Mgr Paul Grogan

Mgr Paul Grogan
Mgr Paul Grogan

Friday, 30 March 2012

When Baptists help Catholics

What should a chaplain do if a Catholic whose faith has become dormant rediscovers Christ through worshipping with another congregation, say with the Baptists or Pentecostals? This was a question we discussed at a fascinating meeting organised by the Focolare Movement in Leeds today. About ten of us were present, including church leaders from different denominations from around the north of England, and me (Celia Blackden, pictured below, who works with me in the Vocations Office is a Focolarina and kindly invited me). The Movement, they humorously informed us today, specialises in getting Christians in a room and making them talk to each other. The first answer to the opening question, I think, has to be: give thanks. The encounter with Christ in such circumstances gives glory to God and sanctifies the student concerned. The student has passed from religious indifference to faith.

The situation is, of course, emotionally complex. The Catholic understanding of the Church means that, notwithstanding what I have written above, we cannot be entirely at peace when a Catholic opts to belong to another Christian community. I think that this is because of two reasons: we believe that the Catholic Church is a sacrament of Christ's presence and we hold that Christ has endowed it with the fullness of the means of salvation. Our love of Christ and our desire to contribute to his mission means that diminution of the Catholic Church is always painful and regrettable.

In practice, though, we might say that the student concerned was only nominally a Catholic. I would, I think, simultaneously be sorry that he had let slip his Catholic patrimony and be glad that an additional young person now stood beside me to witness to God's goodness. Moreover, I would wish to take stock. I would ask myself: Have I been sufficiently diligent and imaginative in helping Catholic students to understand the beauty of their faith? Also, have I boldly proposed that faith to the increasing number of confused, young people who aspire to unbelief as a mark of maturity, unknowingly self-harming interiorly? My gut feeling is that if we focus our energies on evangelising, hard cases such as the one I have discussed will occur less and less and how we deal with them will not constitute a defining part of our ministry.

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