When he said he was a convert, several who heard him turned away. Maybe they thought a convert was a cross between a convict and a pervert.
“I converted to Catholicism a year ago,” he explained, as they dispersed.
A cradle Catholic, I’ve always been interested in conversion stories. I asked about his.
“I was attracted to the Church’s distinctive teachings,” he said.
“Distinctive teachings? From what honey tongued apologists did you learn about those?”
“I didn’t learn about them from honey tongued apologists,” he said. “I learned about them from acid-tongued adversaries.”
He told me that he first heard about Catholic teaching on birth control from a friend who was an ardent environmentalist.
“Really?” I replied. “Maybe we should invite your friend to be a guest homilist. I can’t remember when a regular homilist last taught about birth control.”
“I was puzzled,” he said, “when my friend attacked the Church for choosing natural family planning over contraception.”
“Unlike contraception, natural family planning is environmentally friendly.”
“Contraception harms the environment?”
“It entails the production and disposal of vast quantities of chemicals and devices. It depends significantly on polluting thermal power.”
“And natural family planning?”
“It entails periodic abstinence. It depends solely on non-polluting will power.”
He added that he couldn’t understand how his friend failed to see that self-control is better for the environment than self-indulgence.
“Maybe he didn’t want to see it,” I suggested.
“Whatever the reason,” he replied, “his position seemed contradictory to me.”
He went on to say that he learned about Catholic teaching on modesty, chastity and traditional marriage from a friend who was a social justice advocate.
“She attacked the Church,” he said, “for confining sexual activity to marriage and marriage to a lifetime covenant between two partners of the opposite sex.”
“That teaching was also news to you?”
“How could it be otherwise,” he said, “when the media wallowed in reports of unmarried Catholic clergy engaging in same and opposite sex relations and married Catholic laity divorcing as frequently as everyone else?”
“Don’t tell me you thought those practices reflected Catholic principles.”
“I’m afraid I did, but only until my anti-Catholic friend set me straight,” he said.
“I should invite your anti-Catholic friend to one of our marriage preparation classes. She could set the participants straight. Of course, anyone can find Catholic principles in the Catechism.”
“Yes,” he replied, “but where do you find the Catechism?”
I conceded that it’s not as accessible as Church newspapers, pamphlets and bulletins.
“Besides,” I said, “restive Catholics seem embarrassed by the Catechism. They complain that it contains too many negative rules.”
“They can’t be serious,” he said. “Secular society has more negative rules than the Church. The Criminal Code is bigger than the Catechism.”
I asked him if there was anything puzzling about a social justice advocate decrying traditional limits on sex.
“If anything,” he replied, “social justice means helping the poor, but sexual license hurts the poor. Single parenthood, through non-marital birth or divorce, is one of the chief causes of poverty.”
“Maybe that’s why the Church considers the family the basic cell of society.”
“Sacrificial love” he said, “motivates family members to keep each other out of poverty. The intact family is the most effective anti-poverty agency we have.”
“So the social justice advocate seemed as contradictory as the environmentalist.”
“To exercise a preferential option for the poor,” he said,” she should have insisted on a preferential option for the family.”
He told me that he had often encountered the Church’s teaching on salvation and everlasting joy. Like many Catholics, though, he had seldom encountered its teaching on damnation and everlasting sorrow. That is, until an atheist he knew attacked the Church for worshipping a creator who inflicted eternal punishment on his creatures.
“You were attracted to the Church’s teaching on Hell?”
“It confirms our freedom,” he said. “It recognizes that our choices have eternal meaning. We can even say “no” to God, which is far more dramatic than to say “no God” to everyone else.
“We write our own stories,” he said, “but without being created in the image of God, I don’t see how we could.”
“Atheism,” I pointed out, “is a declaration of independence from God. Atheists think they are the freest of us all”
“Independence from a forgiving God,” he said, “means dependence on an unforgiving universe.”
“Nevertheless,” he said, “I’m grateful for adversaries.”
“I can see why. When proponents of the faith gloss over, play down or omit distinctive teachings, opponents don’t let us forget them.”
“It’s easy to proclaim what we share with others. It takes courage to proclaim what is distinctive to ourselves.”
“Especially when co-religionists dissent from what is distinctive to ourselves.”
“Dissenters don’t deny God,” he said. “They misquote Him.”
“Our adversaries also don’t let dissenters forget distinctive teachings.”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways.”