I Hate Converts (and I Am One)

Many Catholic newbies insist on lecturing the rest of us on how we should live our faith. They should chill for a while.

My heart longs for everyone in the world to become Catholic, just as I did during my early twenties, when I converted from the Southern Baptist faith of my childhood. So why does my heart sink when a non-Catholic of my acquaintance starts looking into the Church of Rome? Because in my opinion, there's hardly anyone so Annoying as a new Catholic convert—and there are plenty of them around these days to annoy me. I'm fed up.

You know the expression "more Catholic than the Pope"? That describes the convert mentality, or at least the mentality of many converts I know. No sooner have the waters of baptism trickled onto their foreheads than they're lecturing the rest of us on fine points of doctrine, hanging a crucifix in every room in the house (including the bathrooms!), looking down their noses at laggards who don't confess their sins every week, and writing letters to Rome castigating the pontiff for not excommunicating this or that dissident.

I have no business casting stones. I, too, as a brand-new convert, went through a period of crazed spiritual intoxication, marching sure-footedly to the beat of what I imagined to be "true" Catholicism, while the cradle Catholics among my friends—those who had grown up in the faith and had a relaxed attitude toward it--were forced to watch and wince.

Now I'm the one wincing, as friends and associates of mine make the same trek and fall into the same traps I did of spiritual and intellectual pride. And no wonder they do. Libraries are filled with volumes by and about Catholic converts. Amazon carries more books by and about converts than about the Church fathers, the scholastics, the martyrs, or the other saints. The Eternal Word Television Network has an entire program devoted to heralding converts. They are the superstars of the Catholic world—having taken a heroic step to the faith—while cradle Catholics are seen as passively living out a faith that was handed to them on a platter and doing the lukewarm minimum to comply with the church's commandments.

To be sure, to be a new Catholic is a heady experience, because the Catholic faith, with its rich theology, array of devotions, and tradition, is so captivating and enticing to the mind and spirit. The Catholic Church attracts the poor and the rich, the ordinary folk and the elites, the mystically minded and the intellectuals, and people from every manner of culture and nation. It transforms life from the inside out.

The life of a new Catholic begins with confession and then reception of the Holy Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, when many converts receive the first communion they have ever received in their lives. They are the center of the entire congregation's attention, and the grandeur of the Easter liturgy seems designed for them alone. They are the toast of the Catholic town.

That's also when the trouble starts. Gone is the humility of the confessional, as the pride of having grabbed the brass ring takes over. Many new converts make the mistake of believing that there is nothing else to learn, no more questions to ask, no issues in dispute. Since all seems settled and done with, it is time take on the world—the Catholic world especially. They become know-it-alls who appoint themselves as the fixer-uppers of the whole faith. They pester people who have been Catholic all their lives about their apparent lack of piety.


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