Conversion, Reconciliation, and Transformation

“And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

This is an excerpt from the Prayer of Absolution that the priest says at the end of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At this point, you’ve confessed your sins to the priest in persona Christi (ie, in the person of Christ; read: you’re really confessing your sins to Jesus). This prayer washes you clean of your sins, lets you start anew, lets you move on, makes you know and feel the mercy of Christ.

When I’m at college, I spend most of my social time around other Catholics, so I’m basically immersed in Catholic thought. It’s always striking when I get home and notice the stark contrasts between secular and Catholic thought. (No one else in my immediate family (or even extended family, really) is a practicing Catholic–read about my conversion story here.)

Secular and Catholic thought really diverge on the subject of reconciliation. Most notably, Catholic thought asserts that people can change. I’ve observed that many (though not all, of course) in the secular realm seem to think that someone with a troubled past could not possibly have changed. These people continue to be labeled by the sins of their past. This is entirely unfair, as people can change, especially with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

So many of the Church’s saints were extreme sinners at one time, and then drastically changed when their hearts were converted to Christ. Take St. Augustine, for example. Pre-conversion Augustine was, in today’s terminology, a playboy. Then, when he converted to Christ, he changed drastically and eventually became a saint. St. Augustine understood how people could change because he experienced it himself. He said,

“There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”

Today’s world seems not to know what St. Augustine knew. I think that anyone who has experienced first-hand the transformative power of the Holy Spirit knows that people change. I think that the secular world copes with this misunderstanding in two ways (of course, generalizations are never entirely accurate; not everyone with a secular mindset has this ideology):

  1. When people recognize others as sinners, they label them as such (because radical change seems impossible).
  2. When people sin, they try to convince themselves that they actually haven’t sinned (because there’s no mode of redemption).

I think the mainstream culture would be shocked to know that Catholicism advocates moving on from the sins of our past. Everyone always talks about “Catholic guilt” which, tbh, I don’t understand. Yes, we’re all sinners, but we are redeemed in Christ, which we experience first hand through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sure, we should be horrified by our sins, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we should also know that we are made new and that we can change with God’s help.

Being Openly Catholic in a Secular Society

The Holy Spirit came into the disciples at Pentecost, inspiring them to spread the Good News. Why aren’t we doing more of that? Out of fear of not being “politically correct”?
Picture from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/3580235485/

Living in America, we are blessed with freedom of religion. This is fantastic, but it means something very different now than it did in the time of the Founding Fathers.

In the 18th century, it meant that religion was protected from the state. Now it means that the state is protected from religion!

There is an intense secularization going on in the U.S. (and probably elsewhere). It’s almost a forceful secularization. All of these pressures force us to be “politically correct” and to drop our religion the second we walk out of church. No one wants to talk religion. It’s ironic…we refuse to talk about the most important thing there is, the thing that everything else hinges on.

I’m guilty of it too, that is, of feeling weird talking about religion in secular places (school, neighborhood, etc.). I’ve grown up my whole life thinking it was taboo. My parents said not to discuss religion or politics with anyone. I’ve been conditioned by society. But lately I’ve been thinking, “Why not?”

So, if it’s appropriate in the context of a particular conversation, I mention that I am Catholic. I’m usually bluntly honest about who I am in all regards, so why not mention my religion, which defines me more than anything else? Also, I figure that I can’t properly witness the faith unless people know I’m Catholic. Letting people know you’re Catholic is a potentially powerful evangelization tool.

Usually people just smile and nod. They, too, are conditioned by society to avoid religious discussion. It’s a pity. Sometimes, though, people ask me about it. (I like that.) So I answer as best I can and try to spread the Good News.

Don’t feel bad about talking religion. Don’t let secular society get you down.

 

“Those who with God’s help have welcomed Christ’s call and freely responded to it are urged on by love of Christ to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world” (CCC,#3).

“Mission is a duty about which one must say ‘Woe to me if I do not evangelize’ (1 Corinthians 9:16)…redemption and mission are acts of love [because] those who proclaim the Gospel participate in the charity of Christ” (Pope Benedict, 2008).

“The Church is missionary by nature and her principal task is evangelization, which aims to proclaim and to witness to Christ and to promote his Gospel of peace and love in every environment and culture” (Pope Benedict, 2006).

“Before His ascension, Jesus said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always, yes even to the end of time'”(Matthew 28:17-20).