The Irrational Beauty of Conversion

The world is spiraling out of control. It has been, in fact, since its pinnacle eight hundred years ago, but today it seems that any minute now, we’ll hurtle off kilter.

The HHS Mandate threatens the religious freedom of all people, not just Catholics. Abortion is rampant. Gay marriage was just approved in Maryland (the eighth state to approve it so far). And through it all, the Church is attacked.

And yet, somehow, for some reason, people are flocking to the faith.

Last weekend in Philadelphia, for example, Archbishop Chaput welcomed 785 new Catholics in the Rite of Election. At the Easter Vigil, these 785 people will be welcomed into the Church.

That is irrational. Astounding. Beautiful.

Consider that, as 785 souls march into the loving arms of the Church, the jury has just been selected for a particularly awful priest sex abuse trial in Philadelphia.

Consider that, as 785 people shed their old lives, and sins, and pasts, to put on the life of Christ, new court reports claim that the recently deceased, former Cardinal shredded a list of priests accused of abuse.

Consider that, as 785 new Catholics come into the fold, yearning for the knowledge and the truth of Christ, forty-nine Philadelphia diocese schools are slated for closure this year.

It doesn’t make any sense…at least it won’t to the world at large. Why would you willingly join an organization that has been accused of pedophilia? That hates women? That hates sex?

Last month in Houston, the Reverend Jeffrey Steenson, a former Anglican priest, was installed as the first U.S. Ordinate for Anglicans coming into the Catholic Church.

Consider that while real, legitimate (to a point) news sources are publishing blasphemous tripe about the Church, entire parishes of people are converting to Catholicism.

Why? To the world, it’s irrational. Anglicans allow gay bishops! They allow women priests! Why would someone leave such an enlightened, modern-world-approved institution?

After years of tolerance and a maddeningly hands-off approach (and sometimes worse), the U.S. bishops have banded together. They have rallied and preached against the HHS mandate with one, full-throated voice. After what seems like a lifetime of staying largely silent as secular America had its way with the lay faithful, the bishops, led by a vibrant, pugnacious, charismatic, and orthodox group, have shaken off the rust and come out swinging.

Why now? Wouldn’t it just be easier to—once again—abide and compromise, in exchange for being left alone?

The world certainly does not understand. And we, too, sometimes do not understand.

Such is the mystery and majesty of Christ. At a time when the Church is being assailed from all sides, and even from within, here come thousands of souls—one by one, and in hoards—joyfully joining this Church, so battered and bruised. From the outside it must look ridiculous: a swarm of young recruits scampering to the ravaged and bloody frontlines.

And from the inside, too.  We, the grizzled vets, so long in the battle, tire at times. We have committed the motions of the clash to muscle memory, so we continue to hack away, dutifully. But we do so dispassionately, lips pursed, our eyes fixed on the enemy, never breaking our stare to gaze up toward our goal.

But we must keep our focus on Christ; on the cross; on that Constantine standard, being lifted now with such vigor by Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Chaput, and our other generals.

We are in a battle, to be sure. The Church is being attacked by the government, by the secular world, by Satan, and even from within. But we should be careful not to dwell on the individual thrusts and blows of battle. Rather, we should continue to brush them aside, parry, counterattack, and move on, focused on the prize.

It’s easy to get caught up in elections and specific battles. And they are certainly important. But if we get too embroiled in them and sink into the muck and mire, we’ll be flanked.

It’s here that we can learn from the thousands of people who will, at the end of these forty days, become our brothers and sisters, our comrades in arms. They come from the outside. They know of the attacks on the Church; they know of the slings and arrows. They know of the failings (some massive) of those within the Church. And yet they brush them aside, moving happily toward Christ, ready and willing to be conscripted.

It is dark out there, indeed; each day bringing with it a fresh blow, a raging battle, a new enemy. But in the midst of it all, Christ is at work. It’s why nearly 800 new members are joining the fold in Philadelphia, even as the diocese struggles to deal with law suits and school closings.

It’s why entire flocks of Anglicans are converting to Catholicism, even while the Anglican Church sits comfortably to the side, generally out of the crosshairs of the enemy.

And it’s why thousands of others around the country will be baptized and anointed despite the constant attacks on the Church by the government and the world at large.

Let us, too, be willing and joyful foot soldiers for Christ, eyes fixed on him. It is a battle, not just today, not just in this age, but always. “The world will hate you.” When this battle is won, another will come along.

When it does, let us take up the sword of Christ like the convert: joyfully, incessantly, passionately. And with knowledge that it’s not so much the stakes of the battle that are important, but that we fight.


After a brief career restoring timber-framed barns, Christian Tappe worked as an editor for Regnery and ISI Books. He is currently Editor of Saint Benedict Press/TAN Books in Charlotte, NC.

  • Jpct50

    The English martyrs must be pleased that the institution that tried to crush them and the ancient Faith of merry England is now largely irrelevant and sputtering it’s last gasps.

  • Bobalouie

    Oh thank you, thank you… I’m one of the grizzled vets, treading water, sometimes with waders full, trying to keep my head and the heads of those I love above the choppy waves. What a beautiful pair of water wings you just threw me. I need to hear it over and over and over. God bless you!

  • Thank you, Christian!  I’ve found that there is no measure between the joy of the faith and the sloth of disaffection.  I mean that when I see some young person who has been brought to the faith, or brought into it more deeply than ever, I’m looking at a phenomenon which in a sense is greater and more glorious than all the world.  We lose our way when we accept the world’s terms of success.  This is a battle for souls: for our brothers and sisters.

  • Warren

    It’s about time the bishops came out swinging. Led by limp-wristed clergy, a generation of lukewarm Catholics have acquiesced to the world, the flesh and the devil. An ubiquitous sense of entitlement has replaced obedience to Christ and His Church. But then, why obey when the hierarchy has failed to announce the Gospel with real conviction? The Church is simply reaping the seeds of the anti-authority relativism of the 1960s. A revitalized hierarchy is forced to fight a rear guard action. Better late than never, I suppose. 

  • Tout

    How I would like to rejoice in the number of adults who join the Catholic church. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s happines. In the back-ground, I (old 90+) wonder about many questions. One point that hurts me: priests don’t encourage us to receive Jesus on the tongue. It was done for hundreds of years. I knelt on the floor; can do that no more. Never received in hand. Two different priests really tried to force open my folded hands. Then I said “Are you refusing me H.Communion ?” He hesitated an instant, then gave on tongue. In 2nd case, the priest said to a group of 12 men, to speak to Jesus while holding Him a while in our hands. Isn’t that silly; I speak to Jesus when He is in me. Later, the man who had been beside me said “I didn’t know what to do for I want to receive on tongue. But I saw what you did. So I received on tongue also”. Priests of the FSSP advice us to receive on tongue. You rejoice in others joining the Church, increase your own devotion, receive on tongue, even being the only one between all the others. Stop a long interruption of the Mass, give a hand only to a few              persons. It is not done in the Tridentine(Latin)Mass. I hope that those who join the church intend to come every Sunday. Please, receive Jesus on tongue, please, receive on tongue.

  • Brian A. Cook

    I have a question that we all might consider asking.  Are there any young people converting?   I’m very concerned that the association with ultra-conservative politics is repulsing young people. 

    • What do you mean by “ultra-conservative”? If it’s the pro-life,
      pro-marriage, morally-grounded platform (as much as that’s actually a
      political stance) and all that that entails, well…there’s nothing the
      Church can do to change that. If you mean more along the lines
      of extreme libertarianism, or something, perhaps that’s a hindrance to some, but…

      The fact that the Church won’t bow to the overriding culture of
      relativism and hedonism that today’s youth (and adults) are so steeped in, I suspect has much more to do with why people
      don’t convert, rather than some association (real or perceived) with a
      political sect.

      • Brian A. Cook

         To make a long story short, conservatism is associated with Jim Crow, silencing women, eliminating liberal dissent, and other such things.  Young people support democratic ideals.  The Church is routinely accuse of promoting theocracy and absolute monarchy.  The Church is accused of being an ultra-conservative organization that marches along with Jim Crow, et cetera. 

    •  I don’t know about “ultra-conservative.”  I DO know that the more orthodox (“traditional,” if you prefer) religious orders are booming with new, young vocations, however, while the more theologically-liberal ones are dying.  Young people WILL rise to a legitimate challenge!  THEY are the future of the Church.

      I am the director of my parish’s RCIA.  We have LOTS of young converts, both unbaptized, and baptized, non-Catholic Christians, every year–so many that we cannot receive all of them at the Easter Vigil, but must receive the non-Catholics on Holy Thursday.

    • RachaelM

      When I attended the Rite of Election in Los Angeles, CA several weeks ago,  there were quite a number of young people among those being received into the Church at Easter Vigil in April. I suggest going and visiting the Catholic schools in your area and talk to the students. See for yourself how important the Catholic faith is to them regardless of what’s going on in our country right now. We hear from our parish’s school children frequently throughout the year. I’m not hearing repulsion at all. Seeing shining faces and the light in their eyes, I don’t think I’m being told what they think I want to hear.  

    • Cord_Hamrick


      I have to agree with Christian Tappe’s reply, but here’s something else to consider:

      Are you perhaps confusing which decade you’re in, when making assumptions about youth culture?

      Youth are idealistic; they want some hill to charge and maybe die on as they self-sacrificingly embrace radical ideals against the backlash of a cruel and unfeeling establishment.

      Well, I suppose in the 1960’s the “establishment” was a bunch of parents who’d prefer that their children be married before having sex, or at least before having children, and who wanted Elvis Presley shot from the waist up on television because those gyrating hips were a bit much.

      But in 2012 the “establishment” are the Liberal Fascists (or in that self-assigned breathtaking Orwellism, the “Progressives”) in academia and popular media.

      They tell kids what to think about themselves, about the world, about America, about each other, about maleness, about femaleness, about love, about sex. They brook no dissent. In that way, today’s college professor is hard to distinguish from the droning of Winston Smith’s telescreens and the big blue-tinted face on the Apple 1984 commercial.

      Whaddaya wanna bet some college students are feeling a rising desire to hurl a sledgehammer at the sneering, condescending faces of the politically correct secular elite?

      Seen a World Youth Day recently? A March For Life?

      (And let’s not forget the oft-noted fact: On average, Leftist women are easier, but conservative women are far prettier.)

      The only thing that turns off an idealistic youth about anything “conservative” is the constantly repeated libel that conservatives don’t care for the poor, because they don’t vote for expansion of the Welfare State.

      This, however, is a lie, as is demonstrated by the fact that, on average, conservatives at every income level give twice as much to charities as their left-liberal neighbors do. This is true both as a percentage of income and in actual dollars. They also donate blood more, serve in volunteer organizations more…in short, care more, if you measure by their deeds and how they spend their money and time, and not by their adherence to leftist political orthodoxy.

      They also typically show they care for the poor by opposing the Welfare State. I myself don’t vote for politicians who want to enlarge the Welfare State because, if I did, I’d feel like I was stabbing my poor neighbors in the back. I’d be ashamed. Even if Democrats weren’t anti-Catholic and pro-abortion, I’d still usually not vote for them, because of the preferential option for the poor.

      The problem, though, is that youth don’t typically see that side of conservatism because mainstream media lies about it all day long, and because its evidence is usually a line-item on one’s private tax returns, and not least because Christians, if they are conservative, are forbidden to tell anyone how much they give to the poor. (They aren’t even supposed to let their left hand know what their right hand is doing, y’know!)

      I guess we’ll have to tell our kids that it’s okay to keep an eye on our right hands, and take them along to the soup kitchen.

      Combine that with a willingness to stand up against the oppressive character of campus speech censors and diversity committees, and I think you’ll find “The Kids Are Alright.”

      In fact, you may find them marching, with Rosaries in their hands, singing,

      We don’t need no education
      We don’t need no thought control
      No dark sarcasm in the classroom
      Teacher leave those kids alone
      Hey! Teacher…!

      • Brian A. Cook

         Liberal Fascism is a contradiction in terms.  May I invite you to read through the pages linked within this one?

        • Cord_Hamrick

          Okay, I read through the pages you linked.

          I found a lot that I disagreed with on what was either a purely factual, or a purely definitional basis. In particular the author seemed to have a definition of “fascism” which only partially overlaps my own, and a definition of “right-wing” so unrecognizable as to render it non-descriptive of practically every right-winger I have known in my life.

          This is not a new experience for me, sadly. I’ve been called fascist, oddly, for being “right-leaning” by American standards, which is nonsensical. In particular I find it silly that I can, on the one hand, be sometimes accused of being an anarcho-capitalist, a view in which centralization of power is minimized, and, on the other hand, be accused of being a National Socialist, which competes with Maoism for maximizing centralized power. I am certainly closer to the former than the latter, though I am not very close to either; but either way, surely the two accusations are distant opposites?

          But I don’t know that it’s worth getting into a furball over the topic. I haven’t read Jonah Goldberg’s book, so I can’t reference it, and I should have realized that by using those two words together I’d be assumed to be using them as a single term, and defining that term the way that Goldberg does (however that is).

          In fact, Fascist is a worrisome term in online discussion; using it to describe an opponent comes close to transgressing against Godwin’s Law.

          So allow me to retract that term and replace it with something else that doesn’t (however accidentally) reference a book I haven’t read.

          But what else to replace it with?

          To begin with, I should have put the term “Liberal” in scare quotes since there is little or nothing liberty-oriented about the particular ideology I am trying to describe. There are, of course “liberals” who don’t want to impose their will on others, but that kind are clearly not currently in ascendancy among those who self-identify as “liberal,” as the HHS mandate and the ACA (among other things) demonstrate.

          What about the word “Fascist”? Well, by that I intended to convey an ideology which:
          (a.) Believes that achieving its ideological goals is so important that it’s willing to disregard or overthrow existing legal and cultural structures which stand in the way;
          (b.) Believes that achievement of their ideological goals will produce a transformational improvement in the human condition;
          (c.) Habitually uses that form of dehumanizing political/cultural warfare which Alinsky so successfully borrowed from Goebbels;
          (d.) Believes that rights are merely privileges granted to individuals by government, not things intrinsic to human individuals which government may not violate;
          (e.) Believes that the only moral limit on government’s use of force is whether that usage is helpful to their ideology;
          (f.) Does not believe in government ownership of labor and of the means of production, but does believe that government has unlimited authority to regulate labor and the means of production in pursuit of their ideological agenda.

          Now were it not for (f.) all of these would be descriptive of Communism. The fact that “progressives” in the U.S. do not hold to government ownership of all productive property and the labor of all persons prevents me from calling them true Marxists, though there is a kinship.

          Now fascism’s economic policies were characterized by not seizing the means of production, while nevertheless exercising total control over them. The owners were still owners in some fashion; they just didn’t have authority to decide how to use or dispose of their property without the say-so of the dictator, who would typically direct all such usage in service of his ideology.

          So it was that almost-but-not-quite communist view that led me to say “fascist” instead of “communist.”

          In the end, though, I don’t mind what word is used so long as my definition of that word — what I meant to convey by it — is understood. What characterizes the left is what Thomas Sowell calls the “unconstrained vision” or the “vision of the anointed” as opposed to the “constrained vision” or “tragic vision” of the right. In the vision of the left, those who disagree are assumed to be either evil or benighted idiots, and in either case, fit targets for dehumanization and compulsion. In the vision of the right, those who disagree are assumed to be either naïve or to be — I can’t find a single-word term for it so I’ll have to describe it with several — self-righteous, self-congratulatory armed busybodying bullies with no consideration for the dignity of others or for desire of others to be left alone.

          Actually, that’s another reason why the American left aren’t quite fascist: They don’t dehumanize everyone on the other side. They dehumanize only the folks on the other side that show some spine and a tendency to resist. For the rest, they show a kind of distaste-filled condescension: “Those poor little retards with their religion and their guns and their affection for their country’s founding principles…we’ll just have to pass laws to make them do and think what’s good for them.” True fascists wanted to exterminate all the Jews. American progressives would tend rather to demonize their leaders and thinkers and loudest voices until it became politically incorrect to treat them seriously in polite society, and once that was done, pass laws prohibiting circumcision and compelling a minimal daily allowance of bacon for the rest.

  • RachaelM

    Philadelphia, PA is my birth city, but God is bringing me  into the Church through Los Angeles (I’m currently in RCIA). I was asked the same question by a friend when I started RCIA 2 years ago — why in the world would I come into the Catholic Church in the midst of the sex abuse scandals, school closures, and the like. Simple answer? Because of the Eucharist. The Presence of God in the Church. You can’t find God’s Presence via transubstantiation in any other Christian church. L.A. is the largest archdiocese in the U.S. To see the great numbers of people being welcomed into the Church this Easter Vigil during the Rite of Election held in the L.A. Cathedral several weeks ago was not to be missed!  It gave me chills to see them all crowd around Archbishop Gomez. The Catholic Church has its troubles to be sure, but Jesus promised that the Gates of Hades would not prevail against this Church. We serve a faithful God. Doesn’t get any better than that!

    • RoaminCatholic

       Yes!  You got it.  As one convert to another, I’ve seen churches with wonderful fellowship, music, teaching – you name it.  But the Catholic Church has Jesus – in person, body soul and spirit.  Nothing else compares to Him.-

      • RachaelM

        Amen 🙂

  • The reasons for these conversions are simple: intelligent people look at the world, then look at the Catholic faith and realize that there is really no competition…

  • Those 785 souls are just the ones in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  Similar numbers will enter the Catholic Church in every diocese in the entire world!  (And, just because Catholic schools are closed, doesn’t mean they must STAY that way!  If the faithful arise to support them with both prayer and finances, Catholic schools WILL return, perhaps in different locations, however.  My parish established the first new Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 42 years.)

  • Mdepie

    This article while well meaning is part of the self delusion of a lot of orthodox Catholics. The more we read this kind of stuff the more we will fail to see the severity of the crisis we are in and the significant of the secular cultures attack on the faith, as well as our own internal meltdown. So lets expose ourselves to some hard facts. The Center for Applied Research on the Apostalate, has reported that adult conversions ( that is non infant baptisms) has been declining every year since the year 2000. Simply to cheer that some dioceses will have X number of converts is really not saying much. It would be like a GM seeing its car sales declining every year for 11 years and being pleased that they are selling some cars!  I do not say this with any pleasure, I think the Church is exactly what it claims to be, but I do think until we realize that all of the attacks on the Church, not to mention the self inflicted wounds, have done great damage we will not be aggressive enough in seeking a fix. The actual truth is we are in a crisis of very severe proportions.

    • RachaelM

      Souls  are not cars. True, the Church is in crisis and there is still much work to do and IS being done. The good news is, how active is the Holy Spirit! In spite of the crises, people are voluntarily willing to be received into the Church, and are coming in, in some areas like Los Angeles, in droves. 700+ souls in Philadelphia is nothing to blow off.

    • JoeinthePew

       According to the Pew Center, approximately 3140 parishioners left the Philly church while the 785 were coming in.  Consider that. Three THOUSAND four HUNDRED ex-Catholics. That is the equivalent of a parish, GONE.
      The church is, indeed, in a crisis of severe proportions.

      • RachaelM

        We don’t know why those 3,400 left. We’d have to ask them.  I’m sure it would be enlightening. But, if you want real hope, ASK the 785 why THEY are voluntarily coming in.

    • David820

      I thought the same as you did until I checked the records. Here is what I found and was delighted to what I found. Total church membership (both lay and clerical) in 2007 was 1.147 billion people,[40] increasing from the 1950 figure of 437 million[41] and the 1970 figure of 654 million.[42] On 31 December 2008, membership was 1.166 billion, an increase of 11.54% over the same date in 2000, only slightly greater than the rate of increase of the world population (10.77%).  Wow how great is that?

  • Outstanding article! I can barely see the keyboard as my eyes are filled with tears. God Bless you Christian!

  • ChrisPineo

    I wish we could acknowledge that embracing your own anger is like throwing down your sword before a charging enemy. If there is a fight to be fought, anger will impede us from any successful action. Raise your own ire in recognition of your desire for defeat, in supplication before the weakness that anger is. Jesus expressed anger in the temple, but on the cross he remained silent, dignified, and triumphant.

  • Rob B.

    As a member of Archbishop Chaput’s previous flock, I have to say that Denver’s loss is Philadelphia’s gain.  May God continue to bless his efforts and the efforts of all the bishops and clergy in this time of trial.

  • LRC

    As an atheist for 57 years, and now a charismatic, non-denominational disciple of Christ, I applaud the Catholic Church for its fervent and obvious stand against the embraced chaos of the secular world.  Go get’em!

  • Guest

    I am another coming into the Church, from a background of black metal and satanism, seventh-day adventist childhood, anti-christian philosophy, anarchism, everything.  Here I am at the door, about to be baptized this april.  Pray for me friends.

    • Tout

      I say a prayer for you.

  • As a member of our parish RCIA team, I was delighted to come across this article. A life-long Catholic, I am humbled by the answering of the call that goes on every year in our Church. Our small parish has three Catechumens and one Christian Candidate seeking full communion at Easter this year. Here I am, feeling hints of despair on occasion due to the attacks on our Church, and they’re marching forward with so much joyful anticipation.  I am humbled by their faith.

    • RachaelM

      God bless RCIA team members and directors! Every single person I’ve met in the RCIA ministry, without exception, at my parish or other parishes, has been so gracious and generous with their time and knowledge. Don’t worry over much about attacks on the Church. I’m trusting Jesus saying the Gates of Hades shall not prevail. The Church is still here, in tact, better than ever I’d say, since Jesus told Peter 3 times to feed His sheep. My experience is the attacks come from those people who don’t know the Truth about the Church.  The ones with courage actually do the research. And some of those end up coming into the Church! 🙂

  • Hector_sosa

    It is our Faith in Jesus Christ and his Resurrection that keeps working on those that convert to Catholisissim and Christianty in general. On the other hand it is that same Faith that keeps many Catholics being Catholics, for unfortunately be it satan work or other enemies of the Church, the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church and some simple parochial priests have failed in my opinion to stay on course of Christ’s teachings. Here in the US, this “Dictatorial” mandate to force the Church to pay for abortions and contraceptives, has not been protested by all priest in al churches, definitely not in mine, only some printed letters attached to the weekly bulletin    but not even an announcement about them. Also, for  53 years we have had an Atheist-Communist and Dictatorial government in Cuba, and the appointed Cardinal, Jaime Ortega y Alamino since his anointment as Cardinal, has been an accomplice of the Dictatorial Regime; furthermore, the Church has not defended outright the victims of this satanic regime while hundreds if not thousands of Cuban martyrs have been shot to death by government death squads while yelling “Long Live Christ the King”.

  • Nonny

    Thanks for the good news – we need it!

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  • Vkaduck

    As a former atheist I came Home about seven years ago.  I LOVE, LOVE Catholicism.  As Catholics we are so blessed that we can receive our Lord in the Eucharist every day!!!  Even though I get upset when people attack my Church, I’m comforted by the words of our Lord, that His Church will PREVAIL.  Victoria