|The Conversion of St Paul|
Yes, people do choose to join the Catholic Church.
Both my wife and I joined the Catholic Church as adults (see My Faith Story). The website Why I'm Catholic has a great (and growing) collection of stories of people who joined the Church. There are so many great stories. Obviously, there's the stories of people like Paul, Augustine, Ambrose, Emperor Constantine, John Cardinal Newman, Dorothy Day, Alasdair MacIntyre, Edith Stein, and G.E.M. Anscombe, Francis Beckwith (who was president of the Evangelical Theological Society when he converted), Scott Hahn, and Richard Neuhaus.
There's also the bisexual atheist blogger who just became Catholic this last summer, the former evangelical/emergent church co-author of the book Jesus for President who found his way back to the Church via Catholic Social Teaching, the pro-life leaders Lila Rose, Abby Johnson, Bernard Nathanson, and Bryan Kemper, the Wheaton College Bible professor who crossed the Tiber a year and a half ago (just a few years after a philosophy professor there did the same thing), and the steady stream of disaffected Anglicans joining the Catholic Church. Even former speaker of the house and recent presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (who produced a great documentary on John Paul II) and former prime minister of the U.K. Tony Blair have jumped aboard.
Death-bed conversion of a homosexual playwright: Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
A contributor to the aestheticism movement and best known for his play The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde is also a well-known example of a famous person convicted under laws in the 19th century that punished homosexual acts. What is not as well-known, however, is that he joined the Catholic Church literally on his death-bed. Though born into an Anglican family, his interest in the Church started as a young man. A meeting with Pope Pius IX left a big impact on him, and he read the writings the Cardinal Newman, another great convert to the faith. At the age of twenty four, he actually was set join the Catholic Church, but decided against it at the last minute.
A quarter of a century later, after serving his prison sentence, he unsuccessfully tried to go on a six-month Jesuit retreat. He later developed cerebral meningitis. With his health deteriorating, a friend called for a priest. The priest conditionally baptized him (Wilde had a vague memory of being baptized as a child) and gave him Last Rites. He died the next day.
|E. F. Schumacher|
Schumacher was a protégé of John Maynard Keynes as a young man and had an accomplished career as an economist. For much of his adult life, he was an avowed Marxist atheist. But a visit to Burma in the early 1950s and seeing how Buddhism shaped the economic life of the country got him to start rethinking his atheism. Upon returning to England, he decided to look into the Christian tradition and read the writings of St Thomas Aquinas, St Teresa of Avila, and St John of the Cross, and the lives of other saints. He also read modern Catholic thinkers Rene Guenon, Etienne Gilson, G. K. Chesterton (another convert), and Jacques Maritain (another convert, see below). A friend eventually persuaded him to read the papal social teaching encyclicals. A friend of his relates how he responded:
He replied, 'No, no, I'm sure that the Popes are very holy men living in their ivory tower in the Vatican but they don't know a thing about the conduct of practical affairs... But this friend... insisted that he should read the social encyclicals, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno above all... He did so and was absolutely staggered. He said, 'here were these celibates living in an ivory tower... why can they talk a great deal of sense when everyone else talks nonsense'... (source)Pope Paul VI's encyclical reaffirming the Church's stance against the use of contraception Humanae Vitae came out as he was getting closer to wanting to join the Church. Though many criticized the teaching, Schumacher was in full support: "If the Pope had written anything else, I would have lost all faith in the papacy." (source) For his wife and daughter, who had also been considering Catholicism, Humanae Vitae was the final assurance that the Catholic Church was the right place to be. After years of being intellectually convinced of Catholicism, he was eventually received into the Church.
The suicidal scientist who found hope in the Church and went on to help draft the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Jacques Maritain (1882-1973)As a young man, he went to the University of Paris to study the natural sciences. There, he met his future wife, Raïssa, a Russian Jewish immigrant. Before marrying, however, he and Raïssa became convinced that scientism could not answer existential questions about life. In 1901, in light of this disillusionment, they made a pact to commit suicide together if they could not discover some deeper meaning to life within a year. Fortunately, a friend recommended they attend the lectures of Henri Bergson. Bergson's critique of scientism convinced them of the reality of objective absolutes. Through the influence of Léon Bloy, they converted to the Roman Catholic faith in 1906. Maritain became an famous Catholic philosopher, who's natural law arguments were influential in his participation in the drafting of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
If you haven't heard of Marshall McLuhan, you may have heard his great one-liner, "the medium is the message". He was a prolific writer and is considered a founding father of the new discipline media ecology (the Media Ecology Association's annual conference last year celebrated what would have been his 100th birthday). Research for his doctoral dissertation at Cambridge led him to the Church Fathers, whom he read to study their kinds of argumentation. The writings of G.K. Chesterton were influential, and he eventually joined the Catholic Church.
He was a daily Mass goer, and apparently claimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary somehow provided him direct intellectual guidance. A collection of his writings on religion has been posthumously published as The Medium and the Light (fascinating read), in which he argues, among other things, that the microphone is what killed the Latin Mass. Apparently, many in the field still don't know that he was Catholic and aren't aware of his writings on religion. A friend of mine presented a paper on McLuhan's religious beliefs at a conference recently and told me that the first thing the moderator said following his presentation was: "...I knew he was religious...but I...didn't know it was that bad."