Saturday, December 01, 2007

Why would anyone want to become a Catholic?

The following is posted with the permission of the reader from whom it was received, who resides in a major coastal metrapolis. Names and places have been changed to protect anonymity.
Today a lady spoke briefly to the congregation at Mass prior to the dismissal about our parish’s involvement in the diocese-sponsored Care Ministry -- a 20-year old program where people go and assist elderly folks with light housekeeping and so on. Very nice little plug, very sweet.

After Mass, she showed up to our coffee hour, and I approached her to ask a couple of questions, first about the minimum age for participating in the Care Ministry, and second about whether she hailed from the Midwest (her vowels gave it away). Why yes, she was originally from Champaigne, IL.
Me: “I’m also from Illinois, and I went to high school in Champaign.”

She: “Really? Which high school?”

Me: “Centennial, on the west side.”

She: “I was at Driscoll Catholic High. Do you know Driscoll?”

Me: “No, I don’t know anything about the Catholic high schools in Champaign. I wasn’t Catholic back then -- I’m a convert.”

She: “A convert? That always amazes me. Why would anyone want to become Catholic?”
I confess that at this point, I just stood there staring. I would expect this question as a matter of course from some sandal-clad, pony-tailed, Volvo-driving software engineer whose definition of fulfillment is sex on a four-poster featherbed after a therapeutic massage and a little Thai cuisine at Orrapin with his domestic partner. But from a sixtyish alumna of Driscoll Catholic High in Campaign, who’s clearly been Catholic all her life, and travels from parish to parish speaking on behalf of a beautiful ministry to shut-ins?

Why would anyone want to become Catholic? Who would know better than she? Who should know better than she?

Of course, you’re saying. At present, a question like that is precisely what we might expect from a sixtyish Driscoll Catholic High alumna, if we expected it from a Catholic at all.

The conversation did not end there. After a number of seconds, I pulled myself together and explained that I had grown up in the seventies when many, including my family, were involved in experimenting with various lifestyles, and that what drew me to the faith more than anything else was the solidity of truth. She gave me an uncompre-hending look, and then asked whether the liturgy had made an impression on me. I said that yes, it had, particularly the liturgical life and popular piety I observed in Spain during the two years I lived there.

She then reached her own construal of my conversion: “Well, I suppose you grow up in a certain way and then you realize that there is so much more going on outside of your family in the world, and you want to be part of that.” With this breathtaking formulation, the relevance of what was said about my own upbringing is completely inverted and transformed into what I take to be her own autobiography (of a “sheltered” Catholic upbringing?).

And that was as far as we got, I’m afraid. At that point, she asked to be introduced to my family, and my father-in-law kept her captive for the next 30 minutes, until she had to go.

I wonder if she could have made anything of this response:
“No, you grow up in a certain way of the world and then you realize that there is so much more going on outside of the world in the supernatural family of the Church, and you want to be part of that.”
[Hat tip to K.K.]

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