This mini-conversion goes through my head fairly often these days. I’ve surprised how much “converting” changes the past – and not just the present. Or at least how I see the past – my past.
Take my younger years. When I was actually living them, I might have called myself Catholic – sometimes. At my Confirmation, or at Christmas or on the census form but that was about it.
Later, when I became an Evangelical Protestant, I would never have described myself as having been Catholic.
Instead, “I came from a kinda-Catholic family”, “I did the Catholic stuff, you know Baptism, Communion etc”, or “My background is Irish. Go Figure”. But I never said I was Catholic.
But the Church says I was. Worse, the Church says that even when I was a Protestant, I was actually Catholic.
Hold up. The Catholic Church can do that?? I can leave, sneer and reject everything She teaches and still be Catholic? I can become Protestant and then… just stop. And I was always Catholic anyway?
Turns out it is impossible for a baptised Catholic to formally renounce their Catholic faith. They can be excommunicate, schismatic, lapsed, strange, bad, cafeteria, practicing and anything in between but if you were baptised, you are Catholic.
To quote Dara O’Briain, it’s “the stickiest, most adhesive religion in the world.”
You can become a Protestant, pray for the Pope’s conversion, and tattoo the Solas on your heart – and the Catholic Church still says you’re Catholic. Just not a very good one.
You can hate God, persecute Christians and change your name to Richard Dawkins – and the Catholic Church still says you’re Catholic. Just a bad one.
You can murder millions, build the Antichrist’s temple or even refuse to like soccer, sorry, football – and the Catholic Church still says you’re Catholic. Probably just a lapsed one.
Hilarious jokes aside…
This has rattled me a bit and forced me to look above those early years, looking for signs of grace I may have missed. For those times my grandmother took me to St Patrick’s and I named all the Saints on the walls, or the peace I felt when I lit a candle before a statue of Jesus in Church. Trying to remember if I prayed and what it felt like. But even if I don’t see many, which is the really real? What I say or what the Church says? What I thought was happening or what God was actually doing?
I was baptised and confirmed in the Catholic Church and apparently, despite my best efforts, that was always going to stick. Not because I’m weird, or co-dependent or brainwashed, but because God is mighty to save.
And His saving acts are the “realest” things in my life, whether I see them or not.