Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Advice for Converts

As a recent (2007) convert myself, I think the article Submerged in the Ocean is very useful. Here's an extract:

The Church’s very oceanic vastness means that even inside one can be tempted to look at only one small corner of it and label it “Catholicism.” Some converts become obsessed with Church architecture or a particular spin on Catholic social teaching or a Marian devotion or a particular aspect of the liturgy. One of the convert clergymen at Newman’s Birmingham Oratory was so enamored of the Church’s music of choice that he wrote a book on it. Upon reading the manuscript Newman protested that Father Formby seemed to say Christ died on the Cross for Gregorian chant. Newman observed that this was not theologically accurate.

My obsession was apologetics itself. When I first came into the Church I consumed Catholic apologetic literature in great chunks—most of it geared toward answering Protestant objections to the faith. I don’t regret that. As I said, I still read it and now I even write some of it. But not nearly as much anymore. At a certain point I realized that my own view of Catholicism had a tendency to be restricted by the types of questions that I used to ask. If I were not to be stuck in a kind of intellectual and spiritual bubble I would have to continue looking at Christ from different perspectives. I would have to learn my Creed not just from the negative point of view.

Looking more deeply from other perspectives allowed me also to see and appreciate other believers—and even non-believers—in a different light. When you come into the Church from somewhere else, particularly if friends and family from somewhere else have given you trouble about it, it is easy to become harsh and impatient about others’ not seeing what you see. It is altogether too easy to become wrapped up in what non-Catholics haven’t got and not be thankful for what they do have. This doesn’t mean squishy ecumenism, but a generosity of the sort Newman demonstrated in a letter to an Evangelical Anglican:
I believe what you do—but I believe more. I rejoice to think that you with all your heart and soul believe our Lord Jesus Christ to be the Saviour of the world, and of every soul who comes to him for salvation; and the sole Saviour. I wish you believed the whole counsel of God. But in this bad time, when there are so many unbelievers, I rejoice to think that you are not one of them. 
I have learned too often that, as Renaissance writer Thomas Browne put it, “The cause of truth may suffer in the weakness of my patronage.”

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