My friend Dave Deavel…

My friend Dave Deavel… June 26, 2012

…has a really fine piece up about the hidden dangers of conversion stories.

Recently, Rod Dreher linked to one of those “The Pope is on his last legs and is about to die a broken man, whereupon the Church will hold the Third Vatican Council and the new dawn will break” pieces that the MSM always does when the pope shows signs of age (these were perennial favorites during the last decade or so of JPII’s papacy). In the course of it, Rod mentioned in one of his comboxes a conversation he’d had with somebody who thought I held the Church (by which he apparently meant the hierarchy) in high esteem and put the Church on a pedestal.

News to me. I’ve always agreed with Belloc when he said the Church was “An institute run with such knavish imbecility that if it were not the work of God it would not last a fortnight.” I have a high view of the Holy Spirit, not of the hierarchy, not of the members of the Church and emphatically not of that member who greets me in the mirror each morning.

People assume that since I write about the Catholic faith and say, with conviction, that I believe all that the Church believes, teaches and proclaims is revealed by God, I must therefore do fist pumps and whoop with glee everytime a Leah Libresco comes along and announces they have come to faith. I am, of course, delighted at their faith in the Blessed Trinity and their union with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. But I am *highly* reluctant and resistant to treating converts as notches in the Church’s belt or as scalps collected. I’ve seen too many converts bail on the Church in anger and disappointment like the seed that falls on the path, or in the thorns, or into the bird’s mouth.

This boastful approach to converts is, I think, sinful, vulgar, and dangerous and Dave Deavel gets at some of why that is. Conversion is a trial, both because fellow Catholics can wound the convert deeply and because the convert suffers from the same thing George McClellan did at Antietam: though he brings overwhelmingly superior forces in the form of the Church’s tradition, philosophy, history and sacraments, he also brings himself. And speaking as one who is quite a jerk, I can tell you “Jerk” outweighs “Better Arguments and Sacraments” for most normal people.

Consequently, when people like Leah come along and are naturally full of the first flush of enthusiasm for the faith, I rejoice, but I also issue a note of caution: you have *not* found the Perfect Church and you have not now “arrived” at the platform where you can look down on your past. You have merely found Christ’s Church: a hospital for sinners and an asylum for lunatics before it is a shining paradise of saints in glory. Baptism is not the end, but the beginning of the New Life. The goal is Heaven, not entry into the Church. So set your hopes on Jesus and his saints, not on us oddballs, slobs, factory rejects, broken jerks and ignorant clods. The treasure is there. But it is emphatically in jars of clay. And I speak as the biggest cracked pot of them all. But then, O convert, so are you. That’s why every act of worship begins with the Confiteor and not with “I thank you, O Lord, that I am not like other men”. Now begins the long haul, which won’t be over till you draw your last breath.

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