My Two Conversions
March 14, 2002

by Joe Sobran

     When I was 14, I fell in love with someone I have 
never ceased to love. She is the Catholic Church.

     I became a Catholic, being baptized the following 
year. My parents, both lapsed Catholics, hadn't had me 
baptized or raised as a Catholic. I couldn't understand 
why they had abandoned something so beautiful and soul-
satisfying.

     To this day, when I hear people attacking the 
Catholic Church, I want to say: "But you don't really 
know her!" The more bigoted they seem, the more I pity 
them. They are blind to the most beautiful thing in this 
world. I pity them in just the way I pity a man who has 
never known what it is to see color or to hear music.

     This is my reaction to some of the latest attacks on 
the Church over the terrible scandal of pedophile 
priests. The betrayal of boys by priests is bad enough if 
you don't believe the Church is especially holy. It's 
infinitely worse if you believe she is.

     There is a certain sort of anti-Catholic mind that 
has nothing against Catholics as people, but is always 
looking for reasons to despise the Church. It sums up two 
millennia of Catholic history in the Crusades, the 
Inquisition, fornicating popes, and the "silence" of Pius 
XII, and now has perverted priests to gloat over. It 
isn't interested in the normal internal daily life of the 
Church during those 2,000 years, either as spiritual 
experience or in secular manifestations.

     Yet it's that normal Catholic life that has always 
fascinated me: the daily sacrifice of the mass, the Irish 
immigrants working long hours to send their large broods 
to Catholic schools, the nuns who spend their lives 
running those schools or working in hospitals, a thousand 
things like that. They don't make for newspaper stories, 
and they are ignored by people who equate news -- 
especially scandals -- with history. But they are the 
fabric of Catholic experience.

     Long before there were newspapers, radios, and 
television sets, the Church had her own "media" to spread 
the Good News. These were called martyrs. Beginning with 
people who had personally known Christ and the Apostles, 
they were so convinced of the Resurrection that they 
gratefully endured hideous tortures -- crucifixion, 
burning, blinding, castration, and being fed to wild 
animals -- to bear witness to their faith.

     The Resurrection wasn't recorded on film, and the 
fact that a man in Rome a century later allows himself to 
be blinded with a red-hot poker rather than deny it 
doesn't prove logically that it really happened. But when 
many thousands of people choose torture they could easily 
avoid rather than renounce their faith, you have to 
wonder whether there wasn't some remarkable event behind 
it after all. At any rate, these were among the most 
believable witnesses who ever lived ("martyr" means 
"witness"), and within a couple of centuries they 
converted millions of others.

     Any philosophy student would point out that their 
conclusion was a non sequitur. Any lawyer would point out 
that their evidence was sheer hearsay. But such 
objections run up against a conviction so deep that those 
who held it were willing to die in utmost agony to affirm 
it. That proved more impressive than any refutation.

     The Church was indirectly supported by the negative 
witness of the furious hatred she inspired. From ancient 
Palestine to contemporary China, men in power have 
opposed Christianity -- just as Christ predicted -- not 
with mere doubt and indifference, but with violent 
persecution. Even when the Church was still a tiny sect, 
her power was sensed and feared, as if something in the 
unbelievers themselves was trying desperately not to 
believe. They didn't trust her to die without their help, 
as error would.

     But the persecution has always backfired. Even the 
weakest believers (like me) have drawn strength from the 
martyrs.

     Not long after my first boyhood conversion, I lost 
my faith for many years. But the unbelievers helped 
convert me again. I saw how much the world still hated 
the Church, how it looked for excuses to discredit her. 
As long as she was alive, it saw her as a threat, even 
though she had no secular power. This puzzled me, because 
even when I thought I no longer believed in her, I still 
loved her.

     But eventually I realized that my fellow unbelievers 
were right: she was a threat, all right -- a threat to 
unbelief. Denying her truth was a futile effort, and I 
came back.

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