Written by Sherry
Thursday, 09 August 2007 03:52
There has been a goodly bit of discussion around St. Blog's about Robert George's passionate plea at First Things: Danger and Opportunity: A Plea to Catholics I'd like to use a few of his comments as a chance to pull out some realities that are not usually mentioned in a discussion of this sort:
What is in need of transformation is not the teaching of the Church but the human mind and heart to which these teachings are addressed. Christianity is a religion of transformation. No one is literally born into it; even infants at baptism are converted to it. There is not a Catholic on the planet or in the history of the Church who is not a convert.
Thank God, someone is saying this loud and clear! Absolutely.
One huge evangelical gap for Catholics is our failure to give serious attention to the development stage when our children, who were baptized as infants, must become "converts", that is, they must enter intentionally into the process of conversion which is required of all. We've tried to use Confirmation prep to do this in a half-hearted way but now that many dioceses are lowering the age of Confirmation, even this is being taken away from us.
Our catechetical practice is much more informative than transformative. We are much likely to offer concepts than Christ but it is the encounter with Christ that sets transformation in motion.
Conversion is effected, by God’s grace, by transformative acts of the intellect and will.
George is using a sort of Thomistic short-hand here because he presumes that his theologically literate First Things audience can fill in the blanks.
But our experience is that many, many Catholics who are literate in other areas of the faith can't fill in the blanks when it comes to understanding or describing how God's grace that flows from Christ's self-giving love and our personal faith and assent work together to produce personal transformation. They can't fill in the blanks because no one has ever described the process to them in a meaningful way and especially because they have not seen it lived out in a compelling way.
The phrase "transformative acts of the intellect and will"
actually falls far short of conveying all that the Council of Trent taught about the process of coming to faith for those who have reached the age of reason. And in a post-modern era, in which almost all the theological underpinnings presumed by George are missing, talking about the process of salvation in this way can be profoundly misleading.
Post-modern Catholics can and will readily assume that we are describing a completely impersonal and mechanical process - a sort of salvation by the "triumph of the will". No wonder when Peter Kreeft asked his Catholic students at Boston College why they should go to heaven, nearly all of them responded that they were saved because they were basically good people who did good things and hardly any of them mentioned Jesus Christ at all.
In the Decree on Justification, the council taught that there was a progression of spiritual "movements" on the journey to salvific faith for adults and those children who have reached the age of reason. And we must remember that what the Church is describing below is non-negotiable pre-baptismal faith, not Christian maturity.
The adult ready for baptism is described in this way:
1) Moved to initial faith by hearing the kerygma (the basic summary of the saving purposes and work of Christ in which initial faith is placed)
2) Moves freely toward God as a result of #1
3) Believes all that God has revealed to humanity through the Church
a.Especially that we are justified by God’s grace through the redemption in Jesus Christ
4) Knows themselves to be a sinner
5) Trusts in the mercy and love of God for Christ’s sake
6) Repents of our sins
7) Resolves to receive baptism
8) Begins a new life by seeking to obey the commandments of God (the obedience of faith)
If we mentally and verbally collapse this journey to "acts of the intellect and will", we effectively render points 1, 2, 3a, 4, 5, 6 invisible to ourselves and to those we seek to evangelize.
And the process of conversion is lifelong, whether one begins it a few days or weeks after birth or on one’s eighty-fifth birthday. Christ is constantly calling us to conversion and making available to us the divine graces that are its fundamental resources. We falter and fail; he lifts us up and puts us back on track. We grow in him, so long as we are faithful in responding to his acts of love for us by our acts of love of God and neighbor.
I would agree with George absolutely. With one caveat. The journey of lived conversion that George describes so clearly here begins when we say an intentional, personal "yes" to the Lord who bestowed upon us the baptismal and other sacramental graces that most of us received as infants. Our strong tendency is to presume that this intentional "yes" has been given because we were baptized even when the evidence of millions of lapsed Catholics tells us otherwise.