Since my conversion, I have not had many opportunities to defend my faith or beliefs. In general, I don’t talk about my religious beliefs with strangers. The only people I talk to about it are my Catholic friends and people like them. Otherwise, I try to keep my distance and not to press my views on others. I’m sure that some of you will say that this is no way for me to evangelize. However, I believe that people are evangelized by example and not simply by our preaching or lack thereof.
Recently, I met with some people that I had known in my childhood. The meeting was an accidental one. For the most part, I didn’t say much of anything. I just made sympathetic noises and made small talk. Mention was made of articles that I had written for a Catholic campus publication and why I didn’t include certain saints from other traditions. Knowing my interlocutors, I didn’t say anything except that my articles were heavily edited for content. (Only one of them was because my editor and I had a conflict about the word “housewife.”)
Alas, the people that I met were not ordinary people. They were people that I had known very well during my childhood. In fact, they had helped to nurture me in the Orthodox faith. They were the parish priest and his wife from my old church. Therefore, I had to be very circumspect and careful about what I said or didn’t say because I would be put on the spot for it.
You see, I avoid people from my old parish church on the plague. I don’t talk to them. If I see them, I walk on the other side of the street. If they ever ask me where I go to church, I tell them that I don’t go anywhere. You see, my old parish church is a rumor mill that runs and runs. Tongues wag and people hear about it for miles around. Some of that has to do with Eastern European culture and the fact that what is nobody’s business is everybody’s business. Some of it also has to do with the fact that the parish itself is like a large family and, as in all families, there are those aunts and uncles that talk and talk and talk.
I suppose one of the reasons why I left Orthodoxy was because the parish felt too much like a social club. Yes, God was being worshiped there on Sundays, but coffee hour was also a big deal. I liked socializing, but it got stale as I got older. I hated having my cheeks pinched and begin asked all kinds of questions. When I got to college, I simply stayed away.
Of course, I didn’t leave the Orthodox Church because there was too much socializing. As far as I’m concerned, things like that happen in every parish around the world. People are social creatures and they do like to talk about other people. It would be completely abnormal to find someone that isn’t interested in someone else’s business. Not only this, but it would be constrewed as awkward and strange. Therefore, the social thing was not the main reason why I left. Not by a long shot.
My reasons for leaving were many and included theological issues such as purgatory, the primacy of St. Peter, the authority of the Magisterium, and so on. Although I had read Orthodox polemics against Catholicism, I found that what the polemicists wrote was not entirely true. If anything, their notions were distorted. What I found in the encyclicals of the popes and the Baltimore Catechism was nothing more than what my heart had sought: answers to questions that nobody seemed to be able to answer on the other side of the fence.
I also left the Orthodox Church because I felt that I wasn’t being fed. At the time, I used to attend a study group every Sunday night in which different books were discussed. It was nice and interesting to get together with other people, but I found that the books sowed more questions in my mind than they actually answered. In addition to this, the books that I read on my own also did the same thing. Not only this, but my questions became greater as did my need for answers.
I must admit here that my own reading was haphazard and a hodge podge of different things. For a long time, I thought that I could be Catholic without converting. I read Catholic books and went to Sunday Mass. However, there was something deeper that was calling me to convert. My own call to a vocation, I understood one day, could only be lived within the confines of the Catholic Church. It was then that the curtain lifted and I began to think about the best possible way to effect this.
Of course, converting was not something that was psychologically easy. There were many, many things that I had to abandon in order to embrace my newfound faith. There were also things that I needed to adapt to. Although some well meaning people have suggested that I embrace the Eastern rites of the Church because it would be closer to home, I have found that I am much more comfortable in the Roman rite because it was the Mass that allowed me to convert. Had I wanted to go to the Eastern rites, I could have easily stayed where I was and not done anything.
Yet my own conversion is still continuing to this day. As I have explained to others time and again, conversion is no something that happens one day on the road to Damascus. Rather, it is something that embrace a person’s entire life. Every day is a new day for us to embrace the cross and to love God in a more fulfilling way. Some days are easier than others, but we must always have the finish line in our minds. Until we cross it, we are nowhere near where we ought to be.