I'm now at the end of my sabbatical and will be returning to the Valle Adurni in a matter of a few days. Naturally, especially once the book was finished, I have been reflecting on all sorts of things to do with the parish, and one of them worries me particularly. I would like to solicit your advice, and that of my clerical brothers especially.
A phenomenon that seems to be on the increase is that of the 'temporary convert'. What I mean is that somebody approaches me with a view to becoming a Catholic. For a year or so, he or she regularly comes to Mass, and attends all the preparation sessions where I myself do all the teaching (and I can assure you that it is thorough). I do my best to ensure that each convert has a 'friend base' in the parish; if he or she knows nobody, I try to introduce him to others and make sure that he never feels at sea. The time comes for the reception; he makes his first confession; he professes his new faith with fervour, he receives his first Communion with devotion…
And next Sunday, he's not there. He's already semi-lapsed. From time to time one may see him around; he might appear at Mass when there's nothing more interesting to do, but with decreasing frequency. Not all are like this, of course, but the proportion is scary.
I know very well that other priests experience the same thing, and no doubt they beat themselves up about it the way I do, which is why this matter is not addressed on blogs and things.
A few Sundays ago, we listened to the Parable of the Sower. And it struck me, for the first time, that this parable is mis-named; by thinking about the sower and the seed, I had missed the point that the parable is actually about the soil. If our potential converts are the seeds sown by the sower, we, the Church, are the soil in which they are planted. And is our parish thorny, stony, rich? Are we good soil in which they might grow?
So, I think that I might rejig things a bit. What if I were to begin the course with a retreat? To take people away to a monastery for a weekend, to learn how to pray before they learnt the content of the faith. I think that perhaps it is too much to assume that people will pray without lots of encouragement. And maybe if they pray, the faith will root more deeply in them. The new Catechism ends with prayer, and I have followed that pattern until now. What if I were to begin with it?
And has anyone else any good suggestions?