SCRANTON, Pennsylvania, DEC. 17, 2003 (Zenit.org).- An expert in Church history greatly admires those who “thought their way to the truth” in the 19th century, but insists that modern day converts are even more remarkable.
Father Charles Connor recognizes that people who feel called to become Catholics today must chose to embrace a Church that is attacked by secularism even as it recovers from post-Second Vatican Council turmoil.
The author of “Classic Catholic Converts” (Ignatius) and host of an EWTN series on the topic, Father Connor shared with ZENIT what challenges the new faithful have faced and what gifts they have brought to the Church in recent centuries.
Q: What compelled you to write this book?
Father Connor: It was a combination of interest in the Catholic intellectual revival of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as a long-standing fascination with British Catholic history.
The story of the Catholic Church in Britain, especially since the Reformation, is the story of so many converts who came to the Church in a wide variety of ways and contributed so substantially to its buildup. At the same time, many of these same individuals in the 20th century were the writers and thinkers who so convincingly and intellectually defended the Church, thereby attracting others to it.
Perhaps a final thought is my admiration for so many who, by their own power, thought their way to the truth.
Q: What is a common theme among these very different conversion stories?
Father Connor: There would be a few. One was a search for truth in unity and completeness in doctrine. So many converts were disillusioned by the confusion rampant in their faith traditions — each person appeared to be an authority to himself or herself, using entirely subjective criteria of private judgment in all matters of belief.
Another common area was the growing awareness of the real presence of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament — body, blood, soul and divinity. It was a serious lack in all other Christian traditions; even in those rare instances where an ecclesial body claimed to possess it, such claims were proven invalid in the minds of those who kept investigating.
Still another similarity was the consolation so many discovered in the Church’s teaching on papal supremacy, or the doctrine of papal infallibility. They provided such a clear road map of life and the assurance that all who listened to the vicar of Christ were listening to Christ himself, building his Church as he did on the rock of Peter’s confession of faith.
Q: What were some of the most dramatic struggles the converts in your book faced?
Father Connor: The biggest challenges were overcoming some of their innate and deeply held prejudices against the Church of Rome, working their way through an obstacle that was hindering their reception into the Body of Christ and, so often, facing rejection and being ostracized by their families and friends — those they held closest.
Q: How have these struggles changed throughout history? Are they the same in modern times?
Father Connor: Today the struggles would be quite different, in that they would have an added dimension: modern secularity, from which the Church has not been immune; and post-Vatican II confusion.
Today the potential convert witnesses the Church in disarray, including theological variation from Church doctrine, dissent from within, generations of Catholics who have lost their way morally, etc.
Therefore, it is all the most poignant when one enters the modern day Catholic Church. It’s still the one sure foundation, still the Church established by Christ, still the ecclesial body where the fullness of truth may be found, but subject nonetheless to the turmoil that has followed every general council in Church history.
Also, one would have to mention the false perceptions about ecumenism which have become part and parcel in our times. Real ecumenism should be no obstacle whatsoever to convert making — in fact, it should enhance it. Unfortunately, in some minds, the concept has come to stand for religious indifference or the view that one religion is the same as another.
Q: How do converts, in general, enrich the Church?
Father Connor: They bring an enthusiasm that is often lacking in cradle Catholics. They have arrived at the faith through various channels and they deeply treasure what they have found. Also they bring a tremendous fervor and spirituality, which enhances the household of faith tremendously.
Finally, they often bring from their former traditions a great knowledge and love of the Lord’s word in Scripture. It is important to note that conversion to Catholicism is not a rejection of one’s past — it is, rather, a bringing it into completion.
Q: What can the Church do to encourage more conversions and support those who are seeking full union with the Church?
Father Connor: Priests can and should do far more preaching about it from the pulpit. If one is truly proud of what one has and is convinced of its correctness, does it not follow that it should be shared with as many others as possible?
Groups such as the Catholic Evidence Guild should be encouraged. Convert inquiry classes should spring up both on the diocesan and parish level. Books of apologetics, either new or reprinted, should be circulated.
More than anything, Catholics should not hide their talents or their faith under a bushel basket — individual initiative is so often the best means. This can certainly be achieved by the quality of our lives, but even more so by very directly putting the question to someone we may know and saying, “Have you ever thought of becoming Catholic?”