Monday, March 8, 2021

Just renaming our former allegiances with the label “Catholic” doesn’t really make us Catholic.

I have come to see that it is indeed a challenge for many converts to Catholicism to truly be converts from within.  This conversion process, unlike what many may think, is not only something that happens when one is immersed in the life-giving waters of baptism, usually on Easter Saturday night’s liturgy.  While it is a Rite through which one enters into the Mystical Body of Christ as a living member, it may give the false notion that this is all that is needed to become Catholic.  But it really requires much more, and my fear is that this ‘more’ is not something that is broached and dealt with adequately, resulting in many converts who may be Catholic in name, but not truly Catholic inside.

Jesus in the gospel does point to this as something so important when he talks about new wine needing to be stored in new wineskins.  In essence, he is saying that if there is to be a true conversion, a true metanoia, which means a new ‘mind’, one needs a newness that manifests itself both without and within.  Just a change of one without the other will yield results that could end up disastrous, both to the wine and to the skins.


What do I mean?  In Singapore, this phenomenon is perhaps more easily seen when one who was practicing a different religion undergoes a conversion experience, and through the RCIA process (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), undergoes baptism and becomes Catholic.  While the practices of the faith like going to Mass regularly every Sunday, praying daily, and having a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary are embraced and followed sedulously, what lies beneath and inside the heart and mind of the convert may still be something that is still deeply steeped in one’s former religious mind. 


One of the most important doctrines that are very often insufficiently and superficially understood is that of the Christian being saved by grace, and not by works.  When this isn’t something that strikes the core of the convert, especially if one had come from a background which had a strong emphasis on ‘meritocracy’, one can inadvertently bring that into Catholicism, and believe (erroneously of course), that one has to as it were, jump through certain hoops, in order to be saved.  There does exist in other faiths many practices of worship where one is given to believe that in order for a deity to answer one’s prayers and desire, it is necessary for one to make certain offerings to please or appease the deity.  


This is where Catholicism differs in a radical way.  God’s bestowal of his love and mercy to us sinners is nothing that anyone can ever merit or earn.  Our Christian doctrine is crystal clear that our being saved in Christ is something that is purely gift from the extraordinarily generous heart of God.  No one can earn this, or deserve it in any way.  


One of the clearest examples of this is when an infant is baptized.  Nothing that the infant has done or can ever do, no matter how cute or adorable he or she is, has earned him or her the gift of baptism and becoming the beloved child of God through it.  Despite not being able to do anything, he or she is saved through Christ.  


I am certain that when we truly begin to appreciate just how undeserving we are to have received salvation in Christ that we will begin to respond in a changed (metanoia’d) way by living lives anew.  We will not wait to be loved before loving; or wait for others to change before forgiving them; or set any conditions to our gift of self both to God or to others.  We will see that all we can and should do is at best, out of a grateful response to what we have already been given.  Not only given, but given in good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, poured into our laps.


But if all we have done is in conversion is a name change, from being a called a (insert former religious belief here) and now a Catholic, leaving the inside unchanged, the only conversion that is true is that we may only have switched the labels of a receptacle, without any change in the receptacle’s contents.

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