I read Fr. Richard McBrien's latest column last night, and spent a few minutes with teetering between feelings of "well of course he would say that" and "what is he saying?"
The column is on conversion.
Fr. McBrien writes that in the old days, people became Catholic because they believed in that Catholicism was the true Church of Jesus Christ, but Vatican II took care of all that:
And so the traditional apologetical tactics --- "demonstrating" that Catholicism alone is right, while Protestantism is completely wrong --- were generally abandoned. If Protestants became Catholics in the late 1960s or in the '70s and early '80s, it was mainly for family reasons, or because they intended to marry a Catholic, or because they had grown familiar and spiritually comfortable with Catholic worship.
But durn that pendulum:
In the past two-and-half decades, however, we have seen something of a reversion to the pre-Vatican II approach. Many seeking entrance into the Catholic Church today do so as an act of rejecting their Protestant past and of embracing "the truth" found only in Catholicism.
He proceeds to slam Fr. John McCloskey, formerly of the Catholic Information Center in DC, but not by name - he's " a priest in Washington, D.C., who runs the Catholic Information Center there" - which by the way, he doesn't. And hasn't for a few years - and converts like Robert Novak and Sam Brownback.
It's all rather strange - to hold up joining the Church for family reasons or because they had "grown familiar" - as some sort of ideal and to sneer at conversion because one believes the whole deal is true. The oddness only increases when you consider that the application of the RCIA in this country has been marked since the beginning by an insistence that the contemporary process mimic that of the early church, asking catechumens and candidates to take a great deal of time before initiation. If you were there when all of this was just beginning to hit the national scene in the early 80's, you know that some wistfully held to an ideal of a 3-year preparation period, but most settled for one, and at this point, most of what I've seen around the country indicates that most programs are run, just like everything else, along the lines of the academic school year. I only mention that because the emphasis in RCIA has always been on lots of preparation - but in Fr. McBrien's vision...why would that be important? If there's no there, there, just do the largely meaningless ritual gestures and get on with it?
(I'd rather this not turn into a huge discussion of RCIA programs. There's huge problems there, but one of the things it would behoove all of us to understand is the RCIA is not a catechetical program - it's a series of rites, and it's a series of rites for catechumens - the unbaptized. The catechesis that goes along with that, as well as the process candidates - the baptized - should receive is a separate issue and widely misunderstood, mostly because of the direction the primary purveyors of "the RCIA" went from the beginning, and the misconceptions that were peddled as some sort of Gospel truth.)
And who better equipped to take it on than Carl Olson? Go for it. He argues one particular point - Fr. McBrien's contention that those who convert because of that pesky notion of "truth" have some sort of constant contempt for their former religious backgrounds. Carl is well-equipped to argue that this is not so.
This brought to mind a blog post, over at Intentional Disciples, from Fr. Mike Fones, OP:
I was talking with Fr. Paul, the pastor of Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, this morning about my surprise, and he had his own observations. He told me that at a clergy meeting not too long ago, he had reported a little about what his parish is doing to reach out to the local community. He said there are 40,000 people living within the parish boundaries, with 2500 families (about 7,000 people) registered. The parish has identified about 1800 inactive Catholics and discovered that 72% of the people living in one zipcode in their boundaries are unchurched. 5700 new residents moved into their parish in the last year.
He told the clergy that as a result of a series of parish meetings during Lent they had decided to hold an open house on the feast of Corpus Christi and had sent postcard invitations to the 5700 new residents. 1500 door hangers inviting people to the parish fall festival will be placed on the homes within the zip code in which 72% of the folks are unchurched.
The parish staff is committed to form the members of its 70+ ministries into intentional disciples (whom Fr. Paul calls "employees of Christ.") They are committed to mobilizing all the registered parishioners to "deploy" them into their neighborhoods, workplaces and families where they can give explicit witness to their faith - even to the point of using words!
Last year the parish welcomed 70+ new Catholics at the Easter Vigil.
The response of some of the clergy?
"Why do you want more parishioners? You already have the largest parish in the diocese?"