CHAPTER II, ARTICLE 2: PREACHING THE GOSPEL AND ASSEMBLING THE PEOPLE OF GOD (a)
The first sentence of Ad gentes, no. 13, is a clear statement of the Church’s faith that God is the primary agent of conversions to the Faith. The Council Fathers packed the sentence with Scriptural quotes, which are left out here, to back up this statement of the Church’s belief: “Wherever God opens a door of speech to declare the mystery of Christ, then the living God and he whom he has sent for the salvation of all, Jesus Christ, are confidently and perseveringly proclaimed to all men.” God goes out ahead and opens doors and hearts for the mystery of Christ. Then after opening doors, he also ensures that the missionaries who follow and proclaim Jesus and the Father do so with courage, boldness and perseverance. Missionary courage in proclaiming the Faith is a grace of God, given to the individual missionary for the growth of the Church.
In the next sentence the Council Fathers tell us why God does all he does for non-Christians to hear the Good News: “And this in order that non-Christians, whose heart is being opened by the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 16:14), might, while believing, freely turn to the Lord who, since he is the ‘way the truth and the life’ (Jn 14:6), will satisfy all their inner hopes, or rather infinitely surpass them.” This sentence too is an affirmation of a Church teaching, namely, that there is no salvation outside the Church. God the Father wants the conversion of all to his Son in the Catholic Church because only as he is found in his Church is Christ able to fulfill completely, and even surpass, all man’s desires and hopes for happiness and fulfillment.
The Council Fathers go on to state some other important missionary facts: “This [first] conversion is, indeed, only initial. Under the movement of divine grace the new convert sets out on a spiritual journey. This transition involves a progressive change of outlook and morals.” In other words, the path the new convert sets out on is a path of continual conversion and repentance. It is the same path, as our last two popes, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, often said, which we all, converts or long-time members of the Church, must travel.
The new convert will also share in the cross of Christ, as well as in its consolations: “Since the Lord in whom he believes is a sign of contradiction (cf. Lk. 2:34; Mt. 10:34-39), the convert often has to suffer misunderstanding and separation, but he also experiences those joys which are generously granted by God.”
Number 13 ends with a statement that no one “should be forced to accept the faith, or be induced or enticed by unworthy devices. In accordance with the very ancient practice of the Church, the motives for conversion should be examined [by the missionaries] and, if necessary, purified.” The number also states that no one should be kept away from the Church by fear of persecution.