My Two Conversions
March 14, 2002
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, hadnt had me
baptized or raised as a Catholic. I couldnt 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 dont
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
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 dont believe
the Church is especially holy. Its infinitely worse if you believe
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 isnt interested in the normal internal daily
life of the Church during those 2,000 years, either as spiritual experience
or in secular manifestations.
Yet its 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 dont 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.
wasnt 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
doesnt 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 wasnt 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
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
didnt 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
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.