42 months and counting…

This Sunday, September 29 will mark 42 months since my reception into the Roman Catholic Church. To translate that into years, it has been three and one-half years, and I have not regretted that decision in the least. I consider it a conversion in so many ways. It is not that I wasn’t a Christian, I was. In fact, I grew up in a Christian home with Christian parents who guided my steps several times a week to religious services. I attended a Christian college and then seminary and for more than thirty years served as a Christian pastor and missionary. I married a Christian wife and raised our three children in the Christian faith. Yet I needed a conversion.

What I converted to was the “one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”, the Church that Jesus founded upon the rock of Peter and His confession, the Church against which the gates of hell will not prevail. I converted not only to Christ’s Church that is nearly 2000 years old, but also to the Church that is the “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 DRA). No longer do I have to depend on my own interpretation of Sacred Scripture. I am in the bosom of Christ’s Church—the pillar and bulwark of the truth. I can trust Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church.

I now see quite a few passages that were troublesome and perplexing in the pure light of the Church’s teaching. That especially relates to the “Bread of Life” discourse that Jesus gave in the synagogue in Capernaum in John 6. Jesus said, Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.”

As I daily partake of the Real Presence of Christ—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity” in Holy Communion, John 6:54-58 comes alive to me and Communion is not a symbolic remembrance of something Jesus did a couple of millennia ago. He offers himself completely to me and to all who come to him by faith.

So it’s no wonder that I can’t stop talking about the joy I have in coming to know Christ fully in the fullness of his Church. Never has sharing my faith been more enjoyable and necessary. I have a sacred duty that compels me share the depth of Christ’s love for us that we experience as part of his body, the Church.

In light of what I have shared and the experiences of many converts to the Catholic Church, I find myself disheartened as I read the following paragraphs from a meeting of our Holy Father with Jesuits from Madagascar y Mozambique. You can read the full story here. Pope Francis says:

Today I felt a certain bitterness after a meeting with young people. A woman approached me with a young man and a young woman. I was told they were part of a slightly fundamentalist movement. She said to me in perfect Spanish: “Your Holiness, I am from South Africa. This boy was a Hindu and converted to Catholicism. This girl was Anglican and converted to Catholicism.” But she told me in a triumphant way, as though she was showing off a hunting trophy. I felt uncomfortable and said to her, “Madam, evangelization yes, proselytism no.”

What I mean is that evangelization is free! Proselytism, on the other hand, makes you lose your freedom. Proselytism is incapable of creating a religious path in freedom. It always sees people being subjugated in one way or another. In evangelization the protagonist is God, in proselytism it is the I.

I recognize that this was part of an answer Pope Francis gave to a priest asking about proselytism by “prosperity gospel” adherents in Africa—a group that pulls many away from true biblical teaching. But can you imagine how badly the young woman felt after being told that her efforts in evangelization—sharing the good news of Christ in his Church was somehow wrong?

“For if I preach the gospel, it is no glory to me, for a necessity lieth upon me: for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

The Real Meal Deal

During the years that I was in pastoral ministry it was not unusual to hear people express that they weren’t “being fed” at their local church. This realization often led the person to seek another congregation or denomination where it was hoped the spiritual nurture and nourishment that he or she sought would be found.

Since the focus of worship in most churches is the sermon—where the Word of God is expounded—the ability of the pastor or homilist to challenge and keep the hearer’s attention is of paramount importance. I remember all too well agonizing over sermon preparation knowing that my sermon had the potential to be totally forgettable, or to the other extreme, life changing.

With 33 years of ministry and many more total years in worship services I found it hard not to critique the sermons that I heard offered up. Even after coming into the Catholic Church I found myself using the same criteria. That is not to say that the sermon or homily is not important in the Catholic Church, but it is not the centerpiece of the Mass as the sermon is to the Protestant worship experience.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1324) states: The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” This necessitated a shift in perspective for me, away from the centrality of the sermon or exposition of the God’s Word, as important as that is, to the holy Sacrifice of the Mass: the Eucharist, celebrating the Real Presence of Jesus Christ—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—under the appearance of bread and wine.

What I have discovered to my great joy is that I don’t leave church not feeling fed. The homily may be short, even lacking in presentation, but the privilege of receiving our Lord—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—is true food (John 6:55). It is the real meal deal!