When I moved from debate to discovery, I would sometimes ask Catholic friends about the Church and Catholic life, wanting them to explain what it felt like from the inside. They would almost always give me an answer from the apologetic books, which I had already learned. I wanted something like "In confession, I've really had to face…" or "Let me tell you about the time I turned to the Blessed Mother…" or "I love to pray before the Blessed Sacrament because…." I tried to ask more penetrating questions, and was usually answered with a quizzical look and a repetition of the apologetic answer.
I did not find the directly argumentative works very helpful, except at two stages. When I first found myself attracted to the Catholic Church — and "found" is exactly the right word — they helped explain some Catholic beliefs that baffled or bothered me, and helped me justify pursuing the attraction. When I began to turn to the Church, and my affections were changing faster than my convictions, they provided the kind of point-scoring I found reassuring and confirming. "Point-scoring" is not meant dismissively, because there were points to be scored, and value to me in seeing them scored.
As I grew closer to the Church, I began to lose interest in having my questions answered in that way, and, I think, looking back after nine years as a Catholic, that this movement in my thinking was right. Judging the Church by her score would have been like listing my girlfriend's virtues and vices (as I saw them then) and deciding whether to call her again based on the final score. I would have missed the deeper realities, the ones apologetics doesn't touch....
My own experience of conversion was partly intellectual, but partly and probably mostly affective, in the sense that I came to feel the attraction and beauty of the whole, and that here was a body and a life into which I wanted to — had to — enter. The "converging probabilities" that drew me in, to use John Henry Newman's term, came from all sides, from observation and prolife activism and participation in the liturgy and growing Marian devotion and visiting churches as much as from reading and reflection. This was my own experience, but I'm fairly sure it is also true for all but the most intellectual of converts I've known, and perhaps true of them as well in ways others can't see.
Even the intellectuals appealed to me for reasons other than their arguments. As I continued to read, pray, and reflect, and, to the extent an outsider could, to experience bits and pieces of the Catholic life, I began to feel of several writers that I wanted to be in that body in which this mind could be what it was. I felt this first of Newman and G.K. Chesterton, but then of Ronald Knox and Flan nery O'Connor and Sigrid Undset and Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene (in his Catholic period) and a whole host of others, and even people like Albert Camus, who reflected the Church even in his atheism. But I was entranced not just by their arguments, or even primarily by their arguments, but by the shape of their minds, their grasp of the world and the life of faith.
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