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Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Spoken Like a Convert, Part I

[This has been germinating for about five days now. I'm still not sure where it's going, so bear with me.]

One of the more peculiar early features of the Scandal was the surprising willingness of some self-identified orthodox cradle Catholics, upon considering the reaction of converts, to launch into chide mode.

I remember reading comments about being "insufficiently converted," overfed on apologetics or similar forms of soul-reading that claimed that the outraged had a "head" faith, but not a "heart" faith (see no. 4). Yeah, OK, whatever.

Some commentary was positively embarrassing in its high-handedness, such as that of Fr. C. John McCloskey (scroll down to posts for 8/26/02):

Mr. Dreher, as a convert to the Catholic Church, does not seem to realize that the church in this world is made up of a [sic] 100% fallible sinners from the pope on down.

There are so many possible retorts to this condescending nonsense I don't know where to begin. Some even use words. One of my initial thoughts was "Sorry to be stinking up your church, padre." I guess the Scandals are just a blip in the onward and ever upward progression of the Church in these parts since 1960. They don't reveal a deeper problem or anything. Nope. Just keep whistling.

Right past that field with all the rounded stones jutting up in neat rows.

I apologize for my puke-splatter, which came from the contemplation of the actions of Our Shepherds. Don't worry, I'm just dry heaving now. Apart from patronizing smugness, both of these observations share one fatal flaw: they've torn out Matthew 16, stuffed it into a phylactery and strapped it to their foreheads, assuming it will ward off the decay of the Church in America. Well, tell it to the Church in Antioch, Arabia, France....

Proof that convertophobia is an equal opportunity annoyer comes the reaction of Catholic progressives to the presence of pesky conversos, as documented in this fragment from an America article. I might as well republish it in full:

A profile has emerged in my experience of a surprising number of leaders in the "orthodoxy police" of the Catholic right who turn out to be adult converts to Catholicism (these must be distinguished from the many genuine conservatives who teach us much by their profound love of our tradition). This is only a trend, I hasten to point out, admitting of many exceptions. But still I wonder if there is not some unconscious need to justify their conversion by asserting a new form of Catholic triumphalism. Do they feel secretly compelled to "out-Catholic" the lifelong Catholics? As a mentor of mine once wryly observed, lifelong Catholics seem less likely to believe that the Catholic tradition needs to be saved from its critics....

We lifelong Catholics have our own baggage, to be sure, and many of us are certainly not innocent of triumphalism. Still, most believe that our fidelity to our baptismal vows also gives us a freedom to embrace the brokenness of our church. We can criticize the church because our commitment to her has been chastened; we know we are in it for "the long haul." We have long since learned to distinguish between the ruptures in fidelity that can call vows into question, and the daily gripes and reconciliations that are the stuff of vowed living. We have sorted out the essentials of our faith from the ambiguities, inconsistencies and, too often, even contradictions that are bound up in all that might count for "being Catholic." We find we can embrace a whole set of tensions without losing fidelity.

Well, if nothing else, it proves that soul-reading stretches across the Catholic spectrum. What can I say about the article as a whole? Like its orthodox cousin, it reveals a profound incomprehension of the realities of conversion, in this case reducing them to the simplistic us vs. them categories of the dividing American Catholic house.

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