Tuesday, June 10, 2003


Last week Sean Gallagher posted on this question, posed in his parish's RCIA class: "He [a neophyte in the RCIA process] came down to it and asked if, when speaking about his own faith to other Christians if his ultimate purpose would be to make them want to be Catholic."

Sean rightly notes that this is a tricky question, and to answer it, he proposes the distinction between an "evangelistic approach" (which is aimed at the non-Christian, he argues) and an approach suited to discussion with a fellow Christian. With regard to the latter, Sean writes,
    This does not mean, however, that a Catholic in a conversation with a Baptist cannot try to explain what he believes to be true and even what he believes to be erroneous. But it should happen in the midst of a dialogue between two brothers in Christ, not as a monologue of teacher to student. And certainly it should not be directed in such a way as to try, then and there, to convince the person to become Catholic.

    In essence, a conversation between a Catholic and another Christian (who is not Catholic) in which the faith of each is the subject should have as its focus their mutual search for the truth. If the party in the conversation who is not Catholic is indeed a Christian then he or she does not need a hard sell approach (indeed, no one, of any faith, needs or deserves such an approach). If this conversation is filled with respect and charity and it is one where both seek to find the truth, then the grace of that conversation will have whatever effect that Father wills if either party is open to that will.
I know what Sean is saying, but I think one could fairly ask, isn't the "evangelistic approach" also one which should be characterized by dialogue (not monologue), and the common search for truth? Why can't the approach Sean suggests for dialogue with a fellow Christian just as easily be employed with a fellow human?

I'm not trying to downplay the difference between non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians... there is obviously a difference, and there we just as obviously have more in common with the former than the latter. I'm only wondering why somone couldn't argue that the second of Sean's approaches shouldn't be the approach used by a Catholic to dialogue with everyone, while taking into account the varying relationship the Catholic may already have with the interlocutor.

Someone might ask, "So, Chris, how would you answer the question posed in the RCIA class?" My response: we should speak and act in whatever manner helps those we are speaking with achieve God's will for their life. The question within the neophyte's question is, "does God will everyone to become Catholic?" and this is both a simple and complicated question. On one hand, you could say, "Of course!" But on the other, one could argue that there are people who never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and visibly enter the Catholic Church, yet we know that such people can be saved. So did God will that they would become Catholic? The answer to that question, it seems to me, has to be "no," and if that's the case, then the question is analogously complicated when applied to our fellow Christians.

I think I'll leave it at that, at least for the time being.

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