Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Where are all the cradle Catholics?

Courtesy of BettyBeguiles.com

I just finished reading Style, Sex & Substance for my book club party (which I'm hosting at my house tonight. Hurray!). It was genuinely awesome. There were practical tips on finding time to pray, reflections on marriage and motherhood, discussion of how Catholics can reach out to the secular culture and pretty much anything else that might be of interest to a Catholic woman (or man. Frank read the chapter on marriage out of curiosity and he loved her advice on how to treat your husband, or boyfriend in this case).

There were also a lot of conversion stories. Wow, were there a lot of conversion stories. It seemed like every single contributor had converted to Catholicism, either as an adult or as a child with older family members.

It made me think of a funny little fact I've been pondering. Frank's law school has a Catholic student association called the Thomas More Society and he is close friends with the guy who was its president for 2011-2012. When his friend graduated, Frank decided to run for president and after an unopposed election he was named president for the coming school year. When he was elected, he had been Catholic for less than a month. I was and am so incredibly proud of him for taking on this important role - but I couldn't help wondering, Why didn't any cradle Catholics step up to the plate?

Or consider this article in the Washington Post that was the talk of the blogosphere last month. It's about a group of young Catholic women who are trying to modernize its message on birth control. It's a great piece about Catholics trying to engage the culture and be vocal advocates for a different and countercultural message. But look a little closer. All of these women - Ashley, Jennifer - all these outspoken public defenders of the Church - they're all recent converts.

All of these little facts added up to a big question in my head: why are the church's most outspoken defenders almost always its newest members? I've been thinking about it and haven't reached an answer.

Is it because cradle Catholics don't care about the Church's public image? I really don't think so. I'm a cradle Catholic and I am very conscious of how I act, of the things I say and write and of the clothes I wear as outward manifestations of my Christian vocation. My (many) cradle Catholic friends think along the same lines. I would say we definitely care.

Is it because cradle Catholics have been struggling against the culture for so long that they're battle-worn? Secularists and seriously religious people are often speaking completely different languages, making dialogue well-nigh impossible because the very terms of the debate are defined differently. Perhaps cradle Catholics are tired of defending ourselves to people who don't speak our language. Maybe converts simply have more energy for the fight.

Or is it because cradle Catholics are so sheltered from the secular world that they don't see a need to publicly defend their faith? Maybe all their friends are Catholic so they don't think a public stand is necessary. But of course, that's the most ridiculous suggestion of all. You have only to turn on the TV, drive past the billboards on the highway, open a magazine or walk through a mall to see that many sources promote a view of the human person that is inconsistent with Catholic philosophy. (The Catholic view, in case you are wondering, is that human beings are made in God's likeness and that this divine filiation confers a unique and powerful dignity that is deserving of the utmost respect in each individual. Reverence for human dignity, in case you hadn't noticed, is not easy to find in a lot of pop culture and mass media.)

I asked Frank for his opinion, as a recent convert, and he offered the following: "Perhaps it's just that we are so excited to be Catholic we want to take on the world, whereas cradle Catholics know that its a marathon and not a sprint."

I liked that thought a lot. It's true that the holiest Catholics I know - people like my friends Angela and Marilis who are nuns, many holy priests, and devout laypeople like my mom and dad - focus their efforts on praying and helping the people who are immediately around them. They practice a sort of "evangelical localism," focusing their love as Christians on the people who are most accessible in their daily lives. As for the big issues - abortion, war, poverty - they help when they have an opportunity and then offer the rest to God in prayer for Him to solve. Which, really, should be the first step with any problem.

Have you also found that converts seem to promote the faith much more publicly than cradle Catholics? Why do you think that might be?


  1. Maybe because for the new converts, the faith is so fresh, it's so exciting. They've just got it and they want to share it with the world, like a great book or movie. Cradle Catholics have grown up with it, and while it's still beautiful and exciting, they know that there are other ways to share their faith.

    Just some thoughts. Maybe I, as a cradle Catholic, should get a little more vocal. Take a leaf out of the converts book.

  2. From what my mother, who is a convert to Catholicism, has told me, it's something like what Imogen said. They feel incredibly blessed to have been brought to the Truth, and they want to make sure that no one else misses out.

    Zeal for souls is something we should all have... though it's great that you mentioned local evangelism. Jesus needs those home missionaries, too.

    God bless you!

  3. I'll take a stab (I'm a convert):

    Converting is like flames, loud and crackling and bright.

    Cradle Catholics are like embers, grey and smoldering and seemingly out, but much hotter than the flames.


  4. These are really beautiful reasons! I've been talking to my friends and Frank about it to get different opinions... it's such an interesting subject. Imogen and Clare, I like your idea about trying to channel some of that missionary zeal as cradle Catholics. We can certainly be inspired by the good work and public defending converts do. Rhonda, I love that analogy... although maybe it's too flattering to cradle Catholics! :)