I was recently attending a Catholic Conference and to my surprise I saw a co-worker there who I didn’t know was Catholic. In fact, he’s almost there – he’s in RCIA and will be received into the Church on the same day as the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. I asked about his decision to convert from his Evangelical faith. He replied, “It just makes sense,” and shrugged. Unlike most of my Evangelical friends, taking the plunge didn’t seem like a hard decision, and if only everyone had it this easy to come home. I did reflect on the various reasons that one would shy away from encountering the fullness of the Christian faith. This is what I’ve drawn up.
- Resistance to Change – there’s a certain personal inertia that avoids change. We like our routines and habits. Truth can be staring one in the face, but if the activation energy to properly react to it is too high, little will happen. I’ve seen people in dead-end careers stay in their jobs just out of the comfortable regularity of being in it. Putting on Christ and taking up His cross is not purported to be easy, but the right catalyst is needed to get someone moving toward their own happiness.
- An Unwelcoming Community – I might rather say an uncomfortable community. I think this is not an easy one, as I’m one who likes the option for anonymity in most churches. While this might allow someone to be in their pew at peace, it doesn’t lead one to involvement or the feeling of being home in a Catholic church. Greeters and ushers and small group leaders are continuing to look at striking the right balance to be hospitable to newcomers without overwhelming them in what could be unwanted attention. The right invitations with the right opportunities to participate and inclusion are all factors that we are all still figuring out.
- Culture – To the non-liturgized, the Liturgy is weird. The postures, uniformity, instinctive responses, vestments, language – all of these are set aside to be deliberately for God’s glory. A newcomer has a lot to catch up on with respect to these and we acknowledge that these things are out of the ordinary. Catholic geekology is full of strange stories of piety that we should have the patience to explain to the uninitiated.
- Scandal – This is huge – I’ve written in the past about how the entire province of Quebec has been secularized due to the scandal of a Church failing to be poor, as Pope Francis would describe to be the ideal. Scandals of abuse and hypocrisy by priests and other representative figures do us no favours to demonstrate that the church is as much a place of sinners as it is of saints. Even if one is inspired by the heroics of Catholic saints, or the beauty of the liturgy – many local church communities fall far from exhibiting that same beauty of living and worship in the day to day. Fr. Barron says that we should lead with beauty in the New Evangelization. In the Catholicism series, he brings the viewer to the Chartres cathedral, but when there is no architecture in the neighbourhood that can even claim to be in the same heritage, the disjointed experience can easily raise disappointing questions about what is the true archetype for the Faith – the beautiful or the mediocre?
- Peer Pressure – If one is not surrounded by Catholics, choosing to become one is a brave act of counter-culture. There is no shortage of prominent Catholic converts who lost friends, and regular contact with family, or even jobs due to their decision to cross the Tiber. The megachurch pastor Ulf Ekman was courageous in announcing his reason for stepping down from his own church and enrolling in RCIA. Meanwhile, the Pentecostal pastor Kenneth Copeland both declares that there are no more divisions between his ecclesial community and the Catholic Church yet takes no steps to formalizing unification.
The above list is often true for those who unrepentantly reject Catholic teaching yet persist in remaining in the Church and calling themselves Catholic. I don’t list these to excuse anyone from refusing the Truth of what the Catholic Church teaches and desires for each of us, but rather for explicit awareness as potential obstacles to overcome. For those of you attending this upcoming weekend’s conference, “Put on the Armour of God”, who are exploring the faith, or for those of you bringing a friend to discover the beauty of what is presented, may hearts be softened and minds be cleared so that these barriers are broken down so that all may encounter unimpeded the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Catholic faith.