Great on-the-ground insights from Fr. Michael Cummins over at Word on Fire on Why People Are Becoming Catholic in Tennessee.
I’d like to offer some further analysis on some of his observations.
Fr. Cummins writes that in East Tennessee,
“People fall in love with the Eucharist. East Tennessee and the South are rich in Christian heritage, but that heritage is typically Protestant. Scripture is certainly emphasized within these faith traditions of the South. At some point many people encounter the Catholic celebration of the Eucharist and things just click. This celebration of the Lord’s Supper they often have heard of through Scripture all of sudden is giving form and substance and it answers a deep yearning in their hearts. I have heard this story many times from many converts, including my own father.”
To put this in a broader context, I think what he’s describing is that people who are likely already disciples (e.g. have a relationship with Jesus Christ, have prayed, read Scriptures, in faith, etc.) have a conversion into more perfect and full communion with the Church through the Eucharist. Absolutely! In a related way, this is my own story (evangelized outside the Catholic Church, but then understood what the Eucharist meant as a disciple). How does one witness to non-Catholics who are disciples? Liturgy and Eucharist are certainly vital aspects of this.
However, I think that we’d be taking away the wrong lesson if we were to think that encountering the Eucharist were to have the same effect (though it does happen! Praise God!) on those who are not already disciples of Jesus Christ. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, we are reminded, “Before men [and women 😉 ]can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and to conversion” (§9). My guess is that for many Protestants in East Tennessee, a certain degree of conversion to Jesus Christ has certainly already begun–seeds have been planted, and in many cases watered for years. And this is a great blessing, indeed!
Another key insight he offers is that:
“Christian churches that feel the need to manipulate others into conversion are shooting themselves in the foot because at some deep level there is an inconsistency in this and it cannot help but be recognized. As Catholics, we are certainly willing to share the beauty of our faith but we respect the freedom of people to choose or not choose the Catholic faith for themselves. This respect goes a long way for many people. Multiple times I have heard people say they have been attracted to the Catholic Church because they have not encountered proselytizing efforts similar to ones that left them burned from other churches and ministry organizations.”
Yes. Yes. Yes. What a great example of the fullness of authentic Catholic evangelization. When it comes to the complete cycle and process of evangelization there is a richness and depth in the Catholic faith that is often watered down in some American protestant congregations. Unfortunately, many Catholics think that evangelization=proselytization, or think that catechesis and witness are not parts of evangelization. The more we own and proclaim true evangelization, the better for all of our communities.