In 2014, The Pew Religious Landscape Survey, a survey of the United States, found that only 2% of Americans born evangelical, or protestant, convert to Catholicism. From that number, it’s safe to say American converts are scarce in ratio to cradle Catholics. Converts are unique to the Church. It’s often asserted that converts make the best Catholics because they are knowledgeable about their faith, chose it for themselves, and are deeply passionate for it. A famous convert that often comes to people’s minds is Scott Hahn, professor at Franciscan University, Catholic writer, and speaker. As a Catholic Convert myself, even though we’re seen as special and unique in the life of Church, there are still struggles that arise with our conversion from a protestant to Catholic, and much of these struggles are not something we talk about. Today, in this blog post, I want to give you a look at what goes on behind the intellectual mind that converts to Catholic faith. I want to show you the less glamorous side of being a Catholic convert.
To begin, per my experience as a convert, being unadulterated Catholic is not as easy as going through RCIA and accepting all the dogmas of the Catholic faith. I am constantly having to throw out background knowledge that I attained through the cultural milieu with my protestant peers, the knowledge I gained from famous speakers like Francis Chan, and Church learning functions. Basically, one has to hunt and locate even simple ideas that are not aligned with the Catholic faith. It’s a process of conversion that is likely to take years. Most of the time, without guidance from my Godparents, I do not recognize small concepts I have that are fundamentalist, or Baptist in nature. For example, I accepted the idea, through my own independent learning as protestant, that if a dating relationship led to you to sin then it was not a relationship that was ordained by God to happen. You were, in fact, in the relationship of your own will and not God’s will, because God’s will would not lead to sin. This idea is not Catholic, and is not accepted by Catholics, it flies in the face of logic and reality. The reality is, God can bring two people together, but just like with everything there is temptation. The aspect of temptation itself was lacking in the “Godly dating” understanding I learned as a protestant. Temptation is a part of life and it’s too simplistic to state that God did not bring a couple together just because there is temptation, or because they mistakenly fell into temptation. Now keep in mind this is only once simple concept that I have shown you as an example for what I am asserting. Now, these ideas, that are not found in the truth of Catholicism, are hard to locate, and can only be done bit by bit. (Unless you find a Catholic book that starts from the very basic of ideas and works its way up to build to the entirety of the true Catholic intellectual mind. However, that is a resource I have not been able to find yet.) This is likely the first you’re hearing of this phenomenon within Catholic converts, and the trouble doesn’t stop there either.
Besides having no clue about cultural aspects and celebrations of Catholicism, like the May crowning of Mary, converts grapple with the simple logic that was once a part of their faith life as a protestant. Being that I pursued the study of theology in college, as an evangelical we had this saying “God will provide,” in regards to the uncertain future of graduating college with theology degree. The phrase meant that God would provide you with a ministry right out of college. This is also a bit of knowledge that I had to learn was not a statement of truth. Here I am searching for jobs, a year after my college graduation date, and I’m contemplating giving up on my dreams of working in a career field that involves Jesus and christianity. Life is not simple. In the examples, I have provided for you thus far of the struggles of the convert, one can see that the statements are unrealistic. The statements lack the messy dimension of life. They are black and white statements, and life is not totally colored in black and white. Life is messy, and things of faith are not as simple as fundamentalists make them out to be. This bring me to point of this paragraph, The simplicity, the black and white perspective, are things the convert has to unlearn. This likely happens naturally as one matures with age, but being that I’m only 23 years old, I’ve had to focus on this aspect tremendously. The black and white glasses that are typically found in fundamentalism leaves no room for mercy. It’s very hard to understand mercy when one wears spectacles with lenses that are only black and white. This thinking, at its core, lacks an understanding of other people, and understanding is the first step, in my experience, to the virtue of mercy. This particular problem leads into the next struggle that I have only begun to understand.
In relation to what I mentioned above, there is a significant problem that can form within the convert. I, from being a convert, have slight scruples. I suggest googling “Catholic scruples,” if you don’t know what I am referring to as I don’t have the time to explain the idea. Basically, with scruples, and some bad experiences in helping in Catholic education, I have found that with the realization of numerous minor things I once believed false, you can, and I have, come to this sense of questioning if you even know God at all. This is where I am at the moment. Not all of my protestant background knowledge of God can transition over to the truth found in Catholicism. This final point I bring up is truly the spear head of this blog post. Basically, you can lose this sense of who God is. You aren’t quite sure which depictions of Jesus growing up with are accurate. Let me ask you this, if you picture Jesus improperly is it really Jesus you are following? It’s surely possible to make a Jesus in your mind that is not actually Jesus. This is the side I want my readers to think about. The disruption that can be created within the convert of how they picture God. It may not have been a struggle for some, like Scott Hahn, but it is a tangible struggle nonetheless. It is a struggle that I am facing now. This loss of clarity is most troublesome, and is an obstacle in my relationship with God. This problem is truly the pinnacle of hardship in being a convert to Catholic faith.
If you are a convert like my myself, you are not the only one facing these challenges. I am right here with you. You’re not alone. Being a convert is not all fun and games like many people think it is. To be frank, in some ways I envy cradle Catholics because they can trust the knowledge they have of God, and have an image of God that is not influenced by evangelical ideas. They picture God as a what a Catholic is supposed to. This picture they have of God, it is something I have to try recreate, and even then it may not be exactly perfect. Well, to conclude this blog post, this is just only a brief look at the secret struggles that occur within convert Catholics.
If any Catholics have book recommendations, containing citations and documentation, on the character of Jesus, or God, I would appreciate it if you commented below with the title and Author. It would be extremely helpful for me, and for other like me! thank you so much, and thankyou for reading this ramble of mine.
Afternote by Author:
If you say that my image of God should not have changed than you don’t see how correct teaching helps correct right relationship, just how correct information creations good relationships with others. If you thought Susie was always mad and yelling at her friends, would that not make you less likely to have a friendship with her? The same is true with God, but in more subtle matters than the obvious deterrent in the example with Susie. Correct teaching, understanding, and image of God are important to the faith life, and to one’s relationship with God.