LegalWorks Apostolate - Counsel for a Culture of Life

Repent! Convert!

Two Words that Need Rediscovering

By Msgr. Charles Pope

Too many Catholics are uncomfortable using the biblical and traditional words, "Repent," convert and conversion. To repent means to change your mind and come to a new way of living. To convert means to turn from sinful ways or erroneous teaching.

But too many Catholics, including priests are uncomfortable using words like this. We used to speak of convert classes etc. But now many prefer abstract descriptions like, "Inquiry Classes" or the even more abstract "RCIA."

Many draw back lest they seem to suggest that others are wrong, "going wrong," need to change, or, heaven forfend, "sinful." Words like repent and convert more than suggest that there is right and wrong, true and false, sanctity and sinfulness, good and evil.

But the fact is, many, including us, need on-going conversion And a good number need outright conversion And a complete change of mind, heart and behavior.

Of course repentance and the call to conversion are a key biblical summons. repentance is not suggested, it is commanded, and without it we will not see the kingdom of God.

Perhaps a central reason for the embarrasment many feel at the call to repentance and conversion is that it runs a foul of a kind of "consumer Christianity" wherein faith is reduced to using God's grace to access blessings but not to give one's life over to Jesus Christ in love and obedience. Consumer Chrisitanity targets "seekers" looking for enrichment rather than disciples. The heart of discipleship is, as Jesus says, is to "Deny yourself, take up your Cross, and follow me."

But when faith is reduced to personal enrichment, true discipleship seems obnoxious and words like repentance, conversion, and concepts like self denial, and the cross are non-starters and rejected as negative, judgemental, and, to use consumer language, is bad marketing.

To be sure, the faith does enrich and words like repentance and conversion need not be accompanied with sour faces or with no reference to the joy of salvation. We need not act like the wild-eyed sidewalk evangelists screaming repent only as a tactic of cringing fear.

But as to the avoidance of any fear at all and the words repent and convert, nothing could be more unChrist-like, for Jesus led with the summons to repent. It was in the very opening words of his public ministry: He said, "The time is now! The kingdom of God is near! Repent, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15).

And why does Jesus lead with this? Because the joy and enrichement of salvation cannot be accessed except through repentance and conversion. Eternal Life cannot be accessed except through turning our back on this world and dying to it. Easter Sunday is accessed only through Good Friday.

Consumer Christianity cannot save. Repentance and conversion, even if not popular in marketing focus groups of "seeker-sensitive" mega-churches, must be recovered in the call and vocabulary of the Church. Watering down the very thing Jesus led with is no way to make true disciples.

Repent and be converted that the Gospel may fill you.

This article has been republished with the consent of the author after it was originally published by the Archdiocese of Washington.

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