Monday, March 12, 2007

Conviction

I've heard some Catholics self-describing themselves as 'convinced Catholics' as opposed to those one might call unconvinced—the less-than-serious, the faithless nominal Catholics who can safely be regarding as not even 'real' Catholics. You know the kind—they go, or don't go, to Mass without appreciating the weight of the obligation. They dare to disagree with magisterial teachings on this or that. They often have personal doubts about the reality of God in their life. And, worse still, they may even vote Democrat. It's very important that someone who's superior in nature have a good way to distinguish oneself from their kind.

Could it be that simple?

The verb 'to convince' comes from the Latin convincere, to prove something true or false; but it also means to conquer, to overcome, or to expose. There's something of violence in the word. You might convince one by force, or in our case, allow oneself to be convinced by the dominating arguments for Catholic orthodoxy. And, if one attributes his conviction to the power of another, what is there then but humility in the notion of having been convinced? Even being convinced of Truth is unpresumptuous. Or is it precisely this appearance of humility that allows the term to be a tool of pride. All those unconvinced Catholics haven't been conquered, haven't been defeated. Does that mean they're not chosen?

So, suddenly the language of conviction sounds Calvinist. I know, no rather, I feel myself convinced, and so my place in the flock as one of the faithful sheep is assured. I have the awareness of a kind of certainty, intellectual or otherwise, such that I can identify myself as part of that illustrious company of true Christians. And since ultimately it must have been God who conquered my will and convinced me of himself, I can count myself among his elect. Thank God I'm not like all those unconvinced who just go through the motions, or worse do nothing good at all. Thank God I'm convinced.

But I must confess: I'm not convinced. There's too much in my experience that fails to resonate tidily. My intellect has its doubts. My will has its weaknesses and fails in even basic practices of the faith. And perhaps more importantly, I don't feel convinced.

Now this is not a cause for despair. I know that God is good, even when I undergo doubt. I know and I cling to the hope that such 'knowledge' is not in vain. I look around and see so many kinds of people, all kinds of Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians, and I see a common tie to all of them. There's a universality to our struggles, and I can't distinguish myself from the common human lot. I sin as everyone does, and I doubt as well.

But there is something about being Catholic, something about being in this Church and not some other. It's personal, but it's more than personal. It's practical, but it's more than practical. I know that Jesus is the heart of the Catholic Church, but he does not limit the giving of himself to Catholics only. Can I say that the primary avenues for divine grace are the Sacraments which the Church has in her keeping? What does it even mean to speak of a primary expression of something fundamentally infinite and beyond human comprehension? Can I say that an infinite gift is more if given here than if given there?

At some point, I stand embarrassed before a night sky, before the stars and the clouds. I stand without the slightest bit of knowledge, knowing that even that is folly. At some point the vanity of my reflection collapses back upon itself, a saturated gaze doubled over in contradiction. At some point the pride of daring to speak is deafening. The only resolution to this dreadful irony must be death. And if I might have the nerve to hazard a prayer in the face of it, may it be for my undoing, for release from this struggle. And yet may it be simply that God be glorified, regardless.

I'm not convinced that I should want to be convinced. If life is really found through death, if losing oneself is the requisite of being found, what are we to make of those who are already 'living', already 'found'? Is it not a mistake to don the finality of conviction? Ah, but that's too easy. Neither can one avoid it. One must decide, and one must remain open. One must be convinced of something, even while remaining unconvinced.

2 Comments:

  • The way I put it, one must follow, even when one does not completely understand. The Apostles didn't know what the heck was going on most of the time. Actually, even after the Resurrection they were still expecting an earthly kingdom. Yet they followed -- and their act of following wasn't irrational, because there was a very good reason for it. Christ was attractive, and appealed to the deepest longings that each of them had. I think this might resonate with what you're saying. I like what you wrote here because it is an honest account of your experience -- something as strong as a reasonable argument.

    Isn't it odd that Graham Greene, that "agnostic Catholic," is so popular these days among Catholics?

    By Blogger Santiago, at 2:20 PM, March 13, 2007  

  • Thanks for sharing this.

    By Blogger Jennifer, at 2:02 PM, March 14, 2007  

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