“I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence; for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours.
Give recognition to such men. (1 Cor 16:17-18)
St. Paul ended most of his letters with a strong confirmation that he needed — and therefore we need — the fellowship and companionship of fellow believers.
Following Jesus Christ was never meant to be a solitary walk — “Me and Jesus.” When He called His first disciples He called them to follow Him into community; and when He sent them out to minister in His Name, He sent them out in pairs, never alone. When He called the Twelve into leadership, they were to be a group of leaders, and when He placed Simon Peter as their leader, it was still as a community of the New Israel.
The first reception of 3000 newly baptized converts after Peter’s Pentecost sermon “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship [koinonia or communion], to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
This continuing fellowship of believers was so important to Saint John that he began his first letter by saying that the reason he was proclaiming what he had “seen and heard” was “so that you may have fellowship with us” (1 Jn 1:3).
Concerned that many Christians were becoming lax in their convictions and fervor, the author of Hebrews wrote: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:23-25; emphasis mine).
And this community, of course, was the Church our Lord established, that met in the homes of converts wherever there were Christians — individual churches yet united as “one body” in “one Spirit” by “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all” (Eph 4:4-6).
Following Jesus Christ — from faith and Baptism, through Confirmation, Confession, and the Eucharist, through the sacrament of Marriage or Ordination, through the trials of sickness and suffering — this “abiding in Christ”, must never be done alone, for “[y]our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Pt 5:8). This is why St. Paul’s greetings were never mere friendly, perfunctory add-ons, but genuine expressions of his gratitude for the strength and comfort he had received from their companionship.
What is particularly significant about the greetings, especially for our work in the CHNetwork, is that St. Paul and all of his first-generation companions were converts to the faith. He even mentioned that the “household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia” (1 Cor 16:15). St. Paul knew from experience that these converts to this strange new “sect” were continually being ostracized by those whom they had left behind, from Jewish and pagan non-believers who did not understand why they had become believers in this Jesus.
From the beginning of our work, we have not only focused on helping non-Catholics, lay and clergy, discover the fullness of truth and “come home” to the Catholic Church, but on providing as many ways as possible to help them be at home in the Church after their reception. Converts and reverts, clergy as well as laity, can face many trials after conversion: they may have lost their vocations and means of supporting themselves and their families; they may have been rejected by most of their former friends and family; they may experience marital struggles, and even depression as they seek to break from their past and enter into the fullness of the Church; and they may not find themselves as welcomed by Catholics as they had anticipated. They need the fellowship of the Church, but especially the fellowship of others who have made the same journey into the Church.
For this reason, we have always provided opportunities for converts to fellowship with other converts — so that together they can weather whatever storms may arise and receive encouragement in their continued journeys. Particularly for clergy inquirers and converts, we often have arranged annual retreats — but we are now in the process of expanding these to allow both clergy and lay members on the journey as well as converts to gather on retreat. We have also recently launched a new online community, expanded discussion forums, and denominational groups. Please check these out at www.chnetwork.org/community and join if so led.
All of this, as well as all aspects of our work, are driven by the same convictions that drove all the New Testament writers to encourage their Christian readers to meet together and to encourage each other in fellowship: “See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God” (Heb 12:15a). We believe that every non-Catholic inquirer who comes to us seeking information about the Church is being drawn by grace, and we want to do all that is possible to nurture this grace. For this, inquirers as well as converts need the strength of community, and we thank you, through your support and prayers, for making this possible.
But we also recognize that life-long Catholics are strengthened in their Catholic faith through this same fellowship with converts and reverts — with those who have given up much to obtain what so many take for granted. For this reason, we strongly invite all members of the CHNetwork to explore the options for fellowship that we offer online, so that together we can “stir up one another to love and good works … encouraging one another” as brothers and sisters in Christ (Heb 10:24-25).