I Am Not a Convert: Reflections on Becoming Catholic

David Russell Mosley

A twelfth century baptismal font from a church in the Peak District. Photo by David Russell Mosley
A twelfth century baptismal font from a church in the Peak District. Photo by David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
8 June 2017
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Readers,

I have been officially a Catholic for nearly two months now. And like a good Catholic, I have missed masses, missed confession, and continued to sin. Becoming Catholic certainly hasn’t made me perfect. But I finally feel at peace, at home. Since becoming Catholic I have joined a few new Facebook groups, been congratulated by colleagues at the Catholic school at which work, and more. But there’s one phrase, one description of myself that I truly dislike, that I cannot get on board with: I am not a Catholic convert.

In some ways, I’m not sure anyway really converts to Catholicism or Christianity in general. After all, if Christianity is true, and I believe that it is, then, in one sense, we are all on the same river headed towards God. Some of us may work against the stream, or attempt to create new channels, and we may receive our desires in the end. But still, the reality is all things belong to and are loved by God. Nevertheless, one can see how the word convert meaning to turn in position or direction, might be seen as sensible word for what happens when people from other religions become Catholic or from no religion. Such people, in fact, must go through particular rites and sacraments. They must be baptized. But this was not my situation.

I was baptized in November of 2000 in a small Church of Christ in Jacksonville, IL when I was 13 years old. And since I was baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, I did not need to be baptized. I did not need to be converted. And the Catholic Church makes this very clear. Protestants and other Christians are in fact Christians. Our baptisms, the only sacrament a person absolutely needs, are valid. When those of us who were Protestants become Catholics, we are not converting. We are not turning, but moving onward, forward even, but we were not working against the flow and need to be turned round.

I think the reason this rankles under my skin is because it can lead some to wrong beliefs about Protestants in general. In my own case, people have wondered whether my PhD in theology was really in theology; they ask me how I would go about converting my Protestant brothers and sisters. Now perhaps on the first score pride is getting in my way. I want to be recognized as an authority in theology and people aren’t so recognizing me. But it isn’t only that (if it is that at all). It is the idea that Protestants don’t or can’t do “real” theology. It’s as if we worship a different God or were no better than atheists. But this isn’t true. Look at Balthasar’s appreciation for Barth or the way most Catholics uphold C.S. Lewis as someone worth reading. Clearly, Protestants are capable of doing and teaching theology.

On the second point, I often say that I wouldn’t actively try to convert my Protestant brothers and sisters. Would I prefer it if we were all in communion? Of course! Do I want to see others join me in the Catholic faith? Absolutely. But they are Christians, making them Catholic is not my chief evangelical concern.

Former Protestant Catholics are something of a paradox. We are not converts, but we are not cradle Catholics either. Becoming Catholic has been like being immersed in a new culture. There are manners and phrases I ought to do and say (or ought not to) that I don’t always know. So, like an immigrant coming to the US for the first time, I mumble along, kneel when everyone else does, shake or hold hands when others go to do the same, and slowly, by immersion, come to an internal knowledge of what is to be done, even if I don’t always know why. Nonetheless, this does not make me a convert. What it makes me I cannot say for certain. And ultimately it doesn’t matter for what I am is a child, made in the Image, adopted into the Sonship, and awaiting the Beatific Vision. One thing I know for certain, however, I am not a convert.

Sincerely,
David

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