Some years ago I co-wrote with longtime Catholic journalist Russell Shaw a book entitled Good News, Bad News (still in print from Ignatius Press). It covers evangelization, conversion, and the crisis of faith, complete with many anecdotes of conversion, including those of well-known men and women.
On the one hand, as we all know, over the last several decades, a great many Catholics have left the faith. For most of us, this phenomenon hits close to home, with examples among family members.
On the other hand, many thousands over the last several decades have rejoined the Faith of their Fathers or have newly discovered the truth and beauty of Catholicism. Every Easter, large numbers are received into the Church and are some of the most fervent practitioners of the Faith. For example, in the United States in 2014, the Official Catholic Directory recorded 39,654 catechumens, baptized, confirmed, and receiving first Communion, and another 66,831 candidates who had already received valid baptisms in another church and who were received into full Communion with the Catholic Church.
This is a very good sign, although of course we need to add many more to that number. And in some ways today’s society should offer fertile ground for conversions. More and more people, including serious Christians from many faltering denominations and many Evangelicals, are realizing that only in the Church that Christ founded can one find the wholeness of the Lord’s teachings, safeguarded from erroneous interpretation. And only there can Christians find all that is necessary for salvation: that is, all the sacraments instituted by Christ to give grace.
Among these, the sacrament that produces most yearning in non-Catholic Christians who are approaching the Church is the Eucharist, the body and blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord. Outside the Church, they have no access to this sacrament that Our Lord, on the night before he died, entrusted to the apostles, who were the first priests and bishops. In many cases, other Christian faith groups do not even have a priesthood, and those that do, such as Episcopalians, do not have the unbroken apostolic succession necessary to confer the true Sacrament of Holy Orders.
One area of the world where the Church is flourishing is Africa, where converts are coming by the hundreds of thousands. The Church is also strong in parts of Poland and Hungary and, surprisingly, of late also in certain regions of France. Some of this is likely due to the realization of the danger that is on their doorstep in the form of Islam. They are also aware that unless they return to the fullness of the Church and its teaching on marriage and particularly being open to life, they will be overrun by Islam.
And of course the Catholic Church is growing in the Far East, including (despite difficult circumstances) in China. It is only the Catholic Church that produces a Mother Teresa of Calcutta – soon to be canonized and a great example of the power of holiness that comes from the teachings of the Church and its sacraments.
Another magnet to the Church for many people recently has been Pope Francis. Although his style may not be attractive to some Catholics, nonetheless he has made a big impact throughout the world, not only with Catholics but with the faithful members of the so-called Reformation.
There is much more to be done by all of us as faithful members of the Catholic faith, who are called to evangelize in some manner our family and friends, the people we work with, indeed all those we encounter. The best preparation for doing this is to take advantage of the grace of the sacraments. We should also ask the Holy Spirit to help us to be truly joyful in such a way that our happiness will draw people around us to the Church God founded.
We are engaged in a most important struggle for our country. Although waged on many fronts – including marriage and the family, assisted suicide, freedom of conscience, and abortion – all flow from a correct understanding of our all-wise and all-loving Creator’s plan for his Creation.
So our task in this new year is to continue to fight for the right to life from conception to natural death, with no exceptions. Second and very important is to once again be a country that recognizes marriage as solely the union of male and female, as it was from the beginning.
We should continue to pray that all Catholic educational institutions, from grammar school through high school and university, will be completely faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
As we know, coming up in this next year is a crucial presidential election in the United States, and for the first time in many years there are a good number of candidates who are clearly pro-life, pro-family, and pro-marriage. By the end of this year we will either have renewed reason for hope or even greater urgency about our need to convert our culture and its people.