@MichaelSWinters nasty remark about converts. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

wile e coyote knife forkToday there is a “Defense of Converts” in First Things.  

There is a defense because there was an attack.

A couple days back, at the Fishwrap (aka National Sodomitic Reporter), the Wile E. Coyote of the catholic Left, Michael Sean Winters, attacked converts.

At Al Jazeera, Austen Ivereigh debates Matthew Schmitz from First Things. I am so tired of converts telling us that the pope is not Catholic.

What a snotty thing to say. Typical Fishwrap.  Liberals have a streak of moral superiority which leads them to all sorts of  humorless, condescending lapses.

Leaving aside whether or not any converts really are saying that Pope is or is not Catholic, why should converts not have the right to respect from cradle Catholics?

WINTERS: They can’t say anything because they’re converts.

Guess what.  I know a heck of a lot of cradle Catholics who couldn’t tell you what a sacrament is. And some of them would then object to its definition if you told them.  What’s so automatically great about being a cradle Catholic if the majority of them have only a vague notion of the tenets of the Faith, neglected as they have been for decades by their cradle Catholic non-observant, contracepting, parents, their cradle Catholic priests, their cradle Catholic bishops?  Let’s compare Mass attendance of converts and cradle Catholics.  Let’s compare rates of marrying in the Church and of divorce and remarriage.  Name your category.  How about the number of cradle Catholics who are going to “mega-Churches” compared to coverts?

Let’s see the piece at First Things with my usual:

by Stephen Bullivant

Over at the National Catholic [sic] Reporter blog, Michael Sean Winters [aka Wile E.] is pointing readers to a recent Al-Jazeera clip discussing Pope Francis’s record as a reformer. The clip itself I’ve yet to watch; it’s Winters’s gloss on it that I wish to discuss: “I am so tired of converts telling us that the pope is not Catholic. ”

The convert in question is, I presume, First Things literary editor Matthew Schmitz. Of the two pundits featured in the clip, Schmitz is, I believe, the only convert. (The other is British Catholic commentator Austen Ivereigh. We had a very nice chat at a wedding once, but I didn’t think to ask.) Schmitz also regularly contributes to Europe’s finest Catholic magazine, The Catholic Herald—which, let’s face it, probably also implies that he’s an all-round good egg. What really interests me, though, is Winters’s slight against converts.

He is by no means alone in casting such aspersions. Massimo [“Beans”] Faggioli, a US-based theologian and Church historian, retweeted Winters’s remark and added, “I am so tired too.” Earlier this year, Faggioli had tweeted, somewhat gnomically: “One could teach an entire course on fact that in top US universities the course on Vatican II is taught by recent converts to Catholicism.” [It may be that, percentage-wise, more converts have read the V2 documents than have cradle Catholics.]

Nor is such sniffiness towards converts an exclusively American phenomenon. The day after Anglicanorum Coetibus was issued, providing personal ordinariates for Anglicans entering into communion with the Catholic Church, I recall a Jesuit friend remarking: “Yes, but they’re the wrong sort of Anglicans.” One wonders, of course, who the “right” ones would be. [I don’t.]

According to the “regulars” commenting on my own forays in blogging, chief among my own failings is my being a Johnny-come-lately “neo-Catholic.” (Though to be fair, I did once teach a course on Vatican II at a top UK university, after having been Catholic for only two years. So I guess it’s a fair cop.)

Maybe I’m being preciously oversensitive here. Lord knows, it wouldn’t be the first time. Nevertheless, I do find such condescension strange in an avowedly missionary religion. [RIGHT!  Make more Catholics, as Christ commanded.  Converts are therefore something to be grateful for, not to abuse.] A Church whose very raison d’être is to “go and make disciples of all nations” should, one might imagine, be a little gladder to have them. Not least since, as a group, converts tend to be more knowledgeable, more committed, more active, and more generous than cradle Catholics in general.

Don’t get me wrong, we “baby Catholics” give our older siblings plenty to criticize. [Perhaps impatience with heterodoxy is one of them.] What else would you expect in a faith proclaiming “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3.10)? But the sneering at converts, qua converts, is a bit much. I have a great many faults and failings as a Catholic (and indeed as a human being); but having become a Catholic, however poor a one I might be, is surely one of the few points in my favor.

Furthermore, at the risk, in my arriviste enthusiasm and naïveté, of sounding a little gauche . . . I seem to recall from my catechumenal days that Jesus himself had something to say on the matter.  [The perfect passage about the laborers coming at different times of the day.]

Stephen Bullivant is professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University, London, and directs the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society.

Really sad, isn’t it.  It is pathetically sad.

“OMG aren’t converts stooopid?  They’re too stoooopid to have an opinion.”
“Yeah!  I know, right?  I’m sooo tired of them.”
“Yeah!  Me too! They’re soooo conservative.
“I said they were stoooopid already!”

Full disclosure: I am a convert to the Catholic Church.  As such, I made a choice, after a long period of study and liturgical frequency, to become a Catholic based on my conviction that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ – who is GOD and man.  Since He founded it, there is no other place to be.  Furthermore, I accept Holy Mother Church’s doctrines because, as the Act of Faith concludes: “I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou, O God, hast revealed them, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.”  I made these choices as an adult convert and I have not looked back.

I sense myself, as a convert, to have been the recipient of particular graces which have, along with a lot of decidedly anti-Pelagian elbow grease diluted with tears and sweat, brought me to where I am now, according to the will of the God who chose me, unworthy as I am, and who uses me, crooked, to write straight with my crooked lines.  God does not choose those who are worthy, as the TLM constantly reminds the priest.  He chooses those whom it pleaseth Him to choose.

On the other hand, …

My experience of being a convert – which is ongoing – is that time does make a difference, though perhaps not exactly in the sense of “time is greater than space” (whatever that means).  Certainly not in the sense that Wile E. and Beans would mean it.

Sticking with the “Beans” thing, in cooking, as in conversion, there is no substitute for “slow”.  Fast preparations can be spectacular, but slow preps satisfy in a different way.

In Italy, for example, you could put dry, hard beans into an empty wine bottle, give them some seasoning and oil and then put the bottle into the hot ashes and embers of the hearth before turning in to sleep, letting them slowly cook over night. They need time.  Spaghetti aglio, olio e pepperoncino comes swiftly from the fire and it is great.  True ragù alla bolognese takes hours to prepare properly.  They satisfy differently.

It takes time for the Catholic “thing” to get down into the marrow.  Speaking of marrow – not ossobuco – I am reminded of the scene in the Aubrey/Maturin novel by Patrick O’Brian‘s HMS Surprise.  (UK HERE) The ship’s surgeon, an eminent naturalist, Dr. Stephen Maturin was conducting an experiment on some rats.  He had been feeding them madder.  He intended eventually to dissect them to see if the red stuff had colored their bones and penetrated to the marrow.

Coverts often have an initial burning zeal which carries them rapidly apace.  However, as they cool down and begin to live the with cooler zeal, their experience of the Faith changes.  Converts need to learn to live with a different kind of zeal after that.  This is something that many cradle Catholics don’t experience, unless perhaps they are reverts or newly inspired.

Some converts take to it and settle in as if they’ve never been anything else.  Others, however, I’d guess the large majority, need years, maybe even decades.  That’s something a new convert – a zealous convert (nearly a tautology, I know) might have a hard time understanding until he’s been inside for a long time.

Frankly, all Catholics should foster the zeal of conversion.  If conversion is a constant feature of our Catholic identity, shouldn’t we be constantly zealous?  Zeal becomes tempered in time and travail but it shouldn’t rust and fail.

The experiences of cradle Catholics and of covert Catholics and of revert Catholics are not in competition.  They are complimentary… as the lives of the saints demonstrate.  These modes of living converge, merge, and un-ravel and re-ravel.

I said, above, that there are lots of Catholics who know hardly anything about the Faith.  At the same time, there are a lot of converts who don’t know about living the Faith for a long time… yet.

That said, the principle of non-contradiction is not, in itself, a Catholic truth.

Catholics at any stage, if they are honest and half-way intelligent, see the difference between clearly taught truths of the Faith and statements which run contrary to the same or undermine the truth.

Could it be that Wile E. and “Beans”  reacted from a scratched conscience?

Faithful Catholics who are converts are their constant reminder.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. MrTipsNZ says:

    Well, someone from MSW’s side of the fence has an interesting view about him:
    For instance:
    When I trust someone then it is a different story. Michael Winters was not someone you would trust, because he was really all over the place. followed later by:
    Michael seemed more and more conceptually bereft as the years went on, ad the florid confidence of youth, settled into the bizarre juxtapositions of middle aged addled attempts at comprehensivess. Gossip replaced thought. It became too much to even listen to that at some point.

    Note: the above link is from a liberal homosexual, anti-Church pov and it should be read in the context of such. But it is interesting to sometimes see what the “other side” says about themselves.

  2. Converts are very special.

  3. RobS says:

    What bugs MSW, deep down, is that nobody – NOBODY – would bother to convert to whatever nonsense, meaningless “church” he envisages.

    The fact that the One True Faith is attractive to outsiders who come to be on fire for its teachings is simply too much for him to handle.

  4. Matt Robare says:

    And I am tired of the assaults of priests and laity upon the Deposit of Faith and Catholic tradition.

    You know, as a convert myself, I’ve had to read a lot about the Faith and one of the things that sticks in my memory is that to truly love someone is to desire their highest good, viz their salvation, and so that, for example, wishing Catholics who want womynpriests and married clergy and gay marriage just join the Episcopalians (“Same riutal, half the guilt” as the late Robin Williams said), is not only a failure of Christian charity but is in fact a mortal sin because it essentially is desiring their damnation.

    So it is likely to be a great struggle to avoid falling into such a predicament, knowing that this is what they think of people like me.

    On the other hand, I suppose there’s not technically anything wrong with hoping that they make it to Heaven — and soon.

  5. amenamen says:

    Yes, time does make a difference.
    Think of soaking beans, cooking ribs or kimchi, or making wine or egg nog.
    It may not take decades, but converts do need some time to “ferment” a little.
    Ribs are ready when the meat falls off of the bone.
    Converts are ready when they can read Flannery O’Connor and laugh out loud.

    But Wile E. Coyote is never ready, and he never learns from his mistakes.

  6. Maelwys says:

    You need to finish the story of the infused “millers”…

  7. KT127 says:

    In person, I usually only know a person is a convert if they tell me. I am always mildly surprised when they tell me on the first or second meeting because I am not quite sure what to say. “Congratulations”, “Welcome Home”, “Great to have you.” seems to imply some “otherness” on their part or some ownership on my part. To me, it is just personal history, we all have our crosses….one of yours was you were Protestant. Lol. Ah, but converts, especially the bubbly ones, can be touchy. It isn’t that we don’t appreciate the zeal and excitement….we just have a bit of a dark sense of humor.

    It does take time to understand the culture of the laity and learn what not to do in some situations. The two times I saw a convert get told off was when one told an older gentleman he wasn’t to genuflect, and the other when she kept gushing about being an EMC to a group who disliked both EMCs and women on/near the altar. The rest of the laity are not like the priest or the religious education group. If you walk into a hornet’s nest by running your mouth off, we are going to let you learn the hard way.

    But converts are wonderful and we need more of them.

  8. donato2 says:

    The problem with converts is that they actually believe in all that the Church teaches and are on fire with the faith. Just imagine how much better off the Church would be without the likes of St. Paul, St. Augustine, Cardinal Newman, Edith Stein, Jacque Maritain, Richard John Neuhaus, Walker Percy, G.K. Chesterton, Sigrid Undset, Evelyn Waugh and others of their ilk.

  9. MWindsor says:

    I’m a convert, and I actually hear that sort of thing from time to time in a lot of different settings. Yeah, it annoys me.

    And there’s a variation, where you eventually have to admit you’re a convert, and they get this knowing look in their eye and dismiss what you way almost automatically.

  10. VexillaRegis says:

    A couple of years ago my parish celebrated a jubilee and the parish hall was packed to the rafters at the mingling party after Mass. In trying to get some more food from the buffé, I suddenly found myself standing eye to eye with a nun in habit. Her order had worked in our parish, but left 40 years ago.
    I shook hands with her, said welcome to us and told her my name, very politely. She looked rather sour and said, in a patronising tone: ” When did you convert?” I replied ” I didn’t”. Sr, now very baffled and angry, answered: “But I saw you singing the responsorium?!?”
    “Oh, I said, I was born to Catholic parents and was baptised as a child.” Sr: “But you don’t look like a foreigner and you have no accent!! (I’m a blonde blue eyed Scandinavian living there).
    Sr clearly didn’t have any manners to speak of and I resented her attempts to make a perceived new convert feel inferior to her, so I asked her:
    “When did YOU convert, Sr?”
    “In 196x”
    “Ah, by then I had been Catholic for three years. More coffee?”

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  12. Christine says:

    My husband is a convert (and thanks be to God for it because his conversion triggered my reversion) and he is one of the most faithful and knowledgable Catholics I know. I think seeing the joy and enthusiasm of converts is a real blessing and helps cradle Catholics rediscover the beauty of the faith.

    And don’t forget, the Catholic Church was started with 12 converts from Judaism.

  13. cornelius74 says:

    Being a convert, I can confirm that settling down from the initial “hot” phase is somewhat complicated, yet quite blissful period. Thank you, Father Z, for this post. Although I have not experienced any such comment targetting me personally, the one you mention actually aims at me too. Not to mention the first generations of Christians, beginning with the Apostles, who were, erm, converts too, right?

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