Wonderful, Frustrating, Incarnate: Reflections from a Catholic Convert (David Ozab)

I am excited to have a post here by David Ozab. He is a writer and recently converted to Roman Catholicism. While I do not share his denominational convictions, certainly it is beneficial to hear from others outside of our own sphere of experience. I am pleased to have his guest contribution on the blog…
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Last May, I wrote about my own decision to convert to Catholicism. As a follow-up to that post I’d like to share my reflections on my Confirmation in the Catholic Church, and the important insight I gained from a life-long Catholic.

A couple of weeks after our RCIA class joined the church, we gathered for a dinner reception. After we enjoyed a sumptuous meal—-and perhaps gained a pound or two each–our parish priest stood up and asked us all to reflect upon the Easter Vigil Mass. What was it about that experience that touched us and stayed with us?

When it came to my turn, I didn’t talk about the beauty of the liturgy-—I’d attended several Easter Vigils as an Episcopalian—-or the experience of being confirmed—-as powerful as that was. Others had talked about those subjects already. Instead, I shared what my wife—-who was also my sponsor—-said when we returned to the pews:

“Welcome to the most wonderful and the most frustrating club in the world.”

The room erupted in laughter.

“I laughed too,” I said. “But then I thought about it and I realized that she was right. We’re all human, which means that though we are made in the Image of God we will always come up short of that Image. We are fallen, we are sinful—-close enough to God to see what we should be but at the same time so far away that we will never come close to closing that gap on our own–but we are also the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells among us and within us, as a community, as a church. That is an amazing gift, a gift beyond words.”

“So tonight I would like express how overjoyed I am to be a part of the most wonderful and the most frustrating club in the world.”

This is the only thing the church can be. Like the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ, the church shares in the immense frustration of our humanity, and in the infinitely greater wonder of his divinity. Through the Incarnation, our humanity became his humanity, and through the Cross and the Resurrection, his divinity has become and is becoming our divinity. This is the Mystery of Faith: what the Orthodox call Theosis, Catholics call Purgation, and Methodists call Sanctification. God became Man, living, dying, and rising to new life, in order to transform each of us and all of us more and more into the Image of God.

But, as St. Paul notes, the glass is still dark. That is why the same visible church that has produced war, persecution, inquisition, prejudice, and oppression has also produced peace, love, forgiveness, humility, and self-sacrifice. The same visible church that gave the world tyrannical popes, bishops, cardinals, and kings has also given the world many more saints both known and unknown–along with some of the greatest art, music, philosophy, theology, and literature that the world has even known.

All the human-inspired frustration is more than countered by all the divinely-inspired wonder.

And you, my Protestant brothers and sisters, must recognize much of the same frustration and wonder in your own church communities. After all, we are joined to Christ and to each other by our common baptism. And this may sound irreverent–I don’t mean it so–but lately at least, I’m seeing the Catholic Church as The Church in part because it is at the same time the most frustrating and most wonderful of all churches. No matter what frustration you can cite in your own communities, I sincerely believe I can come up with worse, And no matter what wonders you can cite in your own communities, I sincerely believe I can come up with better.

An unusual boast, but to quote St. Paul “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.*” And in his Church.

The Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church in the depths of its humanity and the heights of its holiness is truly the most frustrating and most wonderful community in the world.

Praise God.

*1 Corinthians 1:31 (NAB)

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  • http://twitter.com/Rholtslander Reade Holtslander

    Interesting. Do people convert to denominations now? I thought it was just to religions. That is, I thought you converted to Christianity and became a member of  a denomination.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Conversion can apply to either.  Conversion is a change of persuasion from one way to another… Its a broad term…

    • http://www.davidozab.com David Ozab

      Yeah, I don’t really think of myself as a convert because I was always a Christian, and as an Episcopalian I was about as catholic as I am now. I think of my path more as coming home to where I always belonged. 

  • Davidbyer

    While I respect your right to choose a particular denomination I wonder why Supernatural Truth must be defined through the lens of any denomination. The Holy Spirit is the revealer of God’s Truth. It will take a little work reading the Bible for yourself and prayer asking the Father to reveal the understanding and Wisdom of His Word. I am glad in heaven there will be no catholic,baptist,ect. There will be Children of God. Men that define themselfs by a particular religion or denomination show there weakness and lack of courage to make a stand themselfs with God. Thank you for the chance to express my opinion.

  • Flyn Ritchie

     I think David has it right – he was already a Christian, and therefore he’s not a convert. Admittedly, one can use the term conversion to describe a change from one branch of Christianity to another – but I don’t think it’s helpful, for several reasons. 

    First, it’s confusing. One online dictionary, checked at random, describes conversion as “an experience associated with the definite and decisive adoption of a religion.”

    Second, we don’t talk about converting from Presbyterian to Methodist or from Baptist to Pentecostal.

    Third, we don’t usually talk about Catholics converting to Protestantism these days, do we? – probably because it has a ring of triumphalism.

    Fourth, and most important, there is just one body of Christ and Christians should recognize that reality through their use of language.

    • http://www.davidozab.com David Ozab

      Your last point is the main reason why I don’t use the terms “conversion” or “convert” in this context either. 

  • Springbuffer

    We’re all human, which means that though we are made in the Image of God we will always come up short of that Image. We are fallen, we are sinful—-close enough to God to see what we should be but at the same time so far away that we will never come close to closing that gap on our own–but we are also the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells among us and within us, as a community, as a church. That is an amazing gift, a gift beyond words.”

    Great Quote!

    • http://www.davidozab.com David Ozab

      Thank you.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    After all, we are joined to Christ and to each other by our common baptism.

    Yes,  Absolutely.   I am gratified that you acknowledge common baptism among more than just Catholics.

    That is why the same visible church that has produced war, persecution,
    inquisition, prejudice, and oppression has also produced peace, love,
    forgiveness, humility, and self-sacrifice.

    For both good and ill, this statement is equally true of Catholic and Protestant traditions…with the exception that the Anabaptist tradition doesn’t have the same history of perpetrating war & persecution…but the rest, both light and dark, true of all.

    We are fallen, we are sinful—-close enough to God to see what we should
    be but at the same time so far away that we will never come close to
    closing that gap on our own–but we are also the Body of Christ.

    Also completely true of all communities committed to following Jesus, regardless of affiliation.

    In other words, I greatly appreciate your meditation and I am glad you have found a home in which you feel union with the Body of Christ.  I am saddened by the implication that union is in any way fuller because it answers to the Bishop of Rome, just as I am angered when some of my Protestant brethren suggest it to be less so.  I truly hope that some day we can recognize the wonderful unity that we can enjoy as disciples of Jesus without somehow insisting that unity must be one of organization as well as fellowship.

    • http://www.davidozab.com David Ozab

      Hi, Dan. Thanks for commenting. I’m going to reply to each of your points in reverse order.

      You make a distinction between unity of “organization” vs. “fellowship” reminiscent of the “visible” vs. “invisible” union often discussed among protestants. Believe me, I know this distinction all to well. As an former Anglican I used to believe in the branch theory (an Anglican take on visible vs. invisible unity), but I no longer do. Unity is the key for me—I talked about this back in May—full, visible unity which I have found in the Catholic Church. It’s not perfect—no community of human being can be—but it comes the closest to the command to “Love one another as I have loved you” as any Western church ever has. Joyce described the Catholic Church as “Here Comes Everybody.” In a world of ever-narrowing, ever more exclusive cliques, I find the catholicism (in the original meaning of universalism) of the Catholic Church to be the most faithful attempt at following Christ’s call for visible unity. That I like “smells and bells” helps, but I could get these in Anglicanism with far fewer annoying folk masses. But “here comes everybody” means I’ve got to put up with the people I don’t like as well as the ones I do.While I believe that the Catholic Church contains the fullness of the faith I also believe that our human faults make us forget some parts of the faith. The Anabaptist tradition serves as an important witness to the Prince of Peace. On behalf of all Catholics, thank you for reminding us of a part of our shared faith we too readily want to forget.

      No matter what other things divide us, our baptism unites us. And that unity in Christ far outweighs our divisions. You are my brother in Christ. I cannot deny that anymore than I can deny my own baptism. God bless.

      • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

        You are my brother in Christ. I cannot deny that anymore than I can deny my own baptism.

        David, anybody who can say that “gets” the unity in Christ that I was talking about.  Amen, and blessings back at ya!


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