Conversion is the first step for a seeker, and often the next step for those who are already believers. One of the post-conciliar mantras, perhaps over-quoted, is “continuing conversion,” speaking I think to the human condition: we are but creatures of the Creator, and with our free will, we may wander and get distracted. And fall into sin. And need a reminder, perhaps daily.
Among the objectives of developing that first goal of Catholic enthusiasm the bishops cite fostering the conversion experience. This may take place in the heart of the believer, or more broadly, in the parish community.
Strategies for individual renewal are given: retreats; parish renewals; RENEW; Cursillo; involvement in the Charismatic movement; youth encounter weekends; marriage encounter; and other programs of renewal and conversion. (GMD 91)
All of these are fine efforts. Each has inspired initial or continuing conversion in uncounted numbers of believers. How to promote these strategies: this is the matter at hand. Too often people who have had graced experiences allow such experiences to go unshared. Two problems here. First, few people hear about them. Second, for the believer, the experience often fades when it is not recounted and shared.
For the faith community, three objectives are given in GMD 92:
- expanded implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA);
- wider invitation for Catholics to serve as RCIA sponsors; and
- parish involvement in ministries of reconciliation.
Number two seems clearest. It’s not enough to just place bulletin pieces and flyers. Good sponsors need to be recruited one-on-one. Believers need to be encouraged into sharing faith and in the discipleship ministry of being a faith companion. And such an invitation needs to be consistent and constant. A good catechumenate director might always be on the lookout for sponsors–not only when inquirers come knocking at the door.
Most parishes that conduct RCIA have already expanded to the point of welcoming the people who come. And many, though not all, conduct a year-round catechumenate: responding to initiatives at times other than convenient.
As for reconciliation ministries, I’m assuming the bishops mean efforts like Welcome Home or Re-Membering Church. Good programs with promise. But they also need to be infused with a wider desire to welcome back Catholics who have been alienated by moral and social misbehavior.
These ministries are all complicated things. They require listening. Listening to the people who come, or who might be nudged by an initial curiosity. Are we ready to listen when people come?
We’ll continue through these objectives and strategies for several days of posts. GMD 89-127 can be studied and discussed in the blog format. But nothing replaces the need for every parish, at some level, to address these objectives. Parishes must assess strategies that have worked and those that have not. And people in parishes must lift up and strengthen what has worked and what will work for the particular community. It takes commitment in every area of parish ministry and service, as we will see in the posts ahead.