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Conversion Story: From Atheist to Catholic

Image-Insight/John-Tozer

R.J. Stove - published on 10/11/14


Chats with Converts, by Fr. M. Forrest.

Here was what I needed. The traditional Catholic priest, Father X, who lent it to me, must have detected how needful it was, in my overwhelmed condition, that I be impressed with the sheer logic of faith. Hence my use of Wallace Stevens’s best-known line, "blessed rage for order," as the present document’s title. [Note: original title]

We Catholics repeatedly make a very stupid error when we try to play the Pentecostal holy-rollers’ game. The demagogic televangelist will always do that sort of thing better than we can. Shrieking rapture is not our religion’s chief didactic glory. As to what is, Waugh admirably phrased the matter in his life of Campion: "the [Catholic] faith is absolutely satisfactory to the mind, enlisting all knowledge and all reason in its cause…it is completely compelling to any who give it an ‘indifferent and quiet audience’." How many mainstream Australian Catholics today, I find myself wondering, have ever encountered this sentence of Waugh’s? How many would be capable of regarding Catholicism as providing anything other (let alone anything more) than the same emotional buzz as a football telecast?

When in the course of my literary duties I came to learn in depth about two outwardly unrelated sixteenth-century events—the battle of Lepanto, and the Elizabethan martyrs’ via crucis — I could no longer resist entry into the Catholic Church. In honor of the pope who had done so much to make Lepanto possible, as well as of his twentieth- century namesake so vilely slandered as "Hitler’s Pope," I took Pius as my baptismal name.

By this stage all Australians had been confronted with the spectacle of Catholic martyrdoms right next door, as it were. Come 1999, when the Indonesian TNI exterminated as many East Timorese Catholics as it could, any Australian with the slightest historical knowledge experienced a sense of déjà vu. In the 1920s the main venue for anti-Catholic genocide had been Mexico. In the 1930s it had been Spain. In 1999 it was East Timor. Cheering on the governmental death-squads each time had been the same conga-line of socialists, communists, sectarians, Whigs, and genteel atheists who imagined that what "backward" Catholic peoples needed was the smack of firm godless government to make them into good little global citizens: or better yet, into cadavers. The malice, hypocrisy and insensate craving for human respect that I needed to preserve this daydream were no longer qualities which I could, with an informed conscience and on a full stomach, justify retaining.

Thanks to Father X, the course of Catholic instruction that I laboriously completed could be described as Chats With Converts writ large. Patiently and elaborately, it revealed the infrastructure — as it were — of what Catholics believe. It bore the stamp of that splendid multi-volume publication from the 1940s and 1950s: Fr. Leslie Rumble’s Radio Replies (which I also read). I think Father X knew that to the adult mind — even the adult mind as uninformed on vital issues as was my own — emotion is not enough: it is pitifully, painfully not enough. It can be, to a mind periodically disordered anyway, a lethal drug. What such a mind needs is a solid diet: neither the thin watery gruel of quasi-New-Age "spirituality", nor the pure tabasco of fire- and-brimstone threats. Those who have had the privilege of reading Radio Replies will know how nourishing it is, how fair-minded its author is, and how incapable he is of intellectual sharp practice for the sake of making a cheap point. Those who have not yet read it, are in for a great and sustaining pleasure.

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