Conversion & the Individual Print
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 21 June 2008 06:30
Thanks Joe for finding and posting the piece below.

What a compelling witness but what it costs to say "yes" to God in such a place. It reminds me very much of the stories that come out of the recusant Catholics of 16th century England when prisons became houses of formation and experiences of intense Christian community. (Margaret Clitheroe learned to read in prison and was given her most precious possession there: the new English Catholic translation of the Bible. Her Bible survived and is in the possession of the Bar Convernt in York)

And Joe's post raises another fascinating topic which is difficult to talk about clearly.

At Making Disciples last week, we talked of the power of Adoration - of exposing the unbaptized, the uncatechized, the lapsed to Christ's presence in the Blessed Sacrament - to reach post modern people who are drawn to encounter and mystery. We received a few comments in the evaluations from people who seemed to think that we were thereby minimizing the liturgy and the communal prayer of the baptized.

But they didn't get it. The presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament can be accessible and even experiential to people who have no liturgical background of any kind or even a conscious aversion to liturgy. I know of several people who are Catholic today, including myself, because we wandered across the threshold of a Catholic Church and felt a Presence that transcended al our conscious beliefs and expectations.

And they, oddly, seemed to not grasp that someone returning to the Church or approaching her for the first time, often - even usually - does so by him or herself or perhaps with one or two friends. It *feels* like a very personal, individual journey for most people regardless of whether or not they live in an "individualistic" culture like ours or not. It was a highly personal and individual journey for Margaret Clitheroe, who was raised Anglican in the 16th century, as it was, famously, for St. Augustine.

So often we project our intro-ecclesial debates onto those outside. I always find it odd when I run across Catholics who regard the theological idea of the "the People of God" or the communal worshiping community, understood at its most abstract and apart from any question of living Christian community, as in tacit opposition to the individual spiritual journeys of real people. (Now that I think about it - these concerns have always come from life-long Catholics who are deep ecclesial insiders. I have never heard a convert talk so.)

Most people are moved by individual experience and by the experience of relationship with other individuals or a living community. Only a few will be moved to open their lives to Christ by the idea of the People of God. Even when that happens, as in the case of the Jacques & Raisa Maritain, the resulting journey to faith, discipleship, and communion, is still experienced as very personal. I am responding to an initiative from a personal God, I am saying yes to the claims of the Church.

But many - of any background, intellectual or peasant - like Cardinal Nguyen van Thun's fellow prisoners, will respond to an experience of God: through the witness of disciples, through an experienced of real community, through an encounter, even one without words, with the Blessed Sacrament.

Would an intentional disciple ever talk or think about their journey to Christ in so bloodless and abstract a fashion? I have never met one who did. It always sounds like Cardinal Thun's story. A lived, costly, and highly personal "yes" to a living God.