Saturday, January 29, 2005

Conversion

My blog activity dried up for several days for many factors, not the least of which was the sudden consciousness of being read.

I have been thinking about conversions recently. A visiting priest at our Christendom chapel, the witty, reverent, and traditional Fr. Fasano (the spelling may not be correct), gave an awesome homily in honor of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. (As Dr. Fahey said with all his habitual wryness, "This is an occasion of gladness for many, as today the Old and new calendars agree for once.") Fr. Fasano spoke about someone who had asked him to make him a Catholic on his deathbed, and mentioned several of the many other people who have done so as well, like John Wayne, and Mae West ("I may not be able to live like a Catholic, but I sure can die as one.") "Somehow," Father mused, "No one ever seems to be siezed with a sudden longing to die a Methodist, or a Unitarian. No, when they think of death, they think of coming home, and they wish to come home to the Church."

I have always had difficulty understanding this. Why would someone convert to the Catholic Church? Lest anyone mistake me, let me explain that I love my Church and would never consider leaving Her, that I understand and profess Her creed. But as a near-cradle Catholic (I was baptized when I was three), I have never been outside the Church, and so I think it is difficult for me to imagine the contrast of a life inside to a life without, and what about the Church would attract someone without.

Some may think this contradicts what I have written before, about my own conversion. However, my conversion was different both in degree and kind from the sort I am considering. I was merely made to see the beauties I had been missing, and to reject the disorder in their places, in a Church already familiar to me. My return curve is in a category altogether apart from true converts such as G.K. Chesterton, Monsignor Robert H. Benson, and the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman. Of course, their conversions are of a slightly different order from the ones I am considering as well--through grace and intense rational investigation they came to their concluusions and were brave enough to act on them. No, I am considering the many who are outside the Church, who convert not through intellectual conclusions, but because of something they see in the Church that tells them She is their home.

For the Church is a many-leveled and intricate thing, the multifoliate rose. In his great book Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes on "the paradoxes of Christianity," illustrating the seeming contradictions of Christianity that ultimately balance each other and, to the discerning eye, indicate the depth of the Truth the Church possesses. But in this modern culture which denies faith in favor of empirical evidence, rejects the conclusions of reason as a legitimate basis for truth, refuses to distinguish between competing "ethical value systems," and proclaims rational autonomy as the good for man, why does anyone turn to an authoritarian, hirerarchical, tradition-saturated Church with a basis in supernatural faith and an insistence on objective truth as Her sole possession? How does anyone get past the myopia, the conditioning, and the general brainwashing of the Modern ages in order to see the radiance of the Catholic Church "like the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array"?

My mother, who, as a fallen-away Catholic, converted with my fallen-away Protestant father, says that for some it is a recognition of the congruence of Church teaching with their lives--the reality of sin, and the necessity of contrition, for example.

Although I am unable to empathize, I wonder anew each time I am confronted with a conversion, and the joy with which the convert recognizes his true Home (I'm reading Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua right now). I can only be amazed and humbled that God has put me in the Church and kept me there. With St. Paul I say, "By the grace of God I am what I am," and I am grateful for it.

For an intelligent article on the call to a place "more religious than home" (Newman,) please click on the link in the sidebar entitled "Odyssey." (The link works now!)