Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mor(e)-on Hugging, and Conversion

A little play on words there.

Sometimes posts take a long time to create. This one will say I wrote it a week ago. It was started a week ago: I wrote the title.

Classes have finally finished for me. I'm not a fin de siecle kind of guy - I don't usually note that "the weekend's coming" or "three more sleeps 'til Christmas," etc. - but I am glad that I don't have to prepare lectures for a while.

If you are an avid reader of thetheologyofdad you'll know that I am a convert myself and yet that I don't talk about the details of my conversion much. But when I brought up the subject of being received into a Church with human beings in it I didn't want to treat of the subject too whimsically. It might be an important topic for some people.

When we say "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church" in the Creed we are saying something extremely important. The thing that distinguishes Catholics (and Orthodox) from every other kind of Christian is this belief. We believe that the Church is an eternal reality that has a certain nature and that never changes. When Protestants talk about the 'church' they generally conceive of it as a spiritual reality that exists on an ex opere operantis basis, that it is only as holy as the people in it are endowed with the Spirit. They limit their idea of church to the quality of the faith of the people in it, whereas we look to the permanent donation of the Spirit through the sacraments, the Tradition, the priesthood and the communion (with/of) the saints. On the one hand, they can say that the church is where holiness is, on the other, we can say that holiness is where the Church is.

That's a preamble.

Despite the eternity of the Church, on its visible side are included within it both people who will not be numbered among the saints of heaven and people who will be but who are now ranged between the somewhat and the extremely irritating categories. It is these that I wish to speak a little more about now.

Joining the Church should be an experience unlike any other. Should be. But it's an internal phenomenon, not as external one. No amount of bells and whistles - fine-tuning from parish pastoral committees or RCIA teams - can create a grace.

If you are thinking of joining the Catholic Church, here's what you can expect.

Generally, parishes have RCIA programs (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), which are either run by one person (perhaps the priest) or several people, depending upon the numbers of candidates involved. The program runs from roughly September to Easter. It's a good idea for those who are 'not in any rush,' to take two years and not feel obliged to receive the sacraments (confirmation, if you already baptized and Holy Communion). I found the RCIA a rather interesting and pleasant experience. You learn about Catholic faith and practice. It's generally a good start. As a student of Early Church history I can admire the set up of the program, since it consciously models the Ancient Church's initiation process.

But acceptance into the Church through its sacraments of initiation is just the start. Sometimes the next phase can be a rather clumsy one, however. Most people who attend your parish won't know you, despite the fact that the parish went out of its way to make you known at masses. Most of those people are not really 'members' of the church community - so don't allow that to throw you off. On the other hand, most of the people are extremely kind. The key thing to do, of course, is to discover what groups your parish has - prayer groups, service groups, etc., because you need on-going formation in Christian life! These groups are where the really special people can be found.

Let me end by commenting on the sociological profile of today's Catholic parish. These are rock-solid, scientifically-determined data. (Reginald Bibby and Fr. Greeley are in awe.)

1. 90% of Sunday mass-attenders are 90% indistinguishable from your average non-mass-attending Canadian. In other words, they see the Church as providing good moral example for their children. When asked they would indicate their support for contraception, gay life (but generally not 'gay marriage'), women priests, married priests, but generally not abortion (except in cases of rape and blah, blah, blah...)

2. Of the remaining 10% -

      a. 25% are of the liberal persuasion. They are into equal rights, blah, blah, blah. They have good hearts, etc., but have no idea that Catholicism is the one thing true left-wingers despise the most. We call them hilarious Catholics, since they mean so well, but have no idea...

     b. 5% are hard-core conservative nut-jobs, angry but huge financial donors to the Church. What makes them tick? Mostly hatred of the world around them, i.e., categories (1) and (2.a) above.

              b.i. 30 % of these are simply mentally ill. Generally you can spot them by their obsession with the 'end-times,' to which topic they will manage to steer every conversation.

      c. 10% are the conservative, non-nut-jobs. You will find me here! Hooray! Extremely leery of both groups (a) and (b), but interested in reaching out to group (1). This group generally thinks that good catechism can solve all of life's problems. Ha! They know, and are willing to share, both in and out of season, what they have just read from G. K. Chesterton, Peter Kreeft or Mark Shea. They can be spotted by their use of the phrase, "hermeneutic of continuity." (See earlier post, entitled 'Cool Words for Catholic Intellectuals.')

      d. 20% are old people who are not driven by any strong political views, they are just extremely 'used' to the Church. Very fine people overall. These are the ones who will vigorously shake your hand - new convert, I am speaking to you - at all the after-mass receptions in the parish hall.

     e. 2% are "music Catholics." Although one would be tempted to split them up into groups (a) or(c), since their first allegiance is to good music and liturgy, they should be considered a class of their own. Really, they are Anglicans. You know who you are!

     f. 10% are 'youth' who do not yet fit into any of the above, properly speaking - they will in time! These are wonderful people! NET people, youth group people, music-ministry people.

     g. This group is my escape-hatch, since groups (a)-(g) only add up to 72% of 10%. I could say one of two things here. First, the above numbers are deeply flawed. Second, there are eclectic Catholics who paradoxically fit into more than one group: i.e., are conservative in somethings and liberal in others. Clearly it is the second that is the actual case.


The Catholic Church is a wonderful, if imperfect place to end up. You will find it a warm and encouraging place, and if you do not - CHANGE PARISHES IMMEDIATELY! You can do that, although it is not 'offically' recommended. But given your fledgling state, it is imperative that you find an encouraging and healthy place, one that will help to guide you well in terms of Catholic morals and practice. Some parishes, alas, are not that. You are not yet in a state to do anything about that. So, spend a few years simply concentrating on becoming a saint by going to mass as frequently as you can, reading books on the Faith and the lives of the saints, and joining a service group - especially the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and a prayer group.

If you have any questions, immediately consult

1 comment:

  1. Hilarious post! It's a pleasure meeting another fellow non-nut-job! By the way, don't forget the wonderful and venerable Fulton Sheen on that reading list :-).