Born This Way

As a cradle Catholic, sometimes I struggle to understand converts.

What makes someone want to be Catholic? I have made peace with the Church, but it’s a hard and often uneasy peace. If I had not grown up Catholic, I doubt I would have given it a second look.

Yet so often I seen in converts not only an interest in the faith, but often a zeal for it. It’s a bit off-putting and more than a bit baffling. It’s like seeing someone thrilled to join your dysfunctional family. (Perhaps they don’t know about Uncle Bob. Maybe they haven’t seen The Aunt Marge Show yet. Comes on every Thanksgiving after she’s had a few drinks.)

It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with converts: My father is a convert (Southern Baptist) and I don’t completely understand him either. I read Jennifer Fulweiler‘s Something Other Than God, which was a good story, but not one to which I could relate.

But then I saw this exchange on twitter:

And all of a sudden, it made sense.

When people search for answers and the Church gives them answers. Not just arbitrary beliefs and blind faith, but that which is comprehensive and well-reasoned. It is a faith that is not and cannot be contradicted by reason. It is understanding that love cannot contradict truth. There’s so much in the faith that to find it must be like finding a “great treasure”. 

Thus the love for the Church and the joy I see in many converts.

While the Church may seem divided, the arguments are on a pretty high level. Catholics are overwhelming in agreement about what communion is (although, admittedly, not all fully understand it). The equal dignity of the human person before God is by acknowledged by all. The “big debates” in North American Catholicism are over issues of gender roles, sexual morality, and Church governance. The first two are largely because of the divergence of North American social norms and Church teaching. As for the latter, well, everyone argues about Church governance. Even the Apostles.

When you grow up Catholic, there’s a lot you take for granted. You know that there are answers. You may not like the answers or understand the answers, but you know that there are answers. There is no searching, no puzzlement. Not even for a kid catechized in the 1980s.

Most cradle Catholics learn the faith as children and, unless they rediscover it later in life, they can retain an immature understanding of what it means to be Catholic. Sometimes cradle Catholics can keep the view of a teenager that sees the Church as a strict, unreasonable parent who just wants to spoil all their fun instead of a mother that loves them and wants what best for them.

This is not to say that there is no advantage to being raised Catholic. There’s a lot of things that you “know without knowing” simply by being brought up in the culture. This is similar to how most native-born Americans couldn’t pass a United States citizenship test, but can still understand what it means to be an American. Converts are often baffled by how little cradles seem to know (and with good reason), but it’s not all about the “citizenship test”, in the country or in the Church.

The Church needs both converts and cradle Catholics. Converts show us how to see the faith with new eyes and a child-like excitement, and for this I am grateful.