Due to the diversity of the participants at the Orientale Lumen conference, one of the first questions asked when you meet another participant is “What Church do you belong to?” I decided this year to ask a follow-up question: “In what tradition did you grow up?” Amazingly, I found only one person (a Roman Catholic) who has remained in the same tradition since birth. Here are some samples of those I met:
- A baptist who became Orthodox last year
- A Roman Catholic who became a Romanian Catholic priest-monk
- Someone who say she grew up “everything” who is now Orthodox
- A Roman Catholic who is now a Ruthenian Catholic seminarian
And of course, Metropolitan Jonah himself was baptized and raised Episcopal before becoming Orthodox in college (and I myself am a convert from Methodism to Roman Catholicism).
This anecdotal evidence is in keeping with larger statistical trends: a recent Pew Study showed that about half of all adult Americans are no longer in the same religious tradition in which they grew up. So the questions arises: Why all the converts?
Obviously, there are many factors, not least of which is the weakening of bonds of family and tradition within our culture. A hundred years ago, it was quite common for someone to live within a 10 mile radius their whole life, and to have contact with few people outside their own religious tradition. This fostered deep bonds in which it was unthinkable to leave the faith of one’s birth.
There is much to lament in regard to the loss of these bonds within our culture, but it is also an opportunity. Many who have not grown up Catholic are more than ever willing to consider Catholicism. Yes, we live in a “consumer” culture in which we pick and choose everything, including our religion. This can lead to a trivialization of sacred things, but it does not have to. As Catholics, we need to work to engage those around us and show them, in our words and deeds, the love that Christ has for them and how they can live and experience that divine love in the Church.
Scripture says that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). The weakened bonds of our culture do not just have to mean people leaving the Catholic Church – through our efforts, fostered by grace, it can also mean a great influx of new members into the Church.
St. Paul, pray for us!