August 26, 2015 10 Comments
But I think it applies well beyond how we find ourselves in one or another church. I think it speaks much to how we have all searched to find structure in our lives, both in Christianity and in our lives in general.
Ten years ago this month, I became a Catholic. It happened in the attic of the guest house at Ealing Abbey. There was just me, a friend and a monk, and the operation took about an hour. Afterwards we went for cocktails. I started things as I meant to go on.
I guess the two big questions to ask a convert are: why did you do it and are you happy? Answering the first point is hard. It’s like asking a man why he married a woman. There’s a temptation to invent a narrative – to say, “this happened, that happened and before we knew it we were where we are today”. But the simpler, yet more complex, answer is this: I fell in love.
I was lucky to grow up in a household open to religious belief. My grandparents were Christian spiritualists; Grandma advertised as a clairvoyant. Mum and Dad became Baptists in the 1990s. I remember the pastor one Sunday telling us that evolution was gobbledygook. The teenager in me came to regard the faithful as fools, but I was wrong. I couldn’t see that they were literate, inquisitive, musically gifted and the kindest people you’d ever meet. But I went my own way and embraced Marxism.
By the time I arrived at Cambridge University I was a hard-left Labour activist and a militant atheist. I saw life as a struggle. Salvation could only come through class revolution. The life of the individual was unimportant. Mine was unhappy. Very unhappy. I disliked myself and, as is so common, projected that on to a dislike of others. I’m ashamed now to think of how rude and mean I was. Perhaps I was ashamed then, too, because I had fantasies of obliterating myself from history.
History was my redemption. In my second year I studied the Civil War. I discovered a world more colourful and distinct than today’s. A world of faith; of saints and martyrs. My Marxist sympathy was for the Protestant Diggers but I was intrigued by Archbishop William Laud and his fight to restore the sacramental dignity to the Anglican Church. For some reason I started to visit far-flung churches in Kent. I’d get up at 6am and cycle to a Sunday early morning service at Seal village. It calmed my soul.
I suddenly felt a great need to reconcile myself to something. Because Anglicanism was the only thing on offer at Cambridge (the Catholic chaplaincy felt like an Irish embassy), I asked to be baptised into the Church of England. Anglo-Catholicism was the closest I could get to Laud’s vision of majesty incarnate. But it wasn’t enough. Although I had made tremendous progress, something inside me said that I hadn’t yet reached my destination. Something was missing. Prayer revealed it to be the Catholic Church – the alpha, the rock, the bride of Christianity. I converted quietly in 2005 without letting many others know, including my family. It was like running away to Gretna Green to get married in secret.
Of course, the narrative I’ve given could be something I’ve constructed in hindsight. The journey was never straightforward; there were false starts and I often got lost. I remain uncertain of exactly why I converted at all. But I know I was absolutely right to.
Read it all at CatholicHerald.co.uk » Why I became a Catholic.
Is my story different? Sure! My dad was pretty darn conservative, but a New-Dealer and proud of it. and so I became a Goldwater conservative, not so much a rebellion (at least in my mind) as a way to rationalize my belief structure, and in truth the part of the New Deal he believed in most was a pretty conservative program by later standards.
And I wonder, and always will, if we had lived through those years, if we wouldn’t have been New Dealers as well, there was a lot wrong, I don’t think FDR had the right answers but he may well have asked some of the right questions.