducted in context of the entire community.

This is a lot of material for one morning. Any comments?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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