The Less Than Glamorous Side of Catholic Converts

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.

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Confession

Sorry, it has taken me so long to make another post. I said I would write a series of posts on my perspective as a Catholic convert. I apologize for taking so long. I have not been quite inspired to write. I’m sure this will change though once I’m back at Saint Leo and can attend mass regularly and have fellowship.

Confession.

This word should spark something in every Christian. A few words or images may come to mind like forgiveness or maybe dread. You may picture a dark place full of shame. Or you may picture a scary place. However, when you come to understand what confession is, it’s nothing like that. Confession is about forgiveness and not being judged. It is where you can hear words “you are forgiven.” Confession is a sacrament I love and it might even rival my love for the Eucharist. (Eucharist is the transubstantiation of the body and blood of Christ into the bread and wine in communion.)

Generally, this sacrament is controversial in Christianity. Though, the purpose of this post is not to provide evidence to convince someone that confession is instituted by Jesus, but to discuss what confession is to me. I ask that anyone who wants to debate the biblical truth of confession with me please refrain from doing so.  For those who do not know catholic teaching, and to avoid anyone who wants to be a troll, confession does not mean that God is so limited that he cannot forgive sins directly. He can, there is no argument about that. It matters on the motive. It has to be out of love for God and grief over hurting and offending a Lord who is goodness himself. It cannot be out of fear or terror for your salvation.

Back to the purely spiritual side of the faith, and the intended topic, confession is very different for me than compared to some cradle Catholics. That’s not to say I don’t get nervous before confession, but I don’t dread it. Confession is still quite tricky for me still. I’m new Catholic and I was accepted into the church this year the 2nd Sunday of Easter. I am in no way a baby Christian though, and should not be mistaken for one. I am just new in the catholic faith. Therefore, I’m still getting use to how confession works and what is considered a good confession and what is a bad confession. I have actually only been to confession three times, but I would love to go every week; my circumstances prevent me from doing so though.

Beyond my personal circumstances and experiences, Confession is a great gift. I love how in confession I can hear a verbal expression of my sins being forgiven. However, it should not be understood that you need a man to forgive you. God is the one who forgives and knows your intention in the confessional. The priest in the sacrament of confession represents the Church and Jesus. The love of hearing absolution stems from when I was a child. As a child, it was hard for me to ask for forgiveness and not really know if God forgave me. I was left wondering if I was forgiven because I kept doing bad things over and over. Things like disobeying my parents and arguing with my brother. Some were intentional, as in “its fine if I do this over and over again because God forgives me.” This is a common faulty notion among people and can be found in every denomination. It didn’t seem right within myself that someone should forgive another who is just abusing forgiveness to do the bad act again. The Lord’s Prayer says “forgive our trespasses as those who have trespassed against us.” Therefore, I had this sense that just asking for forgiveness wasn’t something that could guarantee that God forgave you. This sense had some truth to it. Forgiveness depends on your intention and if you are repentant.

Another crucial aspect of confession is the examination of one’s self. With the sacrament of confession, I am more aware of my failings and my need for grace. We see ourselves as we really are. We get to know ourselves very well.  This is beneficial to us in that we actually see who we are and not what we think we are.  To clarify my point, there is this notion that the way we see ourselves is not how we actually are. We see ourselves better than we are. Conversely, other people are a better gauge at who we really are because they don’t have our biases, nor are they in our head. One way to see ourselves is by the others, but we can do that also by examining ourselves and not fooling ourselves to feel good. This helps us grow as people and not to settle for who we are now.

This aspect is important to me because I can see where my faults are and have better understanding of being humble. This humility is also facilitated in confession by the fact you stare your sins in the face and have to own up to them. You speak aloud your faults and fully acknowledge that you had done wrong to the priest. You acknowledge that you are not as good as you should be and acknowledge that another person. This can be uncomfortable, but it teaches you to see yourself with reality and not have a distorted perception of yourself.

In addition, when speaking out loud your sins to a priest, you come to see how patient and kind Jesus is. You can see how forgiving He is. The priest is supposed to emulate Christ and his love. In my confessions, the priests were undeterred by my sins and were kind. They respected me and did not look down on me in any way. Not to mention, some of the priests I saw for confession acted like my sins I had confessed was not the bane of all evil. Their view of me didn’t seem to change. They saw it as the past and left it there. lack of negative reaction or even having slight negative expressions on their faces has lead me closer to understanding how to forgive like Jesus. There were no judgments except that I was trying to follow God as best I could. And nothing will be or would be held over my head against me. In little a way, I think priests have helped facilitate my views on not listening to what I hear about someone’s past because it is in the past. They could have changed and realized their mistake. Though, I am not perfect at this yet and I’m leery about doing such in certain situations, it has helped me see that past mistakes are just that. In the past.

The sacrament of Confession has offered way more to me than with only praying for forgiveness to God. It has let me see past the darkness and cast me into the light. I can see my need for God and see my true self with all its faults. I have clarity in understanding myself and judging myself. I see humility as what it is. I also see the crime of deluding myself in thinking some questionable choices I made were right. I see my need for forgiveness since confession requires awareness of one’s self and your sins. Confession is a great gift. The greatest part about it though is the slate is washed clean. The sins are gone. Forgiveness, love, and grace has washed them away. And if grave sin was committed, God warmly embraces you back into communion with him.