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Friday, October 10, 2003

Spoken Like a Convert, Part II.

Take, for example, the "orthodoxy police"--the ever-handy boogeyperson of progressive-types. That such individuals exist is beyond question--nitpicking at this or that in the parish liturgy, perceiving ambiguities in a homily or publication as signs of apostasy--no doubt irritating, but such is the life of the Church, isn't it? Not exactly a new phenomenon, especially given the nature of the institution's teaching, which is organized, systematic, readily-available, and backed up by--well, an "orthodoxy police." If there is any religion that would tend to develop this sort of thing, it would have to be Catholicism.

Speaking as an adult convert, I have a few observations about the Church I entered on the Easter Vigil of the Year of Our Lord 1999. The first is about, well, me, sorry to say. I cannot be what my wife and children are: cradle Catholics. I was born and raised a (not particularly-observant) Methodist. Catholicism was not part of the air I breathed from Day 1. Catechism, even of the prevalent 1970s-80s "God is love/glitter is sticky" variety, was not on my radar. Confession, First Communion, Confirmation--no landmarks for me. I had Catholic friends, sure--even family, although I didn't know that until last year, weirdly enough--but for me Catholicism was the peculiarly-shaped local church that ultimately reported to the guy in Italy heralded by the arrival of white smoke. No, I was a self-identified Methodist whose attendance was--shall we say--"infrequent." Also, the obsessions of progressive elements in the UMC were no spur to attendance--e.g., removing Battle Hymn of the Republic and The Star-Spangled Banner from the Hymnal?

Get a grip, pinko. Although I did have a brief revival of faith in the early 1990s, with regular attendance (which rather startled the good-hearted Pastor, as I disrupted the age curve of the congregation) for a while, my moorings were shallow and I gradually floated away again.

Thus drifting, I met my future wife--again--in law school. She was a cradle Catholic of slightly better attendance, and invited me to the occasional Mass. Then in 1998, after her gentle prodding following our engagement, I looked into Catholicism, more as a way of providing a unified front to the future chillins than anything else.

"Move, dammit--we're going to be late! No, we'll have waffles at Big Boy afterwards...."

Just like Saul on the road to Damascus, or St. Augustine hearing the child's voice, eh? "And so Dale sayeth unto Heather, 'Yea, verily, I shalt looketh into the parish RCIA program. Doth that sound pleasing unto thee? Might as well maketh it easy for our begotten.'"

Without giving you a draft proposal for Surprised by Truth XXI, I signed up.


Why? Grace, first and foremost.

Another reason? Because I was (and am) convinced that it was true. Verifiably (to the extent possible), objectively and thoroughly--true.

As in, "making truth claims about Christ, God and life that demand your allegiance." Not just the head, but the heart. Especially the heart.

Hell, the "head" part of my conversion was easy: "Yeah, this makes sense. A lot of sense. It fits together pretty well. OK, sounds good."

The heart is a different matter entirely. Try convincing yourself of the whole shebang--at the gut level--before uttering this line: "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God." Without denigrating baptismal vows, mull over that oath--required of us convert-candidates for the Orthodoxy Police Academy. If that isn't daunting, you aren't thinking. If memory serves me correctly, it's required of all candidates for confirmation, too. Which, presumably, includes Mr. Gaillardetz.

Yes, mine 'twas strictly a "head" conversion. Riiiiight. In my experience, the "head-only" converts stop showing up no later than three months after Pentacost following the Easter Vigil reception.

Which brings me back to Mr. Gaillardetz, who strikes me as a bright and reasonable guy, even though he uses language like "embrace the brokenness of our church," making him sound like an emigrant from Griswold Country.
The problem with his argument is these lines:

We [cradlers] 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.

With complete certainty, I know that he and I have radically different understandings of what constitute ruptures in fidelity/the essentials of "our" (the?) faith vs. the daily gripes/ambiguities. With almost equal certainty, I know that for Mr. Galliardetz, Pile A is a lot smaller than Pile B. The article is, after all, published in America, where one can safely advance the thesis that the Church can overrule scripture at will. Apart from some occasional wistful commentary about what has been lost--the equivalent of someone sorting through one's possessions to determine what is being offered at the yard sale--the stones from Pile A are routinely chucked over to Pile B in the pages of America.

Unfortunately, more of those stones in Pile B belong in Pile B. Maybe this sorting makes things easier--more reconcileable, for lack of a better term. More peaceful. But that hardly makes it right. Moreover, it fails to recognize the fact that the "rupturing of vows" is usually a process that starts with "daily gripes" and the like.

Yes, I find Mr. Galliardetz' cradle mellowness a little too sanguine. Way, way, waaay too sanguine. It has the ring of one displeased at the grubby new members admitted to his club, which was operating just fine without them, don't you know? Well, you know how "those people" are...

Sorry. I just don't care to see Catholicism become the equivalent of Methodism with snazzier vestments.

Speaking as a convert, this too-indulgent approach to what goes into Pile B has led to a squandering of the Catholic heritage, a too-cozy accommodation with the things of the world, and is arguably a contributing factor to the Scandals as well. All of which, whether Mr. Gaillardetz and the readers of America recognize/care or not, makes the "vowed living" and "reconciliation" stuff that much more difficult. Not to mention making it impossible to present a distinctively, fully Catholic alternative to a world in desperate need of it.

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