Page 4, 13th November 1953

13th November 1953
Page 4
Page 4, 13th November 1953 — PREJUDICE Against THE CONVERT
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PREJUDICE Against THE CONVERT

They say he is only half a Catholic.' Here a convert frankly faces the problem

By

HENRY EDW ARDS WHAT a number of Catholics there arc in England and Wales whose parents very properly did not send them when young to Catholic schools. Many of them were not baptised until they were adults. Most of them have had little to do with the Church until they were adults. Some of these Catholics have become distinguished in the service of the Church.

I am, of course. writing about "converts," as they are called, although a Catholic who is not in some sense a convert is not much of a Catholic. ("Except you be converted • ."). I am writing about them because I am pretty sure that not nearly enough attention is paid to their needs and because their status is curiously unsettled.

There is a prejudice against the convert. Bruce Marshall put the prejudice into the mouth of one of his characters in his Father Malachy's Miracle: "What the Church wants is Bishops born to the Faith who will settle down to their job of distributing the Holy Ghost and not waste half their time letting off controversial fireworks with Presbyterians. These converts are no good."

A fru d'esprit? Certainly. The worthy Canon almost at once apologises to Fr. Malachy. He has, however, confessed to a prejudice and laughing it off does not really make it disappear.

'Not quite

AMONG very many good acradle Catholics (when shall we give up the unhappy description "born Catholic"?) you will find a disposition to regard the convert with a varying degree of suspicion. And many is the convert who will be told sooner or later, either by a blunt cradle Catholic or a blunt Protestant, that he is "only half a Catholic" or "not a full Catholic" or "not a true Catholic." I myself have long stopped counting the number of times this has been charged against me, and the accusers arc Catholics as often as not.

Nor will it do to say the accusation is born out of ignorance. At least, while more intelligent Catholics do not make the accusation, several have admitted to me that they often feel as if the convert is, after all, "not quite."

Through marriage

IERHAPS some of the ground

can he cleared up when we consider that a high proportion of converts are brought into the Church through marriage. In at least one diocesan year book the converts are numbered in two categories, one labelled "through marriage," the other, just "converts."

Now to be honest, there are not a few converts (I am one of them) who have a ridiculous prejudice against "converts through marriage." They think. I suppose, that the convert through marriage has chosen the line of least resistance or has decided that, since one religion is as good as another, there is no harm conforming to the religion of wife or husband.

They have no right to suppose so. But notice this conversation, which in one form or another is of common occurrence.

"So you became a Catholic?" "That's right."

"I expect you turned because of your wife."

"My wife is not a Catholic." "How strange!"

Family faith

THE man or woman (usually

woman) who says "how strange" has little difficulty in accepting the convert through marriage. To her the Faith is discerned in the family. To her it is normal that the non-Catholic of a mixed marriage should "turn."

If pressed for a reason she looks

GLANCING through Dom Benedict Steuart's new work, The Development of Christian Worship (which will be duly reviewed by more learned hands), I noted with great interest that the difference between the "Continental" Sunday and the "Puritan" Sunday is not just a matter of Catholic habit, still less laxity. It springs from the earliest liturgical history. The Catholic Sunday sterns from early Christianity when Sunday was specially observed as a holy day in memory of the Resurrection. This weekly "Easter" was observed by the worship of God in the Eucharistic Sacrifice; but otherwise early Christians carried on with their normal work as others did around them. Mass was the real obligation, It was only in the 4th century that the precedent of the Jewish Sabbath as "the day of rest" rather than day of public worship became attached to the Christian Sunday observance. It is this part of the tradition which has been primary in nonconformity. whereas the duty of worship has remained primary in Catholicity.

Ritual in Breton and Basque THE current number of Maison I. Dien gives information of special interest in connection with the decision of the Hierarchy of England and Wales to petition the Holy Sec for part of the liturgy in English. It appears that Rome has given permission for a Ritual in both the Breton and the Basque tongues-Basque for some Southern dioceses of France. A request for a Ritual in French dialect was refused, but

blank. But her conviction remains. Very often the person who thinks such "turning" is normal tells you that argument never convinced anybody, which is, of course, quite untrue.

How easy it would be to make mock of this easy-going assumption that Protestant wives or husbands of Catholic husbands or wives have no difficulty in accommodating themselves.

But the convert who has "turned" in totally different circumstances must be tolerant. The grace of God, without which no one is a Catholic--convert or cradle—does go with apologetics of a fairly high intellectual standard; but it may just as well go with conjugal love and felicity.

Again, it is an error from which probably many fairly intelligent converts suffer to suppose that a convert who "turns" with ease and rather as a matter of course is a phoney.

Loneliness

HE convert whom I am con sidering is the lone convert. And how lone he can be only he or she can tell you. It is at last becoming better known that the convert may live for years without as much as a "Good morning" from his fellows. And even when some ice is broken, there seem to be barriers yet to be broken down.

Some of the barriers are not meant to be so. A throng of Catholics leaving the church are in some places easily discerned as a congeries of families. Many of which know the others. This is a social fact not to be ignored. Catholics happen to be extraordinary human and act extraordinarily like human beings. And if they see a lone figure they do not know, they are instinctively chary of speaking to that figure.

If that were all, however, the matter could be dealt with fairly easily. But it is only a small if important part of the problem.

'Different' people

IF that convert lives in a parish for any length of time, the main facts about him or her will soon be known to other Catholics in the parish. In a village or semiurban district—well, perhaps villagers speak out more boldly; so boldly in fact that a little while ago I was told that in a small town (not 200 miles from Paddington) where several 'lone" converts had entered the Church, some cradle Catholics said : "Our forefathers built this church and now they are using it."

The remark was true in its way since the Converts had arranged afternoon Benediction for their special purposes. Moreover, the converts had coalesced and in their coalition had brought into their sodality some of the cradle Catholics—a somewhat amusing reversal of normal Catholic assimilations.

'Best Catholics'

WITH the best of intentions many cradle Catholics find it extremely hard to deal fairly with the convert.

. There is a touch of the Elder Son THERE is a self-consciousness about many a cradle Catholic, about many a convert which d although, to give him his due, he deserves consideration. He or she has an embarrassing way of telling often feels very awkward—gawky a convert or a fellow-Catholic in —rather like a good examinee new the hearing of a convert that "of boy at a great public school.

course, converts are the best CathoHow many cradle Catholics tics," or that "of course, converts realise that many a convert goes always know the Faith better than through a considerable series of

we know it." ordeals in doing what comes natur1 sometimes wish such complially to his fellows. Ex-"chapel"

in rather a good way. Of knowledge of the Faith, well, there may be some truth in the general inaccuracy.

'Cranky' converts

1 T is true that within the rather -mvague element in the Church which I have called "the converts" there is a more or less literary constituency which has as its core gifted and intelligent men and women who have submitted to the Church. Apart from that core, the convert who is somewhat of an intellectual—at least, a person who has read a good deal, if not systematically, about the Faith—is quite well known.

Sometimes Catholics make a little fun of him. Sometimes he deserves it. Perhaps he is mildly cranky about the liturgical revival (if he is an ex-C. of E.) or mildly cranky about social reform.

He is perhaps inclined to criticise the slap-dash, easy going, mechanical habits of cradle Catholics and to discover the occasional Hibernianism. He may even criticise the short instruction, delighting if he has caught out the priest in some probably deliberate over simplification (e.g., "only in the Catholic Church is the Mass offered" or "Wherever you go, Mass is offered in Latin").

He may startle cradle Catholics by talking about married priests and their large families. He is like a small boy who has found a wonderful new home, and while the cradle Catholics are busy in the usual places, he is examining the odd corners for odd and almost forgotten things, sometimes of great value.

The cradle Catholic inevitably feels this particular sort of convert is well versed in the Faith, but probably a little too well versed.

Some cradle Catholics may well feel that such a convert does not keep his place—remember that there remains still among many Catholic layfolk a notion that layfolk should not meddle with certain matters.

The Catechism

UT that rather clever-clever convert is, in spite of appearances, by no means well versed in the Faith. And converts generally could do with plenty of post-baptismal courses of instruction.

Ideally, they could do with a slightly revised course of Catholic education arranged so that they could slip into that delightfully easy way of behaviour which they notice among cradle Catholics.

1 used to think it an advantage that I never learned the catechism —I was baptised when in danger of death—because I thought that I had learned the doctrine of the Church in words less formal and. as I thought, more real to me. I have argued in days past that the parrot recitation of catechism definitions was likely to lead to "notional religion."

I am now by no means of that opinion. It is a good thing to have the Church's stock definition at your elbow.

Self.conscions

certain sacramentals, especially involving the kissing of any object, make them quite nervous.

The cradle Catholic is, I believe. sometimes aware of this handicap. But he may be inclined to put it down to the convert's still being a half-Baptist or a half-Calvinistic Methodist.

There is a sense in which the cradle Catholic is right. What we call Nonconformity or the Free Churches is not only a palpable religious constituency but also a social constituency. If a person leaves that sect for the Faith, he does not necessarily leave the social constituency. He retains, probably to his death, all the peculiar manners and customs of that social constituency.

For example, he will retain his indifference to horse racing, card games and beer drinking. He will have no part or lot in the whist drive held after Benediction in the church hall. He will not buy a raffle ticket unless he is importuned. He is often petit bourgeois. Let him be as he is.

Social Barriers

AT

ow this is hard to say. The 'm convert only too often cannot row in with the general run of Catholics in his parish because socially he does not "belong." The cradle Catholics often assume so by not bothering to invite him. The convert often enough does not want to be invited. Socially speaking, he would rather talk to the Congregational parson than the parish priest.

Yet are not convert and cradle Catholic both wrong in some way? Yes, it seems so.

The convert ought to have every opportunity of forming social relationships with his fellow-Catholics. Since he is the newcomer. the first step is not his. In spite of his possible oddities, he is less to blame than the cradle Catholic.

In the final analysis, it is intolerable that anywhere should Catholics erect social barriers to one of the most pathetic of souls, the lone chap who against seemingly insuperable odds has come into communion with Christ's Church.




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