Finishing the Chesterton quote from before:
And the third stage is perhaps the truest and the most terrible. It is that in which the man is trying not to be converted.
He has come too near to the truth, and has forgotten that truth is a magnet, with the powers of attraction and repulsion. He is filled with a sort of fear, which makes him feel like a fool who has been patronising “Popery” when he ought to have been awakening to the reality of Rome. He discovers a strange and alarming fact, which is perhaps implied in Newman’s interesting lecture on Blanco White and the two ways of attacking Catholicism. Anyhow, it is a truth that Newman and every other convert has probably found in one form or another. It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair. The man has exactly the same sense of having committed or compromised himself; of having been in a sense entrapped, even
if he is glad to be entrapped. But for a considerable time he is not so much glad as simply terrified. It may be that this real psychological experience has been misunderstood by stupider people and is responsible for all that remains of the legend that Rome is a mere trap. But that legend misses the whole point of the
psychology. It is not the Pope who has set the trap or the priests who have baited it. The whole point of the position is that the trap is simply the truth. The whole point is that the man himself has made his way towards the trap of truth, and not the trap that has run after the man. All steps except the last step he has taken eagerly on his own account, out of interest in the truth; and even the last step, or the last stage, only alarms him because it is so very true. If I may refer once more to a personal experience, I may say that I for one was never less troubled by doubts than in the
last phase, when I was troubled by fears. Before that final delay I had been detached and ready to regard all sorts of doctrines with an open mind. Since that delay has ended in decision, I have had all sorts of changes in mere mood; and I think I sympathise with doubts and difficulties more than I did before. But I had no doubts or difficulties just before. I had only fears; fears of something that had the finality and simplicity of suicide. But the more I thrust the thing into the back of my mind, the more certain I grew of what Thing it was. And by a paradox that does not frighten me now in the least, it may be that I shall never again have such absolute
assurance that the thing is true as I had when I made my last effort to deny it.
At the end of the last episode, I was in a quandary. I had become firmly intellectually convinced of the truth of Catholicism. There was not a doctrine or dogma of which I remained unconvinced: once I accepted the need for the papal office, its infallibility on matters of faith and morals, and the Magisterium, everything else fell into place. Mary didn’t bother me; the Communion of Saints made perfect sense; I didn’t even have a problem with priestly celibacy. But, I remained a Baptist.
Community was the first big obstacle. With all our talk in the Catholic internet world of the need to follow truth in everything, we tend to forget that human society is based around actual, real community life. Once in such a loving group, it is hard to leave even when you know that the fullness of the truth lies elsewhere. Such was my situation: I spent a good part of my week in the company of my Baptist friends. Between Sunday school classes, choir and “worship band” practice, helping out with the youth on Wednesday nights, and any number of social activities, my world revolved around that community.
It took me over a year from when I became convinced that the Catholic Church held the fullness of the Faith, and when I left the Baptist church for good. I’ve tried to figure out logically why it took that long, but I’m not sure that it was logical. The cognitive dissonance between living in a faith community with which I agreed less and less, and spending the life of the mind reading Catholic literature, just ate at me more, day after day. After attending the Easter Vigil at my current parish back in 2005, combined with mounting pressure from Catholic friends to be true to myself, I finally decided to talk to a priest and start RCIA. It was not easy to say goodbye to my Baptist church, but I am still best friends with many folks there, and even fill in for their pianist from time to time.
But that was just the beginning of the agony of conversion. I managed to break myself away from the Baptist church with much heartache, but I still couldn’t get up the guts to tell my family. I come from a long line of Protestants, Methodist and Lutheran on my mom’s side, Baptist on my dad’s. The stereotypical anti-Catholic prejudices run strong. So, I was deathly afraid of what they’d say. It was cowardice, pure and simple, that kept me from discussing my newfound faith with my parents–I valued familial harmony above all else. But just like with the Baptists, I finally realized that I had to tell them. I wish I could say that it was courage and conviction in the truth that made me spill the beans, but it was more that I couldn’t in good conscience actually get confirmed into the Church without telling them. The commandment to honor your father and mother weighed too hevily. After a lot of tears and a few weeks of anger, especially on my mom’s part, we reconciled, and my relationship with my parents is stronger than it’s ever been. I doubt they yet understand why I felt that I had to convert, but they realize that my Christian faith has never been deeper.
So, on December 10, 2005, at the Saturday vigil Mass, I was received into the Church, confirmed, and received the Eucharist for the first time. It was a night I’ll never forget. I have never looked back; I love my Baptist friends still and enjoy going back and accompanying their worship on the piano. But, there’s not a chance that I’d go back to Protestantism. I value the firm foundation in Christian faith that I received growing up, but there’s so much more to Catholicism that I could never leave.
Conversion was just the beginning, however. While I have never doubted my decision to convert, the honeymoon didn’t last long. In the next installment, I’ll muse on the various issues that developed as the reality of Catholic parish life in the early 21st century set in. Stay tuned…