As a convert to the Catholic faith, there are many aspects which I have gotten to enjoy and appreciate that I might have otherwise taken for granted. This is not, of course, to say I have an advantage over any Cradle Catholic, I certainly do not, only that God knew what He was doing in bringing me to the Church when He did.
I think this is the experience of very many people: God reveals true, good, and beautiful things to us only when we are ready to appreciate them. He does not throw pearls before us when we are yet metaphorical swine, He waits until we can know what variety of gift He has given us.
This, I think, is the very essence of what it means to convert, which is why all of us, even those blessed to be Cradle Catholics, are called to constant deeper conversion of our heart. God, in his generosity, wants to shower us with His gifts, so that we can eventually fully and freely receive Him. Life, then, is a process of learning to appreciate what he has given us, and growing to appreciate and be grateful for more and more until we can, as Flannery O’Connor says, take it all as a blessing.
This is all fairly straightforward, of course, and not that revolutionary. We know that God gives us all good things, that he wants to give us more, and will as soon as we are able to receive it. The question is: what holds us back?
In my experience, at least, the answer is a cynical heart.
Now, I don’t mean that we shouldn’t question or think critically about what we’re taught. Nor am I saying it’s wrong to have doubts about certain teachings or articles of faith. The problem is when we operate from a hermeneutic, a default posture, of distrust.
As an example: When I first entered the Church, one of the greatest “problems” I had to overcome was the Catholic veneration of Mary, the Mother of God. I’d heard all the arguments, I knew that my counterarguments were weak, and yet I remained unwilling to budge.
Why? In part, because it was uncomfortable for me. Coming from a protestant background where the essence of worship was prayer and singing, rather than sacrifice, I was bothered by the way Catholics sang and prayed to Mary. Now, eventually, I heard the distinction between prayer and worship drawn, but that didn’t help. Something still bothered me.
In the end, I realized what the problem was. I wanted to be in control of the truth, to have the final say over the fine points of religious practice. I had learned in my upbringing that everything: people, leaders, and churches,were open for criticism. I was a consumer, looking for a product that suited me best.
Friends, this is not the life we are called to live. We are not called to jump from church to church, or from parish to parish, looking for something that will hit our liturgical or theological qualifications just so. We are called to submit to the Church, to trust and follow her guidance, to “do nothing apart from [our] Bishop”.
In the end, what brought me closer to Our Lady, and into the Church, was not an exposition of the facts, but a desire and willingness to be led. The Holy Spirit softened my heart to the Beauty of the Church, and the reverence due to Our Mother.
The Church has the facts, and she is charged with teaching them to us. First and foremost, though, we must be willing to submit to her teaching. We must trust that the Church was established and equipped by Jesus to lead us to Himself, and we must ask for a conversion of our hearts and a willingness to submit to Him, through His bride.
Andy Brandt is a Staff Editor, Producer, and General Ne’er-do-well at Konza Catholic. You can find his writing on Catholicism, Justice, and Politics here.