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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Is God to Blame?

The sun was slowly climbing out of bed to give light to the world. The colors of the Sun’s blanket as she slowly lumbered out bed painted the sky in brilliant hues of yellows, pinks, and reds. At the same time, a man climbed out of bed at the sound of his alarm and got ready to start his day. Once dressed, he proceeded to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. In the medicine cabinet, there was an organizer with a little compartment for each day. In the allotted compartments was medication, vitamins, and supplements all organized for each day for the week. Every day the man had to take pills of medication, vitamins, and supplements for a chronic health problem. To many, the idea of swallowing pills as if it is second nature is something to be envied because they themselves struggle with this ability. The irony is to the man they are lucky to not have needed to learn such a skill. Unlike him, God had planned for them to live a relatively healthy life.

This story is not uncommon. In fact, I myself struggle with my own health. In October, my medication for my illness had stopped working. From what I understand, this is a common problem. It is simply that the body has grown use to the medication, and thus, it has become ineffective. Since then, I was thrown back into a struggle that I hoped I had left behind for good. To this day, doctors and other professionals are still trying to find another medication that will help alleviate the worst of my symptoms. It’s a process of trial and error as not every medication will work the same for each person.

In the midst of the time since then, I was once again plagued with the internal struggle of wondering why God would give and plan my life to have this illness. This was a recurring thought as I struggled through each day at college. It was compounded by the carefree attitudes of my fellow devout catholic peers. Deep in my heart, I wished to be just like them and not know the heavy burden that laid upon my shoulders. Even today, such a desire exists, I am definitely not yet a saint. I graduated this spring with a bachelors in Theology. Thus, my peers and I went our separate ways, and some, like me, started a new chapter in life. Today, I see my peers going on mission trips, summer camps, and other ministry and theological orientated tasks, but instead of feeling great joy and pride in them, I find that I am frustrated because I could be doing those exact same things. I could be but instead I have to attend to my health. Such adventures are on hold until I am healthy again. This sadness and envy at my season in life is not holy, and I say these things to be truthful with my readers and I feel there is an advantage to my message by sharing it.

The thing I want you take away from this, and it took me longer than it should have to discern it, is we tend to think illnesses, and other misfortunes to be what God planned for us and this is an error. This was something I struggled with because of my own suffering, like I showed in the previous paragraphs. Usually, such a thing as suffering would not bother me, but the difference here is the sheer amount of suffering that caused me to really question how God could have planned this struggle for my life. I would tell myself that this will make me a better person, but at the end of the day it was not much of comfort. The truth is God did not originally plan for this to happen to me. God did not plan for me to suffer from poor health. What created this was the first sin by Adam and Eve. It took me too long to come to this conclusion, and I probably should be embarrassed. 

What the first sin by Adam and Eve destroyed was the harmony that God had created. The harmony within the body controlled by the soul’s spiritual faculties was broken. Spiritual faculties did not control it anymore. Thus emotions, mind, and fleshly urges were in disarray and were not controlled by Spiritual faculties anymore. It is from the fall of Adam and Eve that misfortunes and suffering are in life. It is not correct to think that God is to blame for one being sick. Original sin is to blame and God did not create original sin. Original sin and the consequences that arose were created by man, namely Adam and Eve. If you read Gensis, you can see that disorder is let loose into the world by Adam and Eve’s disobedience. I do not feel I am doing it justice, but the harmony and peace that God had created was destroyed by the first sin. This subsequently is why we now sin, and why we need abundant grace from God to attain salvation. What original sin created was a wound “in the natural powers proper to,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 405, human nature. God did not create disease, illness, misfortune, birth defects, cancer, or anything else. The world is fallen and broken because of sin. We suffer because of the effects of original sin. In the case that I am not doing this justice, I recommend you read the Catechism. It can be found online for free. 

The sense that this had not come from God has put peace in my heart. Suffering is beneficial, and, just like with Job, God does allow us to suffer, however this suffering is created by the fall of man. This is the truth of the matter. It was not correct for me to struggle with God over this issue as He did not create suffering. If it was not this suffering than it would be something else. 

This is what I want you to take away from this post,  God is not to blame for our suffering, but He is a place we can run to for security. It’s tragic that we assign, almost on instinct, blame to God when misfortunes come our way. It is damaging to our relationship to God and eats away at our trust in Him. You can blame God for allowing you a certain misfortune, however he did not originally intend for this to happen to you. What made this happen to you was original sin and not God. I hope that what I have written here you take to heart and that it might also bring you peace.

The Spectrum Between White and Black 

I am not certain how to hook you into reading this post, but I always found such things as a “hook” to be arbitrary in the grand scheme of things. In an intellectual book, I care not if the book has a good introduction only that the substance is profound and enlightening. Thus, since I can not come up with a good introduction on whim, I will put it to you plainly. Additionally, In any case, such a situation might be blessing as I believe the “hooks” I come up with to be cheesy. 

Well to be plain, I am in, and have been in, circumstances that have changed me and matured me, much like everyone else has had such experiences. Though currently, I have come to realization that sin and virtues are at times over simplified into simple categories of white and black, especially so, from what I have seen of Protestantism.  I can remember being a teenager and watching hour long sermon after hour long sermon. This activity was what I did for fun back then as I was attending a community college near where I lived. As such, most people at the community college were way older than me and there wasn’t much social bonds or activities to be found. Thus, being the weird 18 or 19 year old I was, I took to watching sermons and trying to answer my own questions about my religion. 

Distictly, I can remember the harsh sound of a preacher who criticized people for being what he called “people pleasers.” From the impression I got, and what I recall, he seemed to think it was a simple choice. He seem to portray it as a simple realization of standing up for yourself. These simplifications, from what I can remember, are very common. Another example, we say jealousy is bad and that we should not be jealous. There are much more examples I can give, but for the sake of brevity I shall stick to these two and clarify how sins should not entirely be looked at in simple terms. 

To clarify my first example, the problem with what the preacher called “people pleasing” is that it seemed to have a personal a opinion and bias to it. However, let’s say such a notion was clearly stated in the Bible to be wrong. The problem with the way he simply puts it, as a change that can happen that night and it’s easy, presents this idea of it not being a more deeper seated issue. Additionally, much like everything else people pleasing is not an entirely bad habit, unless you compromise your own values. I would say, a child should want to please his parents. That is not a desire that is wrong. You should want to please your supervisor at work and do a good job. This, again, is not a bad quality, unless you compromise your own beliefs and values. You should also want to please your wife or your husband. Additionally, should you not want to make a friend happy and make thier day? No, such is a good thing. However, this only explains half of my arguement. What the preacher also did not include was the psychology behind personalty types. The fact is some personalty types get joy from pleasing other. Again, such a thing is not necessarily bad until it is out of balance. Additionally, let’s say one does compromise thier values in a certain situation because they are pressured, guilted, or manipulated into it. In the strict black and white sense, this circumstance, in Protestant theology and opinion, means nothing to how guilty a person is to commiting a sin. The problem with this simple classification is the lack of compassion, forgiveness, and understanding in it’s overall message. It lacks the compassion to see that abuse may have shaped a person into being a people pleaser. And, more importantly, it lacks the sight to see that there will be a struggle because it could be related to trauma. It is not a simple switch with being flipped off because of some enlightening moment, but it is a process. This, from what I can remember, was not mention, and in good will, may have been an oversight. The problem I am addressing is not the preacher, but the black and white categories that sins, and more importantly emotions, are put into.

Not to beat a dead horse, however, I feel I can gain more understanding by discussing the problem with Jealousy. Typically, jealousy is always defined as evil, and yet we, when I was a Methodist, never talk about how God being jelous for his people when they made idols to worship is a good thing. Jealousy in the right context is good. If another man is kissing your wife then you should be jealous. It is the samething as what God felt when his people, who made a covenant with him, started worshiping idols. As you can see, jealousy is wrong when it is not in the right context. However, to expand one’s view beyound that, jealousy is wrong in certain circumstances, but there may be an unmet need associated with jealousy. Jealousy can be a result of more complicated problems that will take time to heal. This, in particular, I am coming to understand myself. Jealousy is not an evil thing  in the sense that everyone chooses to do it like one would with murder. Its a more complicated matter, and there should be compassion for it as well. Yet when we define sins into broad categories and don’t explore the situations, we pigeon whole something and never treat the root cause or figure out how to heal. Even worse, we define it wholly as a sin and do not see that in certain contexts it is not a sin.

To conclude, this rather more lengthy then intended post, things should be meditated on and be understood in a less black and white mindset. It leaves out key information and realistic ways to overcome sin in one’s life. In my opinion, this black and white simplification is at it’s worst when sins are thought to be all equal in value. I can remember as a child telling myself that my little white lie was the same thing as murder. This is unrealistic, and not to mention unbiblical. Additionally, from the perspective of black and white there is less compassion and no regard for circumstances. More importantly, it can be unrealistic. 

   

Christian Creeds

First before I begin going into the content and subject matter of this post, I wanted to apologize for being away for so long and not posting in a while. My computer has had two hard drives go bad and need to be replaced and I also couldn’t seem to remember my password until today. I also have been very busy with my college schoolwork, work, and my internship. I hope to post more often though about a variety of topics I have in mind and I hope you will be on the look out.

In my study of the Catholic faith, one of the things I have learned is they have writings from the 4th century AD from early Christians and these early Christians and their writings can be read by someone if they really want to. You can purchase translations in English on Amazon. It is easily available to read. The Catholic Faith really goes into the historical side of Christianity. I grew up as a protestant, I will be confirmed into the Catholic Church after Easter this year, and these figures or even the idea of looking at historical Christian figures after the apostles was not something ever brought up or thought of. In my background, we only viewed the bible as something to be studied. However, I don’t believe the Sola Scriptura doctrine to be correct or even biblical, and therefore on my discovery of this and other doctrinal concepts leaning towards the Catholic Church I decided to become Catholic. The historical way things are explained outside the bible really helped me get a good picture of the context of what was going on at the time and how Christianity developed, mature, and grew into what it is today.

In my Christology class, we are studying the heresies of the patristic period, and why the creeds such as the Nicene creed and the Apostles’ creed are important. In itself, learning the heresies has helped me better formulate my own ideas of the Trinity and the Incarnation. In class we looked at Arianism, Orgenism, Nestorianism, and many other heresies that arose in Christianity way before the Protestant Reformation. These heresies helped the Church define what they believed by these questions coming up and conflicts happening. The Church had to take theological position on the internal conflict and debates that were arising and state who was correct in understanding the Trinity, the problem of evil, the Incarnation, and other things. There arose councils to decide on these matters. An example of this is the Nicene creed, it was made to state the church did not believe what Arius was teaching. It was made to specifically state Jesus and God the Father were equal to each other, and not what Arius claimed which was Jesus was less than the father.

The reason I bring this up is because for my Christology class I will be writing a paper on the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostle’s  Creed states:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried;

he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead;

he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;

from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and life everlasting.

Amen.

The part I’m focusing on in the creed is the phrase “he descended into hell.” I’m already learning so much with just the few resources I have used to research the topic so far. I have found some books don’t cover the topic at all even though the book is solely on the topic of the Apostles creed and even a book by Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI, from what I understand compares this phrase to God being silent or mute. He states, “the article about the Lord’s descent into hell reminds us that not only God’s speech but also his silence is part of Christian revelation (Ratzinger 225).” He also puts forward many ideas on how it can be interpreted and even mentions the traditional way it is viewed (Ratzinger 223-230). He seems to suggest in his view at the end of the section he believes in the traditional view. This view states Jesus descended to open the gates for the people who died before Christ and have them finally enter heaven.

This post I feel was very much of a ramble, but I hope you enjoyed it.

Work Cited:
Ratzinger, J. Introduction to Christianity. New York: Herder and Herder, 1969. Print.