The Beginning of My Mental Conversion

Although it can be hard to trace in hindsight, I think the biggest help in changing my mind about Catholicism was seeing first hand that it wasn’t what I thought it was. My eyes were opened about different issues separately and through different events, but I can begin with the major issues Chris and I faced when we were considering marriage (because they dealt with how you live your life together): contraception and infant baptism.

On contraception:

I kicked and screamed on this one. I thought natural family planning would be difficult and unreliable. I thought Chris was hell-bent on keeping me subdued and pregnant till I was driven to an early death (a mindset that I now realize comes from eugenic propaganda, go figure). I’ve always been against abortion of any kind, so the pill which can be abortifacient was not an option I wanted to take, but I was not against barrier or sterilization methods of birth control.

So Chris more begged me to accept his view on this rather than stonewalled me like he has done on other issues. He showed me the catechism and explained the Catholic teaching that sex must always be both unitive and procreative, and the two purposes cannot be separated. In the end, since my view was more permissive I grumpily consented to his so as to not force him to sin against his conscience. “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” 1 Cor. 8:9

We signed up for the Natural Family Planning class put on by the CCL. There were four monthly classes, a massive book, and a bunch of pamphlets and materials they put out. Through the first two classes I whined perpetually about the method, how it was so subjective, that I didn’t think we’d be able to do it, it wouldn’t work, and on and on. By the third class, we had it down. We skipped the fourth class because it was pointless to keep going. Now the method seems really clear and simple to me. I love the health benefits of not drugging myself and screwing with my hormones. We have both successfully avoided and achieved pregnancy. I now recommend the method to others, especially since I know a lot of women who can’t use the pill for health reasons, are allergic to certain birth controls, or have trouble getting pregnant.

I still have trouble with the idea that sex must always be unitive and procreative, not just one or the other. I even see periodic abstinence as making sex only unitive, since you’re infertile at that time. I guess they say that since you’re not working against baby-making during the act, you’re “open to life”. The idea grows on me even now, because I see how degenerative the loving act of sex has become in our society. Forget unitive and procreative, sex has become purely recreational. The masses are desperate to free themselves from any and all consequences of sex. This is the mindset that has dehumanized individuals, leading to sexual assault and abortion. In practice, the Catholic teaching seems to be the way to go. It protects the family and guards against perversion, not to mention protects the woman from medicinal harm. This may be the first of many issues in which I’ve judged a tree by its fruit (Matt 7:15-20), and found the Catholic way is best.

On infant baptism:

I was baptized in an outdoor pool by my uncle, who is an ordained minister, in the middle of winter. I was eleven years old at the time. My parents waited until I could make the decision for myself, and “confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” Rom 10:9. They believed it was merely a symbolic outward confession of your internal conversion, and not a necessary one at that.

Chris came along and wanted to baptize our babies as Catholics. He lost two points with me off the bat. I hadn’t yet agreed that our children would be raised Catholic, and baptizing babies was foreign. Neither he nor I can remember exactly how I accepted the first point. I think it was a gradual thing. As I came to accept the Church and see her for what she is, the more I wanted to raise our kids Catholic.

As for the second point, baptizing babies, I grudgingly consented to baptize our children with the condition that if they wanted “re-baptized” as adults, Chris would support them. He said that was nonsense, I insisted, he said he wouldn’t be able to stop them now, would he? So I went with my crazy Catholic husband to the baptism class at our local parish ran by our priest, Father Chuck. He is a rather open minded (but not heretical) priest. He’s good at explaining issues to us Protestants, including us in things, explaining traditions, and most importantly, he looks like Santa Claus and is just as congenial. Going to mass was a frighteningly foreign thing for me to begin with, and a friendly face was a huge help.

In this baptism class, Father Chuck went around the room getting people’s religious backgrounds and baptism stories. He explained the important and universal aspects of baptism like being baptized with water and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He discussed the differences between immersion and sprinkling. He explained the baptismal fount at the entrances, and that when people cross themselves with the water, they’re remembering their baptism. He suggested ways of helping our children remember their baptism, keeping their baptism candles on a shelf with a picture of the event, along with the little sashes they provide “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Gal 3:27

After initializing all of us with these pleasantries, Father Chuck moved on to finer points of theology. There were two major issues: the meaning of baptism, and baptizing infants versus adults. My initial standpoint that baptism is merely a symbol wasn’t much of a barrier to accepting the reality of baptism as a grace given to sinners, washing away their sins and admitting them into the membership of the body of Christ. He also explained that the Catholic Church doesn’t re-baptize people who’ve already been baptized with water in the name of the trinity, because they’ve already received that grace. It would be nonsense to try to re-grace them.

During this class, I found my perspective shift rather suddenly on the issue of baptizing infants. Catholics saw this as a way to initiate members into the body of Christ, a path that parents can readily claim for their children since they are the ones responsible for raising them. This especially makes sense viewed with the belief that salvation is an ongoing process. It’s not as if they’re saying they’ve saved their children “once and for all”, in a common Protestant sense of salvation. They’re claiming their children for Christ and setting them on the right road. There’s also the idea that whole households got baptized together in the early church (1 Cor 1:16, Acts 16:15, Acts 18:8). In the end, I was looking forward to claiming my little girl for Christ.

As far as the actuality of the grace of forgiveness in baptism, I wasn’t as convinced at the end of the class. There’s plenty to support it biblically (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38 Acts 22:16, etc.). However, I think this is closely tied in with the issue of sola fida, justified by faith alone, and the understanding of how God’s grace is conferred. I have just recently been looking into these issues, but there’s far too much to get into it in this already lengthy post.

And that’s how it started. Things began to make sense because they worked. I could accept them as at least logical and self-consistent. Then, slowly, I began to see truth in it by judging the tree again. I’m trying to get to the point where I can embrace these things as my own. Intellectually, I think I’m mostly there, unless some craziness is unearthed in my research in which the Catholic Church rejects Christ as Lord. Until then, I have some more reading to do.

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2 Responses to The Beginning of My Mental Conversion

  1. Amy says:

    Wow. I could have written this stuff. Looking back on my conversion story, my thoughts then are not my thoughts now…if that makes sense. Hindsight is 20/20, and every day I spend learning about the Catholic faith there’s another layer of deep meaning to what I believe and another “Aha!” moment where I realize, beneath my original writings, a stronger force was driving me toward Catholicism.

    Intellectually, I think I’m mostly there, unless some craziness is unearthed in my research in which the Catholic Church rejects Christ as Lord.

    I’ve been Catholic for three years (four, in May 09) and Christ is the central focus of our faith. Always has been, always will be.

    The *only* thing I regret is that – at the time I converted – the priest met with me one-on-one in a rather lowkey way and my acceptance into the Church didn’t fall at the Easter season. While it doesn’t negatively impact anything about my faith, we just had the RCIA candidates welcomed into the parish and they’ll be going through their journey leading up to their reception at the Easter Mass. I wish I had that awesome and powerful experience.

    I saw on the other post you’ll be looking at blogs and asking questions. My inbox is always open, and I think you’ve inspired me to do another post on my conversion…

  2. Stacey says:

    Amy,

    I know what you mean, how your thoughts change!

    I tagged along during the unofficial bits of my husbands RCIA experience, including classes and discussions. There was a lot of neat traditions, but I’m a rather shy personality and most of it was a church-wide initiation. I’d probably shrivel up with stage fright!

    I’m waiting for your conversion story! I could make use of a labels bar on your blog, I was having a hard time finding blogposts by subject.

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