Ignatians: Pro-Convert Through Power of Truth

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“We do not know how this proposal will be received, but we will persist in proposing it “in season and out of season.” At the edge of the Third Millennium maybe the springtime is at hand; maybe the long dark winter has just begun. We do not know. We do not need to know. God knows. We do know this: Now is the time of our testing. And it is the time of our splendor in contending for the splendor of the truth. If we have the will and the wit for it. If we have the faith for it.” (Richard John Neuhaus, address of January 31, 1994)

“Until about the end of the nineteenth  century, a man was expected to give his reasons for joining the Catholic Church. Today a man is really expected to give his reasons for not joining it. “ (Chesterton, Where all roads lead, in the collected works of G.K.Chesterton, III, Ignatius Press San Francisco, 1990, p.27.)

The Holy Spirit never ceases ‒ except when faced by man’s obstinate hardness ‒ to prepare the hearts of non-believers by increasing their desire for the ultimate truth about life’s purpose.

Converts to Catholicism often express how vehemently they sought truth:

Sir Edward Mackenzie (1883-1972), Rector of Glasgow University:

 “I made it clear to him [the priest instructing him] that my reception into the Church was not to he regarded as a conversion but as a submission, a logical surrender to an inevitable recognition of the fact that Jesus Christ had founded his Church on the rock of Peter”  

Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914), son of the Protestant archbishop of Canterbury and an insightful novelist who converted to the Catholic Faith at thirty two years of age, remarked in Confessions of a Convert:

 “I proposed becoming a Roman Catholic not because I was necessarily attracted by her customs, hut because I believed that Church to be the Church of God, and that therefore if my opinions on minor details differed from hers, it was all the worse for me; that I had better, in fact, correct my notions as soon as possible, for I should go to Rome not as a critic or a teacher, but as a child and a learner.”

“I had come to see the need for a teaching Church to preserve and interpret the truths of Christianity to each succeeding generation. It is only a dead religion to which the written records are sufficient; a living religion must be able to adapt itself to changing environment without losing its identity….She must not only know her own mind, but must be constantly declaring it, and no less constantly silencing those who would obscure and misrepresent it. ….Her system worked… The smallest Roman Catholic child knew precisely how to be reconciled to God, and to receive His grace… The Roman theory worked, the Anglican did not.”

Likewise, G. K. Chesterton, who when asked why he had become a Catholic, stated: “To get rid of my sins”. In “The Youth of the Church”, written in 1922, he added:

“As for the fundamental reasons for a man joining the Catholic Church, there are only two that are really fundamental. One is that he believes it to be the solid objective truth, which is true whether he likes it or not; and the other that he seeks liberation from his sins. If there be any man for whom these are not the main motives it is idle to enquire what were his philosophical or historical or emotional reasons for joining the old religion; for he has not joined it at all.”

As to the typical Protestant emphasis on private conscience vis-à-vis the need for magisterium and priesthood, Chesterton replied: “Why should your conscience be any more reliable than your rotting teeth or your quite special effect of eyesight?”

“To Be Deep in History is to Cease to be Protestant”

One finds the same steely resolve to find truth in Alice von Hildebrand’s story of her husband Dietrich’s conversion in The Soul of a Lion and in John Henry Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua.  Newman’s search was particularly helped by his studies of history, so much so that he remarked, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant”.

 Dr. Daphne Pochin Mould, broadcaster, geologist, pilot, and Ireland’s first female flight, who converted in 1950, also entered the Church through the doorway of history :

“By all ordinary tests the Church ought to have come to an end a dozen or more times. She ought to have been stamped out by the early persecutions; she ought to have been overwhelmed by every vigorous heresy – at the very least she ought to have been destroyed by the wickedness of  her own members. But the odd thing is that the Church has not only survived, with that same exultant buoyancy that a curragh [boat of a light wooden frame] rides a choppy sea, but survived intact. She has been tangled up with politics, with intrigue, with heresy, and at the end ridden clear with her doctrines intact and unaltered…

“One would expect that some of the more notorious popes might have made some alteration in her dogmas — that the sinner would try to use his official position as head of the Church to put himself in the right and justify wrongdoing. Yet that has never happened. There have been plenty of wicked Catholics in high places, but — and this is the point to strike the outsider — they have preserved and stood condemned by Catholic doctrine. When you begin to make a proper study of the history of the Church the infallibility of the Pope is no longer a rather silly and audacious claim; it is something that you see actually working in time, in history. I began to feel that the survival of the Catholic Church was itself something of a miracle; that on the plain facts of her past there was every indication that she had some sort of supernatural support which kept her alive when she ought to have been made an end of.”