|(Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld)
When one has spent any significant amount of time reading online Catholic commentary, odds are the reader will have come across something like these aphorisms:
“Converts should keep quiet, and spend at least a decade learning the Faith and doing penance for their past sins.”
“Never trust a convert who presumes to speak with authority.”
“I always knew there was something wrong with X. He was unbalanced and constantly yelling at people who disagreed with his ideas of what the Church should be. Typical convert.”Catholics love to boast about the number of converts entering the Church, but tend to look at their recently adopted brethren with a great deal of suspicion. The maxim of St. Philip Neri, that “Beginners should look after their own conversion and be humble,” is well-taken, but too often used as a billy club, and not just against those few converts who verbally express the Church’s obvious shortcomings.
Why are cradle Catholics so antagonistic towards converts? Many of them seem to forget that none are actually born Catholic. All are baptized out of darkness and into light; in a real sense, there is no Catholic who was not a convert. We are all rescued from the enslavement of the Devil. The ancient Hebrew law merged the importance of hospitality with the memory of universal alienation:
If a stranger dwell in your land, and abide among you, do not upbraid him, but let him be among you as one of the same country. And you shall love him as yourselves, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Lev. 19)And,
Thou shalt not molest a stranger, for you know the hearts of strangers. For you also were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Ex. 23)We have all experienced the disorientation of entering into a new country, city, family, or social group. There is always a period of reorientation, which brings with it a deep need for the assistance of one’s newfound peers. We look to those around us and begin to imitate them. We watch what they do, listen to what they say, and attempt to fit in whilst remaining ourselves. What are we to make of those who criticize the newcomer for every peccadillo and misstep, who squelch their enthusiasm and encourage scrupulosity in minor things? Moses calls them molesters.
When the Twelve were given the mission to convert the world, it still took them some time to realize the implications of accepting Gentiles into the new ecclesia. The first, Jewish, Christians wanted the non-Jews to conform culturally to their preexisting Jewishness, and it took decades for the Apostles to decide thoroughly against this. Cephas received the first vision assuring them that the Mosaic dietary law was annulled, but even he later backslid into cultural inertia and scandalized the faithful.
The Judaizers of today are the devotionalists, the sola homeschool-ers, the parish council laymen, the clericalists, the eucharistic ministers, the wild-eyed Fatima prophets, the ultramontanes, the anti-papal hesychasts, the nosy church ladies who carefully vet every book they see you reading before Mass. There are a thousand ways of poking at the splinter in the newcomer’s eye, while ignoring the 2x4 swinging wildly out of one’s own. I might write thousands of words here against the bizarre oddities of Josephite devotion, but if I jump on a new person in my parish without introduction because he’s reading The Youthful Vigor of Mary’s Most Chaste Spouse, how am I any better than an aging hippy with a fake smile saying, “We don’t do that sort of nonsense around here, anymore”?
Not every convert is going to end up as crazy as a Gerry Matatics, a Mark Shea, or a Tertullian. Most of them simply want to be Catholic, to enter in more fully into the mystery of God’s Church. They don’t want to be constantly dodging banana peels dropped in their path by fellow Catholics.