When I was going through RCIA, the Church celebrated a welcome rite. It wasn’t the actual conversion, just a rite of welcome at a Sunday morning Mass for those of us planning to enter the Church at Easter. In the rite, the priest asked each of us what we would ask of the Church. I think I said “baptism”, but since I wasn’t expecting a quiz I could have said “free wine every Sunday” for all I remember. It was a deer-in-the-headlights moment, made worse by the fact that I was eight months pregnant and suddenly had to sneeze, and I was trying not to because I knew that if I sneezed I would pee my pants.
What I do remember was my father-in-law, the aptly named Ever-Teacher, having a long talk with me afterward about what I should have asked. He said that I should have asked to share in the burden of the cross, since that what’s conversion really is. Conversion never ends, I remember him saying. You’ll be carrying a cross the rest of your life. The only thing that will change is how much of a burden you are strong enough to bear.
I listened, and nodded at the appropriate moments, but what I was really thinking was, “Man, my father-in-law is the biggest joy-killer on the planet. He could take the whitest cloud in the sky and find a threatening darkness in it. Also, I really have to pee again.”
I’ve thought that about my father-in-law for a long time. There is no success in our lives that he lets pass without pointing out the danger therein; but likewise, there is never a failure or a tragedy that he can’t find the grace in. I’ve always taken the latter for granted while being annoyed and rankled by the former. “Why can’t he just let us be happy for five minutes?” I grumbled bitterly to the Ogre when we got a long talk on the dangers of Catholic higher education after getting a job at Ave Maria. “He ruins everything!”
This morning I sat down to check some blogs and found an unexpected, delightful surprise. Leah of Unequally Yoked made the announcement this morning that she will be bringing her keen intellect, her fabulous writing, her great sense of humor and her unparalleled charity from the Atheist channel at Patheos to the Catholic channel. In one of the greatest “I’ve logic-ed myself right across the Tiber” moments ever, she had a conversation with a friend that went like this:
I’ve heard some explanations that try to bake morality into the natural world by reaching for evolutionary psychology. They argue that moral dispositions are evolutionarily triumphant over selfishness, or they talk about group selection, or something else. Usually, these proposed solutions radically misunderstand a) evolution b) moral philosophy or c) both. I didn’t think the answer was there. My friend pressed me to stop beating up on other people’s explanations and offer one of my own.
“I don’t know,” I said. ”I’ve got bupkis.”
“Your best guess.”
“I haven’t got one.”
“You must have some idea.”
“I don’t know. I’ve got nothing. I guess Morality just loves me or something.”
“Ok, ok, yes, I heard what I just said. Give me a second and let me decide if I believe it.”
It turns out I did.
My first reaction was shock, because I honestly did not think that Leah would ever convert. There are some things about Catholicism that require pure faith, and I always thought those would prove to be the Achilles’ heel in her quest for truth. I think I underestimated her belief in objective Morality. I may have underestimated everything about her, actually, because if I were a popular Atheist blogger who decided to convert I’d probably do so under a rock to avoid all the nastiness that would doubtless follow a public announcement. Atheists’ ability to be nasty to Catholics is surpassed only by Catholics’ ability to be nasty to each other. But she’s converting openly, moving her blog publicly, and probably checking her comment box with an unprecedented level of trepidation.
So I was thrilled, right? I saw all the comments from Catholics that said, “Welcome Home!” and wanted to add my voice to theirs, right? I was over the moon, right, and delighted?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m utterly and completely overjoyed to welcome another convert into the fold, especially a gem like Leah. But I read her post and the comments and I winced a little, because…because it’s all going to be so painful.
It isn’t that it’s not worth it. It isn’t that truth isn’t worth the pain we have to suffer for it. But converting hurts. My father-in-law is a convert too, a convert who lost his family and the wider Greek Orthodox culture that he was raised in when he converted. He is a convert who knows pain, who knows persecution, who knows what it is to suffer for the Truth. And as happy as he was that his daughter-in-law was converting all those years ago, he knew the pain of the journey and the cross that I would have to bear.
I felt the same way when I read Leah’s post this morning. Converting cost me a bond with my parents and brothers and sister that I will most likely never get back. Converting put a rift between my family and the family that raised me. Converting cost me friends. Conversion requires sacrifice and suffering, no matter what, no matter who you are or where you come from. And Leah, who has been such a respected Athiest blogger, is probably going to catch hell for this.
I think I understand, for the first time, where my father-in-law is coming from. He doesn’t rain all over our parades on purpose. He doesn’t try to squash all our happiness on principle. He just knows that suffering is real and unavoidable, and he wants us to know it too, so we won’t be caught off-guard and unaware when it comes for us. Knowing that Leah now has a cross to bear doesn’t dampens the joy I feel at her announcement, though, not in the least. I’m so excited to follow her journey at Patheos. Maybe what I feel for her is simple human empathy…knowing the journey will be long and hard, and wishing it didn’t have to be.
Nevertheless, I hope you’ll go over to her blog and say something kind to balance out the criticism. I’ve written a few posts where I found myself nauseated every time I got a new comment, unsure whether I should even look because it would either be praise or profound condemnation. Every kind comment was like a balm to the soul, and I have a feeling Leah will need as much support in the coming months as we can give her.