Something that I noticed after converting to Catholicism is the zeal I suddenly felt to bring others into the Church with me. Especially my close family and friends. I had found something good and wanted to share it. This feeling is replicated on a far more trivial scale with other experiences and discoveries from new interesting restaurants, to books and hobbies. While these smaller examples don’t require much sacrifice for potential converts — changing, renewing or embracing religion certainly does. Indeed, it took a long time for me to remember the rough path I took and the many stumbles upon the way and yet, I was expecting others to skip along the same path just behind me which was more than a little unreasonable. This is not just me either as I’ve heard and witnessed the same from other converts and it has long been observed in Christian history as well as in other religions.
In the years since my conversion, I have seen those around me making progress and heard many positive stories as the world declines further and more visibly into evil. But I have realised that people will mostly come to the Faith the way I did and not through my or anyone else’s encouragement alone.
Something I’ve been given cause to think about more recently is a barrier that often comes up when speaking to someone who is curious and open to the Faith but reluctant to make the great leap. Although not ever said in such terms, they are essentially asking, “How do I get out of this?”
The real question is usually a variant of, “What about my family before me who didn’t believe?” This isn’t an unfair question and it shows appropriate care for those that came before you as well as the family you have. It is especially normal for those from non-Christian backgrounds who in many ways have to abandon parts of their culture as well as possibly face the disapproval of friends and family. One could answer this questions bluntly with the example of the Rich Man and Lazarus found in Chapter 16 of the Gospel of Luke. Having fallen, the rich man still seeks to save his brothers but much like everyone else, they must take the leap for themselves to be saved. I don’t believe it is necessarily helpful to answer with this example though. I think what I would say is that your family would want you to follow the Truth and that for all your family — living and dead — there is always prayer. I haven’t used this myself but I have heard it used. Another is to appeal to number one which is valid with regard to one’s immortal soul. As with fixing your oxygen mask on a plane before your neighbour, you must look after your own soul before tending to another’s.
While the above is certainly something a potential convert can definitely worry about, there is often a hint that they’re just trying to see a way out of accepting Christ and all that comes with it — which with all the hardships, also includes much joy. If in the above scenarios, someone had said, “Well, they probably went to Heaven if they were nice so don’t worry.” That might be reassuring for the moment but it would also lead the person to think to themselves, “Well, I’m nice too so I guess I don’t need to worry either.” Which is dangerous ground to leave them on and is another demonstration of how “being nice” is really just avoiding being honest.
Someone also might ask about the plight of sub-Saharan African tribe from 2000B.C. who had no way of knowing God directly. Or of the native American tribes from the Inuit all the way down to the Mapuche and how their souls faired without direct knowledge of God. The simple answer is: we don’t know. God does. But of more relevance — people today do know. So even when asking about people in these scenarios, there is more often the importance of their own conversion in the background and not what happened to any of these nameless people for thousands of years previously.
Outside of this are the problems with the plurality of Christian denominations around the world. I don’t want to get into these disputes but I am certainly a Catholic and believe the Christian body around the world should be in full communion with it. Do I know everything? No. Can I be 100% sure that the Church I’ve chosen to join is the right one? Well, I believe this but I’ve not studied every book of theology and can’t readily respond to every question put to me. Believing this however doesn’t mean I am going to condemn (in the literal sense) those outside the Catholic Church who otherwise profess the contents of the Apostle’s Creed as true. In truth, as a Catholic, I can’t say for sure I am going to Heaven because that’s not up to me as it is equally not up to me who goes to Hell.
In stating the above I’m not trying to be “nice” and I won’t pretend the differences between denominations don’t matter because they absolutely do. As mentioned above with my early conversion, I know that telling people what they should do is not the way it works and equally, telling them their church is wrong and they should join mine — is likely to push them further away. If someone came searching and asking though, I will certainly answer their questions directly.
That people are better off in the church is analogous to undergoing a surgical operation in a hospital versus undergoing it on the street. It is absolutely preferable to have the surgery in the hospital. It is possible to survive a doctor’s emergency surgery on a footpath but there are plenty of potential complications. It may be that there is not enough time or that a hospital is unavailable which makes it necessary and your life can still be saved that way. And most importantly in my case — you can still die in a hospital. I like to imagine the divine physician works much the same way. That being the case, it is still very dangerous to do nothing about your own spiritual health when you have an opportunity to do something about it.
Lastly, I work hard to remind myself that I am not elevated or better than anyone because I am in the Church. I am just a vineyard worker that arrived around noon. Others came well before me and there will be people arriving to work until late in the day. I hope what I get done will be worthy of a just reward and I will be happy to see any more arrive before sunset.