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By David Warren   
Saturday, 04 May 2013

It took me fifty years to find my way home (to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church), though only twenty-three to get pointed in the right general direction. This is my tenth year “inside,” corresponding thus to my sixtieth biological. My question for today: What takes people so long?

One begins, naturally, by answering for oneself. But I cant coherently answer. Starting just after my Christian conversion, then moving forward patiently through memory, I recall many occasions when the idea of being received into the Catholic Church occurred to me. Several of these were somewhat dramatic.

But the drama was for quitting something else. It came to nothing in each case.

To start, as a sudden Christian convert, in England back in 1976, I actually first went looking for a Catholic priest, for it seemed to me then that the Church of Rome must offer Christianity, par excellence. Without invidiously naming names or places, I was sharply turned off, however. I was given a “Dutch catechism” to read, and other hints that the Church, then and in England, had gone New Age Marxist. Perhaps papism was dead.

A literary type, familiar with T.S. Eliot, and to some degree also with, e.g., Lancelot Andrewes, Richard Hooker, Jeremy Taylor, and Tracts for the Times, I soon found myself soused in High Anglicanism. The liturgy was impressive, the people seemed to take their faith seriously, and they called themselves “catholic.”

As a King James Bible reader, too – even though Id long been reading it “as literature” rather than as Scripture; and similarly the Book of Common Prayer – I was “conditioned” by the poetry in them.

I know this marks me out as an “aesthete.” But in my experience, whether or not it is acknowledged, the beauty of language, music, gesture, architecture, and art play an important, often-crucial role in drawing people to the Church. Such things testify to the Gloria. They tell us God is large, not small; that the argument of the soul is not with something shallow, mean, and strident.

But even at the level of “mere reason,” the argument for the authority of the Catholic Church was unanswerable. It wasnt a syllogism, or other formula. It was too obvious for that.

For in the view over twenty centuries of Christian history, how could “Rome” not be Christs Church? The question had only to be asked to see the answer. Of course, she was in every generation flawed, as every institution involving humans. But on this scale of history, the agitprop of a Luther or a Calvin became a farce. These were obsessions from some narrow place and time.


      The welcoming arms of St. Peter’s at sunset

One may see this, and yet not act. For years I avoided reading Newman – for instance – because I knew he would rub my nose in this reality. I knew I couldnt stand up to him. Ditto with so many other saints and scholars of the Church. They would endanger my comfortable Protestant affiliation. Yet I did not consider myself Protestant; and was consistently well disposed towards the Roman fold.

Heres the thing. I cannot explain to myself, today, why it took me so long to become a Catholic. I want to know, because if I could understand it, I could help so many other people who are making my old mistake. I would know what to say to them, beyond what I have written above.

Partly it may be an eccentricity, but I have long been nearly allergic to most uses of the word, “new.” I can cope with New Testament, but an expression like “the new evangelization” leaves me cold. Further, I suspect this holds true for many others, who have long stood at the periphery of the true Catholic faith. Naturally attracted to the Catholic Church myself, I was discouraged by attempts to present something “new” in it, by many of its (arguably) well-meaning representatives.

For two generations now, it has seemed to me, the attempt to repackage the faith in a more attractive way to a contemporary audience has been, quite obviously, self-defeating. For me, at least, the very attraction of the Church, and the best argument against the competition, was that it remained the opposite of “new.” People like me – admittedly, a reactionary – are drawn to the Church not by the scent of fashion, but instead by the promise of “Eternity.”

They are sick, sick at heart, with the spirit of innovation. It is the very thing they are trying to escape, as they approach the divine. The secular environments from which they are escaping are rancid with the “new and improved.” They have tired of salesmanship. More than tired: they are repelled by the slick and shiny. Christ, to them, is the opposite of that.

Though mostly free of liturgical learning and sophistication, I have noticed that the younger Catholics attending the Latin Mass, high or low, are riveted by its solemnity. I have seen this in many subtle but unmistakable facts. For instance, small children their parents had not tried very hard to control at Novus Ordo Masses, are now carefully controlled; and the children themselves seem to attune to the atmosphere of reverence.

Some come because theyve made the Old Mass a hobbyhorse. Some of those seem ever to be egging for a fight; and as a person of my age, I think that I understand why. For mostly, those are older people, with accumulated grievances. As I look to the future I consider instead the people arriving after the grievances, who only hunger and thirst.

“Old” wouldnt necessarily appeal to them, either. They might not be reactionaries like me, or rather, might not yet realize that they are. I would not even say Eternity is “uncool.” It is right off the scale from what is available in the world, and you wouldnt be drawn towards the Catholic Church if you werent tipping off that scale yourself.

 
David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: http://davidwarrenonline.com/
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (30)Add Comment
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written by Manfred, May 04, 2013
Excellent column, Mr. Warren: While you were coming into the Church from the outside, my wife and I were coming into the Church, the traditional Latin Mass RELIGION, from the New Church inside. Your comments are spot on. A few years ago, Catholic friends were visiting from out of state so we invited them to our FSSP chapel and brunch afterwards. The wife sniffed she had never seen so many children in a church. I explained that this was a CATHOLIC community and that it should not be confused with the "New Evangelization" counterfeit she was used to. BTW, it is obvious there will be only one Mass and one Religion in the not too distant future, when serious Christians unite/convert in the face of persecution from the Secular Humanists.
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written by Brennan, May 04, 2013
"But in my experience, whether or not it is acknowledged, the beauty of language, music, gesture, architecture, and art play an important, often-crucial role in drawing people to the Church."

This statement should probably be branded on the forehead of every Catholic living today;--until it seeped into our brains.
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written by Grump, May 04, 2013
I always find these "conversion" tales interesting. The other day Austin Ruse told of how, as a Methodist, he finally became a Catholic. The author of this piece relates how it took him 50 years to find his "way home."

It's strange to me that I, at the age of 71, was born into Catholicism and then strayed from it and at this writing remain adrift in the seas of agnosticism. How is it that I, who it would seem, had the "benefit" of being a cradle Catholic needing no "conversion," would find myself outside the faith?

I remember Joseph of Arimathea in the movie "Ben-Hur" telling Ben-Hur, "There are many paths to God" -- a line that always stuck me since I first watched the film as a young sailor in 1960 when I was stationed overseas. Perhaps that "path" has yet to lead me back like the Prodigal Son but so far I remain unpersuaded, reminded of the old joke, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Thanks to Messrs. Warren and Ruse and others on TCT, I am still hopeful I will find my way back to the Church. Christ Himself, as the Hound of Heaven, always seems to be tugging at my heart but I have yet to yield.

Inasmuch as my own prayers never get higher than the ceiling, I ask for yours that I may eventually clasp His Hand and go with Him when my day of reckoning arrives.
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written by Chris in Maryland, May 04, 2013
Mr. Warren: thank you for a fine essay.

I think that the attractive force of Catholicism is what has been handed down through the ages...in its nature, it is not transient, not stamped with a "time-clock" as "old" or "new" but rather... "eternal."
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written by Tony Esolen, May 04, 2013
Dear Grump -- will do. If you are not in the vestibule yet, you are certainly loitering about the courtyard...
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written by jpk, May 04, 2013
Dear Grump -- be assured of my prayers as well. God bless you and keep you!
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written by Chris in Maryland, May 04, 2013
Me too Grump
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, May 04, 2013
Dear Grump,
Perhaps there's really nothing for you to do or prove. It is impossible for God not to love you - no matter what. I will offer the graces of my 8 AM Mass tomorrow for your intention. God bless.
Deacon Ed
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written by Mike, May 04, 2013
I, too, wish that you find your way, Grump. But your tale of drift upon the sea of agnosticism reminds me of the cleric in a C. S. Lewis essay who is too busy debating the finer points of academic theology to make the bus to heaven. He has become so enamored of the debate itself that he has forgotten the point of the exercise,and hence he is unable open himself, body and soul, to the acceptance of the real and eternal life in God. I sincerely hope you don't relish the debate so much as he.
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written by BHG, May 04, 2013
54 years for me, though I never had a close call as you did. I often wondered why I did not explore the Catholic faith earlier in my journey. Any answer is of course speculation but the possibility is real that, had I encountered it in the immediate post Vatican II years, I would not have been prepared to weather the storms and would have been put off as you were. Now I can read the Dutch Catechism and put it in perspective; not sure I would have back then. Short answer--God knew my needs and bided his time...and prepared me, too, through the beauties of High Anglican worship....conversion is not and never has been one size fits all....I am just one of the latecomers to the vineyard; thanks be to God that He was still hiring so late in the day!
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written by Maggie-Louise, May 04, 2013
Oh, my dear Mr. Grump,

Not in need or conversion? Everyone is in need of conversion, and sometimes I think that cradle Catholics are more in need of conversion that dyed-in-the-wool Protestants--such as I was. Then it was 10 years in the Church, 20 years out of the Church, and now, 10 more years back in. I think that this time it will take.

I wonder if this might help you. I had been wrestling with myself for these past ten years, trying to forgive someone because I knew I had to. At every confession I made an attempt to forgive that person. One day, while I was preparing my confession and trying once again to forgive, I heard a voice in my head that said, "Stop trying and just DO it." So I did. I just did it. I said, "As an act of the will I forgive this person." And, do you know, my heart has caught up with my will and my intellect. I find that I have forgiven that person.

Belief is also a matter of the will. It is a decision to be made and acted upon. "I BELIEVE! By and act of the will." That is why we have the expression "Act of Faith". It's not a Feeling of Faith, but and Act of Faith. I BELIEVE. Maybe your intellect and your heart will catch up. It worked for me.

BTW, I am going to have your same eye surgery on Tuesday. Pray for me.



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written by Grump, May 04, 2013
Your words are always a balm to me as those of others above. I'm a stubborn cus but always keep my mind and heart open. My 2nd eye surgery failed to improve vision but it did make the surgeon a few extra thou. Always glad to boost the economy. Thanks for the encouragement, Mag, and I'll put in a good word for you. Can't hurt.
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written by Tim, May 04, 2013
Mr. Grump,
Please consider that Joseph of Arimathea's line you were "struck" by was likely written not by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, or Paul, but by Karl Tunberg, the screenwriter for "Ben-Hur". Similarly, the "old joke" about the fork in the road obscures more in this life than it accounts for.
I pray that you will find your way back by sincerely examining your sources of wisdom. The Body of Christ which is the Church proposes the Truth if one is willing to let the scales fall from the eyes.
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written by Thomas F. Gallagher, May 05, 2013
It strikes me as odd that none of the bloggers who have responded to David Warren has commented on the essential error in his thinking: he fails to see that Christian faith, and the Church herself, are both old and new. To fix upon the old and neglect the new is to deny Jesus's own words: He has come to make all things new, to build a New Jerusalem, to give newness of life. When Mr. Warren comes to see all this, he will be truly at home in the Church and truly at peace. Pax tecum, Mr. Warren.
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written by Magdalene, May 05, 2013
Dear Mr.Grump,
As they say: "just do it". Steel yourself and return to your faith for you know Our Lord is calling you. Do not let any pride stand in your way. Humility is the path to heaven. Go to confession and come kneeling to your Lord and God. And He will unite Himself with you. How much time do we all have? To continue to say 'no' to God when so many opportunities are before you is sad indeed.

I shall be attending the TLM this afternoon and will remember you at it.

Ave Maria!
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written by David Gambill, May 05, 2013
I "came home" at age 59. I was raised Presbyterian, became an Episcopalian and was active in the Episcopal Church. Mr. Warren is quite right. The Catholic Church stands for Eternal Truths. When the Church attempted to become "relevant", it lost its voice. Protestant Christianity, without the grounding of apostolic tradition and Magisterium, became even further lost in the last 100+ years.
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written by Rick, May 05, 2013
Could it possibly be due to, um well, ... pride?
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written by Bob, May 05, 2013
place your crown at the feet of Christ, the only way....
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written by Bob, May 05, 2013
Place your crown at the feet of Christ...the only way
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written by Michael Fraley, May 05, 2013
I entered the Church from evangelical Christianity at the age of 41, after having read the Early Church Fathers for 20 years or more. It simply never occurred to me - at any point during that time - that the Catholic Church could be the same Church I'd been reading about for half of my life. I knew the Fathers weren't depicting the kinds of churches I'd been attending. For all I knew, that Church was, inexplicably, extinct. Most of that changed when I read the Catechism. I still didn't see many Catholics living their faith, though, which was troubling. I remember thinking, "What if I'm joining a dinosaur? What if it *is* extinct?" And then I decided that I would rather be a dinosaur than go on trying to live an unfulfilled life. It's been nine years, and this dinosaur is still on the prowl. :)
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written by Mike Carter, May 05, 2013
And it took me 50 years, but to the Eastern Orthodox Church. For me, I came from the Evangelical tradition. A major change for me but so satisfying after years of searching.
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written by Louise, May 05, 2013
Michael Fraley, you sound a bit like Bl. John Henry Newman except that he got some buds together to try and restart the old church then found out that it already existed in the Catholic Church...always fun to hear these conversion stories. God made it easy for me and had me baptized at birth. Such a mystery.
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written by Alessandro from Bergamo, Italy, May 06, 2013
Dear Mr.Warren, I'm very interested in your conversion story, and as many other have already done, I can tell you my own.
I'm Italian and I was born a Catholic. I received all initiation sacraments and continued to attend the Mass up to 2003 (I was 19 at the time). Then I got a crisis period. I still believed in Jesus, I still had the certainty that a Church is necessary, but as many others I felt the Catholic Church had lots of down sides. I stopped attending the Mass because I wanted to look for the true Church, and I just couldn't be a-confessional at partaking in the Catholic liturgy at the same time - that's my view on Communion I never left in these years. I spent the next years studying all Christian denominations, from the most extreme such as Jehovah's Witnesses to the Orthodox, Anglican and Old Catholic Churches. I was leaning towards Orthodoxy after recognizing the value of Liturgy and of the Church Fathers - Sola Scriptura just made no more sense to me. Finally, I met a young man (God bless him) who was fond with both the Latin Traditional Mass and the Eastern liturgies. He attended the Byzantine Rite with me once, than he had me confess to my parish priest and attend the Latin Mass. That was my return to the Catholic Church, back on St Stephen's Day in 2008. Since then, I've been attending the Mass every Sunday and Day of Obligation. Last year, I became catechist and chorist in my parish, still attending both forms of the Roman Rite. God gave me great fruits for my conversion and I met surprisingly good people and fellow Christians.
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written by Dennis, May 06, 2013
I think one thing is under-appreciated in the Church in the U.S. One essential reason anyone was able to come home is that tens of millions of ordinary Catholics kept the Church alive for all of us. I myself left as a teenager and returned as a young man. But had everyone in the Church taken my self-satisfied, indignant journey out of the Church, there would have been no Church to return to.

I often meet actively engaged Catholics, parish council members, lectors, EME's, catechists, columnists, etc who are converts. I read and view with gratitude the newer apologists like the several contributors to The Catholic Thing. I wonder if they ever consider the debt we all owe to that host of silent Catholics who suffered patiently and, yes, silently, while the Church of their childhood was swept away by anarchy and silliness.

There are under-appreciated Catholics who never rise higher in a parish than the vice chair of the women's guild, but who attended Mass and the sacraments, especially confession, during the fifty years of insanity while the rest of us were leaving and entering or reentering the Church. They stayed, though nobody asked them their opinions, nobody elected them to offices, nobody asked them to serve on committees, nobody sent them as parish representatives to the chancery, nobody asked them for their spiritual testimony. They were not theologians, but they knew something serious was wrong with the Church. They stayed and prayed anyway.

Those silent suffering souls who stayed and kept the doors open for the past fifty years may be the greatest saints of all.
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written by Maggie-Louise, May 06, 2013
Thank you, Dennis. Yours is a very important and profound reminder of what sainthood consists. They sit beside us at Mass all the time. Somehow, the word "fidelity" gets lost now and then. Thank you for that reminder.

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written by Robert Benson, May 06, 2013
Dear Grump, I too am 71. Here's a quotation from the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus that I found most helpful and encouraging: "Look at him who is ever looking at you. With whatever faith you have, however feeble and flickering and mixed with doubt, look at him. Look at him with whatever faith you have and know that your worry about your lack of faith is itself a sign of faith. Do not look at your faith. Look at him. Keep looking, and faith will take care of itself" (Death on a Friday Afternoon). Let us pray for one another.
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written by Miriam, May 06, 2013
Dear Mr. Grump,

Maybe the first step towards God is to stop calling one's self "Grump".

The TRUTH is God gives us gifts because He wants us to be happy. He suffers us to reject His gifts because He loves us. He will not force His LOVE on any of us.

And all is 'gift' and everything begins with a 'gift'.

The quickest way to unhappiness is to believe our gifts somehow should be worthy of us.

Gifts tell us only something about the giver --- and really NOTHING about ourselves.

The next quickest way to unhappiness is to believe we should return in kind.

This is doomed to failure because there is no way to even the score with God.

Of course, the inverse of this means the only way to happiness is to love God first. Knowledge follows LOVE. We learn something about GOD when we try to copy His loving ways into our own lives.

Eventually, one comes to realize that the time spent away from God, was time that could have been better spent being happy. (If you're truly 71 years old, you've wasted a lot of time. But 71 years is nothing when compared to eternity.)

Gifts turn into blessings when we can accept them humbly and repent the ingratitude of the past.

So, it's really not too late to LOVE GOD FIRST, to start now, and maybe to stop calling yourself 'Grump'.
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written by Miriam, May 07, 2013
Dear Mr. Grump,

I wrote about why your happiness is important to God.

But I forgot to write why your happiness should be important to you.

Happy people think more clearly, love more generously and live more courageously.

St. Teresa of Avila said "Heaven is not for cowards."

I say "One cannot be fearful and happy also."

Jesus says "Perfect LOVE casts out fear."

I hope this speeds you on your way.

Rejoice in God's LOVE always and go in PEACE.
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written by Ray, May 12, 2013
"I cannot explain to myself, today, why it took me so long to become a Catholic. I want to know, because if I could understand it, I could help so many other people who are making my old mistake."

Great article, but I wonder if that thinking is quite right. I am in a sense a double convert - I joined the Catholic Church on marrying a Catholic nearly 30 years ago, but it still took me 20 more years until I finally "got it" and fully accepted and started to understand the teachings of the Church. In the past decade, I have taken great interest in different conversion stories and the one thing that strikes me is that God calls each of us in a unique way. So what was right for you might not be right for everyone else.

Some people are zapped by God's grace when they are looking in completely the opposite direction (St Paul, for example, or Alphonse Ratisbonne). Others are just overwhelmed by the truth of Catholic teaching, e.g. Robert Hugh Benson ("I had neither joy nor sorrow, nor dread nor excitement. There was the Truth, as aloof as an ice-peak, and I had to embrace it.")

In the end, people will be converted by God's grace alone. We need to be able to give rational answers to sincere questions, but beyond that we can only pray for individuals to respond to the unmerited, wondrous grace of God. And things do not happen according to our timetable - G K Chesterton is an example of one who took most of a lifetime to convert, but his wife converted shortly afterwards so it was presumably all according to God's great plan. The long process of conversion no doubt contributed to Chesterton's writings, which have in turn helped many others to find their way into the Church.

Ray
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written by L John Harrison, May 17, 2013
I think more people are drawn to religion by the "look" of it and influence of significant persons in their lives. Unfortunately Catholicism has developed a pretty banal look. That said, many correspondents are addressing Mr Grump. I cannot say what made him an agnostic nor how he may or may not be reassessing the Catholic faith. But many "born Catholics" have never read a single serious book on the faith. Their understanding is quite undeveloped. There is more to the faith than the intellect (and very few people are converted to Christianity by philosophical argument), yet neglect of the intellectual component has made people vulnerable to other ideas and forces that permeate our culture or impact on all our lives. Authors like Kreeft, Hahn, Sheed, and many others have spent lifetimes trying to illuminate the minds of believers to the beauty and profundity of the faith (in a popular style) and have had only minimal impact. Most do not read such authors. Most will not watch EWTN. Most just go about their daily lives and watch things that entertain them. Their tastes are secular, is it any wonder that their minds are too?

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