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The Old Oligarch links to and comments on this post from the Chevalier with regards to conversions. They are both good reads, and I wanted to throw in my own $.02 here since they've stirred up thoughts I've had brewing.

O.O says of converts:

Converts comprise a majority of my friends, including my wife. Try as I might, I too cannot mentally put myself in their shoes. The intimacy of our friendship is to no avail. I might know their mind on a dozen other issues, and know it well on points where we disagree, but as a cradle Catholic who never (Deo gratias) had a period of apostacy or estrangement, I cannot imagine what it is like to convert. On occasion, I worry that this means, as a theologian, that I am desparately blind to an important area of the theology of faith, revelation and grace.

Funny, though I'm not a theologian, I have a similar struggle when I compare myself (a "revert" of sorts) to cradle Catholics (such as my wife) who were raised with observant Catholicism in their bones. For one example, I notice a tendency in myself (as well as some other converts I know) to be pretty over-scrupulous - sometimes ridiculously so - with regard to Catholicity.

On the other hand, I once had a cradle Catholic tell me that they envied me because I knew God's mercy and forgiveness better (my reaction: please be thankful you didn't offend God the way I did in my darker years). I think there's a little bit of "the grass is greener" going on here, but I also think that there are some real differences between how cradle Catholics and converts experience the faith.

Later on, O.O. observes that

"there are some very insightful theological descriptions of the search for God and its fulfillment... Yet the feeling remains that these helpful categories have not succeeded in domesticating the phenomona of conversion -- it still remains fundamentally wild and escapes analysis in an important way. Perhaps because it is a pure action of grace, or "actual grace" (versus habitual grace), as they say.

A big part of the problem is that God comes to every convert in such a dramatically different way. Two of the most important moments in my spiritual life were dreams that changed my life from that night forward. Others were subtle moments - something I read, words that were said, moments of Adoration or meditation - that affected me just as deeply. How can I possibly discern why God chose to come to me in one way or another?

With somebody born and raised in the faith, the Sacraments bring about a certain rhythm to their spiritual development. Obviously the rhythm isn't the exact same for everybody because we use our free will to accept or reject the grace in different measures, but there is a natural progression.

Conversion is a different story. The phenomenon of conversion is a complex interplay between God's action and man's reaction. How can we possibly form postulates based on that? The best we can come up with are broad categories: the intellectual conversion, the conversion from sensuality, the abandonment of riches, some combination thereof, etc. But on the individual level, what we have is a drama played out uniquely in each individual heart, as man tries to run away from a God who do anything to speak to us.

The Sacraments are the ordinary means of grace, and each can be found in the Gospels and tradition of the Church, but what did God say about conversion except that he would leave the 99 to search after the one who strays? What do we know about his action except that like the father of the prodigal son, God will come out to meet us when we turn back towards Him? Or what can we say about those who until their conversion never knew God, except that His law was written on their hearts all along?

That said, I also want to address The Chevalier's question:

But in this modern culture which denies faith in favor of empirical evidence, rejects the conclusions of reason as a legitimate basis for truth, refuses to distinguish between competing "ethical value systems," and proclaims rational autonomy as the good for man, why does anyone turn to an authoritarian, hirerarchical, tradition-saturated Church with a basis in supernatural faith and an insistence on objective truth as Her sole possession? How does anyone get past the myopia, the conditioning, and the general brainwashing of the Modern ages in order to see the radiance of the Catholic Church "like the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array"?

First of all, nicely put.

Second, the answer for so many converts is that the modern world, for all its strict material empricism, myopia, conditioning and brainwashing, simply cannot deliver the goods. The truth is in their hearts, burned into their DNA as "imago Dei." Many converts, such as myself, come to Christ precisely because we've received the grace to perceive that nothing short of Him can satisfy. The greatest experiences this world has to offer are in the end exhaustible. When we've had our go and dipped our toes into a little of this and a little of that and yet find ourselves unfulfilled, God will still be there calling us as He always has.

The last point I have to make is that conversions are truly "awesome;" they elicit awe, they uplift, they inspire. They can be as edifying as the lives of the saints. In each story we can see the reality of the Shepherd seeking out the lost sheep and bringing him home. In each, we can see not only the Father's willingness to come to us each in a different way, but also the one aspect of the Father's love which is the same for us all - its relentlessness. The Father will never give up. Can a mother forsake her child? He will not abandon you. It gives us great hope that we will always be able to turn to Him for comfort, for forgiveness and for peace.

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very interesting thoughts on conversion. I've been fully Catholic now for 32+ years. My dh is a cradle Catholic and I think that he would echo some of the commentary you post.

Wow, this does start some thought processes stirring... I tried to write a comment, but there are too many thoughts all mulling together all at once. Let me sort some stuff out, and maybe I'll revisit to comment in length.

Excellent post, I appreciate the insight.


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