Father Holiday, thank for your very thoughtful reflection, Solus Anglicanus. I hope you will consider contributing to this forum more often. Thank you also for your kind words.
A challenge for us as a Christian community is to make sure that we are always speaking to each other with courtesy and yes, with precision. Elsewhere in this forum several of us have recently had a discussion about precise use of technical terms. I am humbled by my own errors and am well reminded to take the trouble to choose my words more carefully.
A couple of thoughts about conversion and nomenclature:
I understand why many Christians who come into full communion bristle at the use of the term "convert." That word, used in that way, does not properly apply to them, as it denigrates the sincerity, the dignity and the grace of their prior faith practices as followers of Christ.
There are a couple of things that can be done to move away from a practice that is understandably offensive. First, we can all strive to use language more precisely. Don't say "convert" when it does not apply.
The second thing that could be done — and it would be a real service to those who are sincerely confused on this point — would be for our bishops and pastors to rethink the way people are received. Since the apostolic era, the Church has had a sense of a catechumate, persons of different cult who are discerning the Faith and contemplating requesting baptism. Since the Great Schism, the Church has understood that this is a very different situation from that of baptized faithful in impaired communion who are contemplating coming into full communion.
Then, at just the moment in history when many Church leaders decided that formal catechism instruction for its members had ceased to be "relevant," along came the instructional model of RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), which in practice, and despite the transparently clear meaning of its name, is indiscriminately applied to a wide range of people whose faith and pastoral needs vary greatly.
Drop in to an RCIA class at your local parish and you are likely to find a lively mix of Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists, Mormons, Jews and others, all of them inquiring sincerely, and all of them entitled to respectful treatment of their present beliefs. And the fact is, the Episcopalians and the Lutherans are baptized Christians, the Baptists may or may not be baptized but are thoroughly and sincerely professed Christians, while the rest are genuine catechumens.
We correctly apply the term "convert" to the catechumens (if they go all the way). But we treat the inquiring Christians identically. In many parishes we exclude them all, Christian and pagan alike, from the greatest mystery of the Faith (even if they have been memorializing it in separation all of their lives), publicly dismissing them after the Gospel to go off to lay-led rap sessions at which they seek to "break open the Word."
Can we blame the people in the pews (John and Mary Catholic, as one bishop disparages us) if we think of all the newcomers as "converts," if we fail to recognize that some of the "converts" are our Christian brothers and sisters who in some cases may be better catechized than we are?
Better pastoral leadership would help us all better understand the true nature of the path that our returning brethren are walking, and would make us more likely to be sensitive toward them.
The parishes of the Pastoral Provision have, not surprisingly given their own histories, proven to be quite good at welcoming and instructing inquirers. (And quite good at instructing sincere but under-catechized cradle Catholics, too.)
What will the future practice of the Ordinariate be in this regard? Well, at the risk of being prideful for an institution that does not yet even exist, it is safe to predict that this may be another area in which returning Anglicans can provide a good example to the rest of the Church. (We can be certain from what he has written that Fr. Holiday will.) With a sensitivity that comes from their awareness of theirs and their people’s own journey, our Ordinariate clergy can provide pastorally sensitive and doctrinally sound instruction and reception that will properly serve the inquirers who come to them, and perhaps also provide an example to RCIA-administering parishes.
The word conversion has a second meaning, as in "the lifelong journey of conversion." We cease to be candidates for technical conversion to Christianity when we are baptized. But, soon after baptism, our souls are again stained by personal sin, and from there we have a very long and difficult walk in our moral lives as Christians.
In the West we have the terms "conversion" and "sanctification;” in the East they have the more mysterious and perhaps more powerful term "deification" (Theosis). We sinners say "conversion" even though we never fully convert, we say "sanctification" even though we generally stop short of moral purity, and we say "deification" because we seek to become more like God (and certainly not because we think we can become God.)
When used in this sense, the term conversion is not an insult at all, but a tribute to our sincere resolution to do better. In this sense of the word, none of us are truly "converts," we are just well-intentioned works in progress.
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