Now Begins the Long Haul

Mark Shea on the dangers of enthusiasm

Let me quote the best part:

I’ve always agreed with Belloc when he said the Church was “An institute run with such knavish imbecility that if it were not the work of God it would not last a fortnight.” I have a high view of the Holy Spirit, not of the hierarchy, not of the members of the Church and emphatically not of that member who greets me in the mirror each morning.

People assume that since I write about the Catholic faith and say, with conviction, that I believe all that the Church believes, teaches and proclaims is revealed by God, I must therefore do fist pumps and whoop with glee everytime a Leah Libresco comes along and announces they have come to faith. I am, of course, delighted at their faith in the Blessed Trinity and their union with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. But I am *highly* reluctant and resistant to treating converts as notches in the Church’s belt or as scalps collected. I’ve seen too many converts bail on the Church in anger and disappointment like the seed that falls on the path, or in the thorns, or into the bird’s mouth.

This boastful approach to converts is, I think, sinful, vulgar, and dangerous and Dave Deavel gets at some of why that is. Conversion is a trial, both because fellow Catholics can wound the convert deeply and because the convert suffers from the same thing George McClellan did at Antietam: though he brings overwhelmingly superior forces in the form of the Church’s tradition, philosophy, history and sacraments, he also brings himself. And speaking as one who is quite a jerk, I can tell you “Jerk” outweighs “Better Arguments and Sacraments” for most normal people.

Consequently, when people like Leah come along and are naturally full of the first flush of enthusiasm for the faith, I rejoice, but I also issue a note of caution: you have *not* found the Perfect Church and you have not now “arrived” at the platform where you can look down on your past. You have merely found Christ’s Church: a hospital for sinners and an asylum for lunatics before it is a shining paradise of saints in glory.

I won’t steal more of Mr Shea’s thunder by printing the beautiful words that end his piece, but I do urge you to go read them.

My comment: During the ecstatic throes of my own conversion, I was well warned by, of all people, Uncle Screwtape, who told Nephew Wormwood that all new converts forget that the honeymoon of emotion does not last. Either the dull march of reason will carry you through the dry gulches and arid heights of the post-enthusiasm period, and your infatuation will turn to love, or the march will fail, and your infatuation evaporate. Since I knew dry days were a-coming, I did not wince nor complain when they came, nor did I mistake enthusiasm for faith.

Enthusiasm, like infatuation, is a gush of emotion, a gift of happiness from on high. Love, like faith, is an orientation of the soul toward reason, the consent of the will toward its proper and due object.

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