Some time ago I had a long email conversation with an Evangelical friend about thing theological. I said to him, “Don’t worry. I simply want to dialogue with you. I don’t want to convert you.”
He called me on it. He said, “First of all, I don’t really believe you. You do actually want me to become Catholic. Secondly, you should want me to become Catholic. If you really believe your religion, then you believe it is for my good now and for my soul’s salvation that I convert to the Catholic faith. You should want to convert me, and if you really don’t then I think even less of your religion than I did before.”
So now, in conversation with Evangelicals or Atheists or whoever–if they ask if I want to convert them I say, “Yes I do, because I believe Jesus Christ has come to bring each one of us the abundant life here and life everlasting in heaven. That is a good thing, and I want that for you and for as many people as possible.” I say this with a big smile and a hug if possible. I have never had anyone take offense. Instead they have respected me for stating my views openly.
If a Christian enters dialogue and does not want to convert the other person then they are either being disingenuous or they really don’t believe it is necessary for the other person to convert. Both are wrong headed.
On the other hand, what does it mean to “convert” someone? If by “convert” we mean to play spiritual and mental games with the person to manipulate them into a state of confusion and fear so that they will accept our religion, then this is not true conversion. In a recent interview Pope Francis said, “Proselytism is nonsense.” What he probably meant was that the kind of religious emotional blackmail that is sometimes used to gain converts is useless.
What is required is not artificial, psychological, spiritual or financial pressure for a person to join a religion. That’s what happens in cults, but instead the intense desire to share the person and work of Jesus Christ in the fullness of the Catholic faith and to invite them to be converted at the depth of their soul and being.
This kind of conversion requires a heart and mind that are open and enquiring. It requires a tolerant, inquisitive and searching spirit. It also requires a humble submission to the truth of Christ’s gospel, a real encounter with the living Lord Jesus Christ and true repentance of heart and mind on a daily basis.
To go out and preach the gospel means we embark on the great adventure of Evangelization with a desire to share the life of Christ with our words and works so that we might draw many to the saving knowledge of Christ the Lord.