A Conversion of Individuals

Christ spent three years forming 12 men.

Those men went on to change the world.

Of course, Christ also preached to larger groups such as in the Sermon on the Mount. However, these occurrences are much less common in scripture, and the impact they had on the people is seemingly much less than the impact Christ had on his disciples. That is, we don’t hear about the people He preached to after the episode is over, what influence Jesus had on their souls in these large settings was not enough to merit mention at any other point in scripture. 

But we do know what happened to the 12 men Jesus personally formed. They went on to found a Church of over 1 billion people.

In our time there is a renewed emphasis on evangelization, the most common form of which takes place en masse. Groups are continually founded with the best of intentions for impacting the universal Church and spreading the gospel. Efforts to make the Church “cool” or, a somewhat better term, “relevant” to the youth are an increasingly common endeavor undertaken by well-meaning and passionate Catholics.

Yet despite these efforts, we see people continuing to fall away from the Church. We witness people who were in love with God leaving the faith. There is a rise of “Cafeteria Catholics,” those who pick and choose which of the Church’s teaching they will accept and believe, and which they will reject.

Christ spent 3 years forming 12 men.

Jesus did not emphasize His large group interactions. Rather, in close relationship with those 12 men, He lead, instructed, and formed them.

We, the modern Church, now see these men all of the time.

We know them and their stories.

All but 1 of them are saints.

But we never see the crowd from the Sermon on the Mount.

We know that the crowd was affected; it even says so at points in scripture. Yet if such instruction were the best or proper way to save souls, wouldn’t we see Jesus doing more of it?

Wouldn’t we hear about these people later in scripture? Or in the history of the Church?

There may be a place for evangelizing en masse, however, often these endeavors, by the nature of their work, unintentionally shift their focus. By emphasizing the work of missionaries and outreach in an attempt to reach more people, we end up feeding a sort of pride. Edifying those who spread the gospel then places an emphasis on them, rather than on those who are receiving God’s word. This necessarily redirects us from spreading a faith of love to celebrating the individual achievements of someone who impacted a certain number of people, rather than celebrating the return of the 1 lost sheep.

Indeed, impacting large numbers of people is a good and worthy thing. Indeed, large crowds leave, affected by moving words. This also happens in scripture.

Yet, just like in scripture, we don’t tend to see the crowd again.

Just like in scripture, we give a rousing chorus; only to find ourselves facing the same people years later screaming “crucify him!”

In our preaching to large crowds, we’ve planted seeds, but in a garden we know nothing about. Will they be tilled and nourished? Will they be able to grow into solid trees of faith? Or will they fall on good soil only to find that there is no solid root network to sustain them?

Indeed, more and more people are falling away from the Church. More and more people embrace “Cafeteria Catholicism,” more and more Catholic marriages follow the way of secular society in divorce and adultery.

And we continue to preach en masse.

We will never know how those souls could have better embraced or kept the faith. That is the travesty, the danger, of such outreach. The danger that these souls not only fell away, but that we introduced them to the faith, yet gave them no way of holding on to it.

True conversion happens when the heart has an encounter with beauty such that it cannot bear to be away from it again. How can we expect a true conversion of souls when we interact with people as numbers to be effected rather than as individuals to be formed?

It seems that the faith is something meant to be formed in individuals by individuals. In the humble breaking of bread together, in the formation, admonition, mentoring, and leading of 1 person closer to God, just as Jesus did for 12 men over 3 years.

We must step away from the flashy appeal of mass affect and embrace St. Therese’s “Little Way,” recognizing that in making humble relationships, we will change the face of the Church and the World as we know it.

Emma King

Emma King

Emma graduated cum laude from Hillsdale College in May, 2013 with a BA in Philosophy. She is happily married to a wonderful man and lives in Michigan.

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3 thoughts on “A Conversion of Individuals”

  1. Well written. I think too that the spreading early church reached its limits a few
    hundred years ago as it ran up and in and through other major faiths with their own theological niches that better explain Christianity. Every solute needs a solution, a binding agent, without which we couldn’t see the forest from the trees.

  2. Pingback: Interview with Vaticanista Vet on Pope Francis - BigPulpit.com

  3. perhaps you might see the potential for a new means to help parents be better evangelizers in spite of their failings, one on one, as family members.

    To help ALL parents be better helpers of their children, ONE STEP AT A TIME.

    This idea has three aspects:

    1. A poster (similar to the one below) in all churches, put up by their minister for passive but powerful reminding of what everyone can know for certain.

    2. Superb questions (God’s questions) with verifiable evidence on slips of paper with a web address

    3. all ministers of all faiths will be expected to publicly show they trust God’s answer to all such questions (or explain why they do not) and each minister will be expected to make available their own sequence of questions or endorse another’s sequence.

    I hope you see the potential for good if this gets started and all parents and children are reminded in all churches by posters to show they have accepted the love of truth so that they may be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:10) and reminded by their ministers what it means to love truth, to seek it and to want others to love it and to seek it and to understand it the way God wants it understood.

    Hopefully, all people will be expected to enter the market place of theological ideas armed with critical thinking skills and work to make those skills better. What minister will fear this will lead all away from their faith and therefore refuse to support it?

    Poster idea:

    What minister will publicly dispute any part of the following suggested Poster idea that can be improved and/or shortened and is to be put up in the church as a silent reminder to parents and children so each thinks about showing they have accepted the love of all truth so that they may be saved (2Thessallonians 2:10)?

    “All truly good parents are seen wanting to pray ever more perfectly and committing themselves to a lifelong effort at being open to all Truth from God, through anyone, and eagerly working to know and believe whatever it is that God wants everyone to know and believe and therefore these parents, in order to share them with others but especially with their children, are looking for the best verifiable information and GOD’S ANSWER to the best sequences of questions from ministers of all faiths who are eager to share such in the sure faith that God’s answers for these questions will lead all, by peaceful means, to the one Faith God must will all to have and for them to thereby reject all man made additions to this Faith. There are many in this church eager to help anyone start or continue in this lifelong search for Truth and to help any who now seek to find everything God wants everyone to know and believe, one step, one question at a time.” (names, telephone numbers, email addresses)

    Obviously people will eventually know everything in the poster no matter how long it is if the minister makes a monthly, strongly worded comment reminding all that there are parishioners who are eager to help anyone find God’s answer to all questions from anyone. Parents and children will each know (because the poster and the monthly reminders puts a “spotlight on the parent’s actions”) whether or not the parents are, or are not, doing what they should already be doing but many times today, in this world, are not doing. Is this not a good way for ministers to frequently remind all (without pointing a finger at any one person) of the importance of truly accepting the love of, and therefore being open to truth from God through anyone and eagerly seeking ALL the truth that God wants all to love so that they may be saved (2Thessallonians 2:10)? If you cannot think of a better way, and this might help many parents, should you pass this on so others can help improve it?

    Second aspect of Idea: Slips of Paper to help evangelize others and children?

    The second aspect requires the minister or a moderator (or team of moderators) who will write, or find, and post suggested questions (with verifiable, unassailable evidence) on a particular part of the church webpage (numbered and grouped according to toplc) for people to be able to read and print out the questions on slips of paper and carry them in their wallet or purse. Then, when a person has an opportunity to dialogue with someone, (or when a parent and child have “one of those” discussions) they have these carefully worded, superbly well thought out questions, that they can hand to the other person and ask them if God might want to give them HIS ANSWER to this question and if they should therefore seek and find God’s answer to that question in their heart in the security of their home. The intent of each question will be to help people take one step at a time, one issue at a time, towards believing whatever God wants everyone to know and believe, rather than trying to get them to read an entire book (which is a very good thing but few do this today) and there will be services (almost always free) where many different approaches to questions on each particular “step” are put side by side for comparison purposes. Parents, especially fathers, will be expected to arm their children with the best examples and to demonstrate being open to knowing and believing everything God wants all to know and believe and to help their children check out the arguments, questions, posted by other faiths to see if they have any questions that God’s answer to seems to appear to lead to this other faith only. Hopefully, many people will include related questions listed by numbers at the bottom to be found on the web page also listed and therefore they will not have to personally have all the answers.

    Think if all religious schools made sure that all children new where to go for the best questions for people of any faith.

    This idea does not negate everyone’s responsibility to know their faith and be eager to share it. It merely helps them be better armed, gives them a sense of confidence, so that even if they do not have all the answers at any given time (fear of which keeps many from engaging in dialogue) they know that they are armed with several well worded questions that the other would know they should seek God’s answer to, and which we can be hopeful will lead them to the One Faith God wants all to have when they find His answer to all questions, hopefully checking out the web address on the slip of paper.

    What minister would want to be seen not enthusiastically supporting these two ideas once others publicly endorse them, once the ball gets rolling?

    I have the beginning of a list on my blog at eternalvisionfarmer.blogspot.com and I hope people will make their own lists, suggest their own questions to me and try to improve mine

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