by Andrew Simmons Friday, Oct 25
Conversion: Reflections Across the Tiber
“In that part of the book of my memory before which little can be read, there is a rubric that says ‘Incipit vita nova’ (Here begins the new life).” –Dante Alighieri, Vita Nuova, I
Since my baptism in 2010, my experience as a convert has been one consisting of many questions. There seems to be a stereotype that views converts as being more informed than there cradle Catholic kin. While certainly true in some cases, I believe something is lost in the self-pitying of cradle Catholicism. At least the cradle Catholic was born within their worldview and has some sort of experience in living it out. The convert is mainly coming from a worldview that is different from Catholicism and, as such, I certainly believe there is a conflict of identity. As someone who definitely is a product of the modern age, I am no exception to this rule. From my experience with other converts, the conflict of identity is dealt with in varying ways. Considering the 31st is Reformation Day and I am a former Protestant, it is time to once again assess just how much my life has changed since 2010. A convert always carries baggage that must be returned to for the sake of closure. This certainly is not a moment of closure. What I am addressing is the reality that the end is usually found in coming to terms with one’s beginnings. In this return to one’s roots, the notion of utter annihilation becomes substituted with the statement that grace perfects nature.
A trend that I commonly find in new converts (myself included) is the tendency to burn all the religious bridges. This is not exclusive to Catholic converts I know, but is something noticed in any religious change. For me personally, this manifested in a rather zealous streak of Catholic apologetics on the morass that is the internet. I will admit that this was in some cases influenced by the antagonism from individuals that I know who asserted that I had absconded with the anti-Christ. The proverbial shove was met in kind. Lex talionis, however, does not make for a sound spiritual life. I do not wish to put down apologetics. It is a great and important branch of the ministry. The problem is when the ministry becomes a source of bitterness, and the pursuit of truth becomes more of a Manichean struggle as opposed to evangelism. Copy and pasted arguments from either side does not prove that either is correct. It just makes me, and anyone else, feel like they wasted a lot of time.
The fact of the manner is that the convert probably still has aspects of their former life that still is present in their new found faith. I know I grew up with a sense of Scripture considering that I am the son of a pastor. Church (ahem….ecclesial assembly…) life was something I simply grew up with within a Protestant context. That appreciation of Scripture continues still within Protestant converts to Catholicism. I could say the same about Catholic to Protestant converts who still like vestments and other liturgical aspects not commonly seen in an evangelical assembly. If one employs a scorched earth policy on their former convictions, there is a possibility that even the good becomes thrown out with the rest.
What I believe the Catholic convert should recognize is that the good of their roots is perfected by grace. The Catholic worldview generally realizes that grace perfects what is good so that it reflects the Good, the Beautiful, and Truth found within God. In regards to ecumenism, there is recognition that other Christian traditions do possess a good which makes them attractive. It is for this reason that documents concerning Catholicism’s relationship to other Christian groups generally refers to them as possessing an imperfect reflection of the truth. I appreciate the good that I was taught and the kindness of those who were not critical of my conversion. While I do not prescribe to this Manichean notion of the “other” as the arch-foe, I am no longer Protestant for a reason. What was good then has been continuously perfected by grace, and what was bad has certainly passed with time.
Andrew Simmons is currently a senior at Aquinas College. He is working on a double major in History and Theology with a minor in Catholic Studies. In 2010, during his freshman year, he converted to Catholicism. He entertains the notion of nailing his own 95 thesis on the door of the local Lutheran assembly.