Friday, 31 May 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vo. 9): The Troubles of Converting

I recently read an interesting article on 10 Reasons why it's Hard to Become Catholic. It really got me thinking about my own conversion and the difficulties that I faced both then and now. As it turns out, I only really identified with 7/10 of original points, so I thought I might as well send this out as my Friday Quick Takes.
--- 1. Theological Submission ---
This really is a big one. I initially thought I could never become Catholic because there was no way that I could say in all truth that 'I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God' (the statement of faith that one makes at their confirmation). It was going through RCIA, and understanding what the Church really taught on things that I struggled with, that brought me to the place that I could make that profession with a clear conscience. Now when I have a question about something I've heard or read I know that I should just ask someone who knows. I always have questions -- it was my questioning of things that led me away from Protestantism, but I find that the answers are better now (usually a bit meatier than someone's opinion backed up with a bit of scripture).

--- 2. Priests ---
This was sure a big one. I've found myself both lamenting the lack of social relationships with priests yet being put into a position of having to defend this supposed negligence to other critics. When I consider how busy the parish is I can totally understand why it is so difficult to connect with my priest on the personal level I would've enjoyed with pastors in years past. But if I get too glum about this I just remember what my Gramma always says: if you find yourself complaining that people aren't coming up to you & being friendly, then you need to consider that they could be just as shy as you are. So you need to make the first step towards having a friendship and being welcoming. So David & I try to be friendly and welcoming to our priests, rather than expecting them to make the first move. As we're both fairly shy and naturally anti-social it is an effort for both of us, but we think it is worth the effort. We want our children to grow up respecting and being comfortable around the clergy.

--- 3. Liturgy ---
There are some really bad liturgies out there. I try hold back my criticism, because I realise that the appalling music is usually because there are only a handful of people in the parish willing to commit to providing music on a weekly basis (and thus we're at their mercy, and if you don't like it you should try & change it), but the problem does sometimes go deeper than just badly played organ and horrible song choices. Sometimes we're lucky, and can choose a church that suits us. Other times there is only one church in the area, so we have to make the best of the situation. Fortunately I grew up being subjected to really bad (dead!) Protestant services whenever my family went on vacation so I'm used to making-do. My gut instinct when I hear people complain is usually to think, 'what are you doing to fix the situation'. I think we have a responsibility to be involved in our parishes, and if the liturgical problem is something fixable then it's a good opportunity for new people to get involved.

--- 4. Dealing with Controversial Catholic Stuff (abortion, divorce, contraception etc) ---
This was the easiest thing for me to come to terms with when I converted as I found my conscience already in line with Catholic teaching. Abortion was a no-brainer, contraception has always struck me as creepily unnatural when used to prevent pregnancy, and Jesus' thoughts on divorce are so explicit that it still boggles my mind that more fundamentalist churches don't speak out about it. I would say that digging deeper into Catholic teaching, like reading Humanae Vitae, was incredibly fruitful for helping my thoughts on the matters to go deeper than just a gut-moral-reaction.

--- 5. Financial Discomforts ---

Not a big one, but one that used to crop up every now and then as an idea, usually when I'm looking for work and realise that I can't apply for any church positions that aren't Catholic (as most churches actually want you to attend them when you work for them). It also comes up now & then when David is looking for work, because we have to carefully read the 'faith/mission' statements of any Christian universities he applies to in order to ensure that we can fit in with them to some extent. Becoming Catholic really is a commitment to one church in a way that joining many Protestant churches isn't. With the passage of time the theological points that once separated many Protestant churches have become blurred or forgotten by many of their members, so I think it is easier to move around 'career-wise' within that structure.

--- 6. Non-Catholic Ridicule & Estrangement ---
I can deal with the ridicule, because I figure that the 'friends' who post offensive, anti-Catholic articles on Facebook aren't making a cerebral connection between their posts and their friend(s). If it really bothers me, and it's not someone I regularly interact with, I just hide them or remove them. But the estrangement can be hard. It's really difficult being the odd one out in the family, and it's sometimes difficult (or at least frustrating), being the odd one out in groups of friends. Having Walter baptised is just one example of many -- I come from a family of Anabaptists and of course being Catholic I had my son baptised at only three weeks old. Although I was grateful that I didn't have to fight any battles over this, I can't help but notice that for Catholic friends and family it was a really noteworthy event (with special religious-themed presents and cards, and people being excited for its whole significance, not just because it was something that one does with babies). When our beliefs differ, we can't really share the experience on the same level, and this pains me.

--- 7. Catholic Ridicule & Estrangement ---
I've not really experienced ridicule, and perhaps estrangement is too strong a word to use now that I've gotten over my initial neophyte-awkwardness, but it is sometimes irksome being the convert in a room of cradle Catholics. I'm conscious of the Protestant things that I do (like quoting scripture or, *gasp shock horror* making up my own prayers, or not knowing the traditional prayers that everyone else can easily say). It bothers me a bit when I'm lovingly teased about these things. But most of all, I get offended by the superiority complex certain Catholics have. The condescending attitude that they take towards various groups of Protestants (groups which they know almost nothing about) drives me up the wall, and I always finds it puts up a barrier in the relationship. If you talk trash about evangelicals, for example, you're talking trash about half my family (and chances are you don't know your arse from your elbow, so I end up just thinking that you're ignorant). My conversion didn't eradicate the Christian I was before, it just took that Christian and made her faith grow a lot deeper and better.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!


  1. "If you find yourself complaining that people aren't coming up to you & being friendly, then you need to consider that they could be just as shy as you are. So you need to make the first step towards having a friendship and being welcoming"
    Gramma says that? I've never heard that! I mean my mom says that, but I had no idea Gramma says it too!

    1. Apparently people weren't particularly friendly, she felt, when she started going back to church (at the United Church) so she made an effort to be friendly and found out that people weren't grumpy, just shy & awkward.