A Major Lacuna in Catholic Ministry
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis states that "in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. This would be seen in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching" (38). I believe that a fitting sense of emphasis is lacking within Catholic ministry efforts when it comes to the fundamental act of faith on which the entire Christian edifice is built.
To conclude this series on inviting the act of faith, I would like to reiterate the importance of making this a normal part of Catholic evangelizing efforts and to suggest some practical ways to go about it in light of the conclusions drawn in previous posts.
ACT OF FAITH DEFINED
This act of faith is a self-surrender to the saving action of Christ. It is a conscious decision to stake the entirety of one's hope for salvation and right-standing before God on the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. Pope John Paul II was describing this act of faith when he defined conversion as "accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple" (Redemptoris Missio 46).
The importance of this act of faith, which is justifying faith, is spelled out clearly in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification when it says, "Therefore the doctrine of justification...is more than just one part of Christian doctrine. It stands in an essential relation to all truths of faith, which are to be seen as internally related to each other. It is an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ" (18).
ACT OF FAITH IS SINGULAR AIM OF EVANGELIZATION
Evangelization, in the strict definition of the word, is entirely oriented towards bringing a person to this act of faith. Only when someone has "accepted by faith the person of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and...given Him complete adherence by sincere conversion of heart" can the task of catechesis begin (Catechesi Tradendae 20). So important is the distinction between evangelization and catechesis that confusing the goals and methods of these unique stages can actually do harm. In refreshing clarity on this distinction, Archbishop Chaput recently stated, "There’s no way to irritate someone more than if they’re not evangelized and you try to catechize them, because they have no motivation at all to accept the teachings of Jesus Christ unless they believe he’s Lord."
A GAPING HOLE IN CATHOLIC MINISTRY
One of the many merits of Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples has been to illuminate the lived realities of the Catholic church in America and the predominant lack of any concept of "intentional discipleship" within American Catholic culture. She defines intentional discipleship as "the decision to 'drop one's nets,' to make a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of his Church."
There are perhaps two predominant reasons for this lack. On the one hand it may be due to a lack of understanding of the need for such a decision, but I would guess the more common reason is simply that it is assumed that the Catholics in the pews are disciples already. After all, they've been baptized and they're showing up on Sundays. Isn't that enough? Do we really need to push for such an explicit act of faith? Isn't it implied in their actions?
Sherry does an excellent job of explaining why this conscious, intentional decision is so important, but here I'll summarize by drawing from Dietrich von Hildebrand's Transformation in Christ, which reads,
By virtue of consciousness alone can we give the answer which God demands of us. For it is that unconditional and explicit assent on our part...which He demands of us... God expects each of us individually, and man as the highest and most lavishly endowed of His creatures, to say this ["yes"]. It is the constitutive core of consciousness; and it cannot be spoken too clearly, too wakefully, too explicitly. [Emphasis mine]
Far from being even a mere first step that we progress beyond as an accomplished fact, the act of faith is something that should become even more explicit over time as it undergirds the entirety of our Christian lives.
If we are to take Pope Francis's "fitting sense of proportion" seriously then inviting an explicit act of faith should be a theme that is repeated frequently within our evangelization efforts. It should be a constant that we return to time and time again.
What was intended to be a final post I now see will have to be broken up into two parts! My next post will focus exclusively on the practical aspects of inviting the act of faith and what that can look like within a Catholic context.
This post is the seventh in a series on “Inviting the Act of Faith.” The full series can be accessed below:
- Part One: Inviting the Act of Faith: Introduction
- Part Two: Faith, the Pledge of Salvation
- Part Three: Once Saved, Always Saved?
- Part Four: Faith and Encounter
- Part Five: Going “All In” with God
- Part Six: What Does Rescue Look Like?
- Part Seven: A Major Lacuna in Catholic Ministry
- Part Eight: Practical Ways to Invite Faith