Rather than taking Chapters 5 to 8, as individual posts, I want to cluster these together and speak to Weddell’s overarching idea of the Thresholds of Conversion. Whatever I say here will need to be expanded on by your own reading of these chapters (which naturally contain a huge amount of further detail), but I think the presentation of a single concept is a useful starting point to understanding the point the author is making.
First we must recognise that a great deal of contemporary evangelisation is based on models of catechesis and formation. That is to say that there is an assumption that once a basic doctrine of the faith has been adequately explained or illustrated, the subject (person) will come to accept that point as true. This is a dangerous supposition. Whilst an intelligent and articulated adult may well understand a theological truth after proper catechesis, there is a significant difference between understanding the faith (alone) and making that knowledge of the faith the principle factor in making all the decisions in one’s life. Baptism – our incorporation into the mystical Body of Christ – is a fundamentally and deeply personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ; not simply a theoretical or ethereal bonding, but a physical and tangible union with the life of the Blessed Trinity.
In other words, the initial proclamation which we make and which others receive must be one of the person of Jesus Christ, and not simply his message – the Word made Flesh, not simply the word written down. All of us, but especially those coming to a first encounter with the Lord, must meet the truth personified in Christ before they can begin to realise why who he is must affect who they are. Disciples of the Lord fall in love with God and his Church before seeking to be united to him in the sacraments: faith seeks understanding, not the other way round. A beautiful example of this is seen in the Benedictine monks of Norcia, whose beer production is providing them with an opportunity to meet locals and to make a ‘soft’ introduction in the lives of those they meet, building up trust and a desire to know more.
Weddell describes this processs as five thresholds of conversion, which are vital in the journey to intentional discipleship. These thresholds act as precursors to catechesis, introducing the basic kerygma and stirring-up within the individual a desire to live the life of Christ – giving them direction and intention, thereby ensuring an integrated approach in the life of the person after initiation. For the purposes of this post I think it would be helpful to reproduce an abbreviated key to the thresholds:
- Initial Trust: A person is able to trust or has a positive association with Jesus Christ, the Church, a Christian believer, or something identifiably Christian.
- Spiritual Curiosity: A person finds himself intrigued by or desiring to know more about Jesus, his life, and his teachings or some aspect of the Christian faith.
- Spiritual Openness: A person acknowledges to himself or herself and to God that he or she is open to the possibility of personal and spiritual change.
- Spiritual Seeking: The person moves from being essentially passive to actively seeking to know the God who is calling him or her.
- Intentional Discipleship: This is the decision to “drop one’s nets”, to make a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of his Church as an obedient disciple and to reorder one’s life accordingly.
It’s obviously impossible for me to go into much more detail here – you need to read these chapters for yourselves – but we can at least end by asking some questions about our approaches to evangelisation.
First, where do we start? Do we try to teach and catechise too early? Do we present people with a reason to desire Christ and a spiritual and moral reordering of their lives? Do we effectively evangelise our culture in order to provide opportunities for that initial trust – the pint of beer, an encounter with beauty in art or music, or an example of an integrated Christian life in which the awe of the Eucharist is seen in every fibre of our being?
Often a lack of good formation means that we have people in our parishes who are on this path, as well as those who approach the Church or an individual to discover more. In our own lives, too, we might see a gap – am I an ‘obedient disciple’? Do I live an integrated life? If we want to draw others to Christ then this is no option for the overly pious; it is the fundamental response to our baptism. If we see a gap, how are we going to respond?