Scott Hahn’s wife Kimberly was once asked what three things were the biggest obstacles to her conversion to Catholicism and she reportedly replied, “Mary, Mary and Mary.”
Other converts have said, “Once I got over the authority question Maty wasn’t a problem. If this was a crucial part of the Catholic faith, then I’m good.”
I have found over the years that there is a greater obstacle for converts from Protestantism. This one usually hits when the person is already within the church. I call this obstacle the problem of humanity or the problem of warts. (“paint me as I am–said Oliver Cromwell–warts and all”…see illustration.
In other words–the Catholic Church is a disappointment. It was not what one was led to expect.
The wart problem surfaces like this: the convert comes up against some practice or personality or principle in the Catholic fold that they dislike or disagree with.
It might be that they are of a liberal mindset and they disagree with the church’s ban on blessing same sex relationships or it could be that they are of a conservative mindset and they dislike the LGBTQ activists in the church. Maybe they don’t like the pope’s politics or the bishops’ seeming lukewarmness. Maybe they are outraged by Pachamama or are disgusted by financial corruption and greed. Whatever it is, they dislike it and if their faith is not strong enough they become disenchanted and disillusioned.
They would like minor surgery to remove the warts. They call it excommunication.
What do they do next? They fall back into Protestant mode and start church shopping. First they look for a “good” parish, but if their critical mindset goes with them (which it most certainly will) they will soon find the problems in that church or pastor. Next they scoot off to some sect that suits their taste–maybe a strict traddy group or some liberal “independent Catholic church”–maybe they find refuge in an Eastern Orthodox group. First they lose their Catholic faith and then perhaps their entire faith in the Lord Jesus–and ultimately lose their own soul.
I have seen this terrible dynamic play out time and again. I believe it is more likely among liberals who get fed up with the church’s innate conservatism (especially in matters of sexual morality) but I am seeing an increasing number of traditionally minded Catholics falling into the same trap.
Folks need to get real and face the reality of the Catholic Church. In every age we have struggled with corruption from within and persecution from without. Also in every age we have struggled with Donatism–that schismatic and heretical tendency to unchurch those who we deem to be not good enough Catholics.
For my money, I’ve always been happy to be considered too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals. I eschew such labels and only ever wanted to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus within the beautiful fullness of the Catholic faith–and to love and accept this supernatural religion with her blend of human and divine–light and shadow because I trust Christ the Merciful, through his Body the Church, has also accepted me–warts and all.
One of the reasons I recorded my 23 part podcast series on the history of the church– Triumphs and Tragedies–was to help more people avoid the wart problem by realizing this struggle is not only part of what it means to be Catholic–but it is actually one of the signs of the authenticity of the Catholic faith. If the Church truly is the Body of Christ, then she will do now what he did when he was here–and one of the things he did was to get caught up in the trials and tribulations–the political and power struggles–the tug of war between opposing factions. He got right into the whole big mess and suffered for it.
Did you think we should be spared this same struggle?