I Will Never Convert Anyone

Like everyone else, I awoke last week to every media outlet abuzz with news of Pope Benedict XVI announcing his abdication. I only briefly read news stories from a couple of online papers that I frequent, and then spent most of the day checking in with Twitter to hear the latest reactions and speculations.

Obviously, this was personally tuned to a specific segment of the population, so I was largely shielded from the… less charitable responses. It wasn’t long before the darker opinions began slipping through as anyone and everyone with a keyboard began making pronouncements about our Church and its leader, especially on my Facebook feed.

Coming from a very liberal college town that prides itself in being “an oasis of blue in a red state,” I normally duck my head a little and bite my tongue scrolling past links and snarky words that have become a badge of honor among the liberal hipster set, however that night I noticed a simple status from a friend: “Where’s the class in mocking the pope?” I might have simply continued, except that I noticed the enormous number of comments screaming from the corner. Curiosity made me click.

I began scrolling through them and was shocked by the vehemence and anger and hatred, but most of all I was rather awed by the misinformation. It seems that otherwise rational people have some very strong things to say about the Catholic church and most of them present it as fact. The words of Venerable Fulton Sheen came to mind: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Being a convert and having no advanced degrees in theology or church history, I bear no grand credentials. I do claim a modicum of common sense and the ability to give at least a few moments to general fact checking before condemning people or things, whether I agree with them or not.

I cannot overstate my desire to avoid the kind of conflict that arises online: impersonal, usually thoughtless, quarreling that always seems to devolve into personal attacks. So when I finished reading this particular thread, I quickly closed the browser and went to bed. I never slept. All night, I was turning the comments over in my mind and almost without realizing it, formulating responses to each piece of misinformation. By dawn, I could no longer contain myself. I sat down to the computer as if preparing for battle and began carefully addressing several of the more outrageous comments with a calm tone and plenty of documentation. In my mind, I thought surely that facts presented rationally would be considered. I am certain that those with far more experience navigating the online waters are chuckling knowingly as they await my inevitable report: it seems that in such a forum, facts don’t matter. No matter how calmly stated, nor well-sourced, my responses were met with fury and attacks. The issues which I addressed and defended with fact, were simply ignored as if they had never been brought up and new attacks were levied with redoubled viciousness. I continued to respond through several iterations of this “discussion” and with each successive post I struggled to become ever more calm and rational, but my cheeks were flushed with fury. For the sake of my sanity, I decided to offer my final responses in kindness, and respectfully bow out of the conversation. I felt defeated. I feel unsteady in a world where logic is not valued. If well-stated facts don’t convince, then what will? I questioned myself and my ability to defend what I love. I questioned a world filled with such blind hatred. The rest of my day was colored by that interaction and my perceived failure.

plant in rock 2The next morning I awoke to an email from the same friend who had made the original post. He thanked me for standing up for our mutual beliefs and expressed his surprise that I could respond “patiently and charitably” in the face of such frustrating responses. I felt contrite as I considered how very opposite my interior disposition had been in those moments, despite the calmness of my typed words, and considered how much I had believed others’ ideas could be controlled by my debate skills. So often we assume that the outcome of any given situation is within our control if only we work hard enough, argue fervently enough, believe deeply enough.

Suddenly, the parable of the sower of seeds came to mind, and I saw it in a new light as I was humbled yet again by the realization that I will never convert a single person to the faith. I will never change a single heart. I don’t have that power. All I can do is throw out seeds with love and in faith. In that moment, it seemed to all fall on rocky soil, but how many may have read those words? How long might those words might stay in the minds of those who were so aggressively fighting against them? Who can say when the grace of God will allow a single seed to take root? I don’t control the ground on which seeds may fall, I don’t control the conditions under which they may sprout, and I may never see the fruit which is reaped (if any), but I do possess some precious seeds, and the one thing within my control is the choice to reach out and spread them around. The rest I leave in God’s hands.

 

Images by Shutterstock.com

Cate Roberts

By

Cate Roberts is a Catholic convert who lives in central Texas with her husband and two young children. She previously worked in public relations, and later in special education, before committing full time to her vocation as wife and mother. She holds degrees in English, as well as Health and Kinesiology. When she isn’t chasing children or buying books, she loves to write about fitness, faith, and family. You can follow her blog at daintycate.com.

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  • BridgetN

    Love this article! I have gone through the same experience as you online. It is extremely frustrating to see so much ignorance and hatred of the true Catholic mission, some of it even from self-proclaimed Catholics. I also thought of Jesus’s seed parable. Sometimes that’s all we can do. So lets spread those seeds girl and pray that some take root! God bless!

  • http://twitter.com/MCC4Christ Simon Hill

    Thank you for your wonderful story. In these times…as in all times…being an active, true member of the Body of Christ, can be a dangerous, humiliating, exhausting and desparate life. And thank God for it! For by this are we reminded that we are but small and powerless with out Him. No one brings about conversion to the true faith in Christ Jesus. This is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit.
    Through your considered and humble responses you have sown many seeds for the Spirit to work gently upon. This I think is our role. Know your faith and know why you know it…know you know what is true. Live it. Be it. Share it with the best of your ability. Be humble as Christ was humble. Be loving as He himself was loving. Pray constantly. Allow the Spirit room and time to move.
    May God bless you and keep you always.

  • http://twitter.com/xJeffJungx Jeff Jung

    :) I agree. Prayer is the best tool for this. Even to explain about our Faith (mainly Sacraments, Traditions and Mary our Mother) to protestants are more often than not, unfruitful due to Pride and Ignorance of men. No matter how well sourced like you said.. at this moment we only humbly say : Lord, Thy will be Done on This Matter,

    Our Pope Benedict XVI has been called ‘Father of Christian Unity’ , his humility in giving up the papacy for Lent and our Blessed Mother’s humility to Gods will is something in which we all should learn.

    Does not matter :) because the truth is, you are living the gospel. Your patience and charitable comments have been seen and inspired 1, if not 50 friends who saw it, just as Heaven rejoices for a repentant sinner than for 99 righteous men.

    Paul Claudel – Speak about Christ only when you are asked. But live, so that people ask about Christ!

    St Francis of Assisi – Live the gospel, only if necessary, use words. (He was the most Christ-like person on earth, because of His humility, that He petitioned a Reform WITHIN the Church and was granted after fervent prayer outside St John Lateran Basilica where Pope resided before the Vatican was built, while Luther brought it OUT the church despite Pope being courteous to listen to him!)

  • Seraphim

    I enjoyed reading your article. I used to be an “internet crusader” as I like to call it. I would challenge inaccuracies wherever I found them and found exactly what you did: facts don’t matter to some people, and it can lead to sleepless nights.

  • http://www.facebook.com/erin.sinclair.writer Erin Sinclair

    I define myself as a humanist, first and foremost. My spiritual views are not yours, but I vehemently defend a person’s choice to walk the journey of the faith that has beckoned them to follow. As an outsider looking in on Catholicism and in my personal, purely opinion viewpoint, what is unacceptable is the harm caused by the actions of a few to the livelihood of the whole that the Church must correct. I think that until that happens, there will be continued attack on the group as opposed to individuals unfortunately. That is a shame to me. One’s spiritual path is inherently sacred to the individual and no one can take that from you, ever. It is an even greater joy when one finds others that share like minds and spirits in their travels. The pendulum swings to extremes until it finds balance in the middle. Eventually this will work itself into a harmonious conclusion, I think.

  • Catholic Medic

    I know how you feel. I had a similar experience recently. On the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade a Facebook friend, someone I attended Catholc high school with, put up a post saying how great he thought the decision was and how he supported it. His post made a point to say it was the law of the land. I pointed out that the arguments in favor of abortion were similar to those used to justify slavery, segregation and eugenics in this country and all of these were once the law of the land. I said that I hoped Roe vs. Wade would go the same way as these laws. Of course I was barraged by opposing views from he and his friends. After reading this article, I hope I planted a seed in someone who may have read my post but didn’t reply.

  • Kevin

    Cate continue in your efforts in the frame you exhibited. Many people saw your posts and the peace you maintained as you were virtually beaten, spit upon, whipped and perhaps even placed on a cross! Sound familiar? Like He who went before us down this path He warned us that if Truth itself was rejected in this manner, we which are only the followers of it will receive the like treatment.

    However Truth in His walk on this earth left trailing behind Him the Holy Spirit in his wake. The Holy Spirit converted MILLIONS!!!

    I dabble a bit on line in comments. I Facilitate RCIA at my local Parish. I have always expected to be rebuffed by many, perhaps viciously, but I always leave it to the Holy Spirit to do conversion. He is sooooo much better at it.

    Let our actions speak louder than our words, it will soften the armor they place before their hearts and minds. When this weakens, the Holy Spirit will give them the Faith to believe and then it will be up to each one of them to turn around and face the rising Son.

  • http://gavinsullivan.com/ Gavin Sullivan

    If people posted mean comments on your facebook feed, you have my sympathy: I oppose posting mean comments there. That said, the papal succession warrants frank commentary.

    Should one religion’s all-male hierarchy possess a nation state? I think the most sensible answer is ‘no’–though like you, I believe we can have that discussion without rancor or invective.

    The next time rude people ‘virtually beat, spit upon, whip and perhaps even place you on a cross,’ please hand them my card.

  • kirk

    My experience is similar to yours and in addition to the inaccuracies about the Catholic Church, there are many inaccuracies in politics. I’m also a convert, and when I became Catholic, members of my family barraged me with anti-catholic rhetoric – and they were not inclined to listen to anything I said. Life long friends litterally turned their back to me and ordered me out of their lives. It was quite brutal – but I survived and my faith was strengthened through the struggle.

    Politically, I’m fairly conservative – but I was amazed at all the false and misleading information in emails and conversation from both sides of the issues. Many emails claimed much false information about the HealthCare bill (or ObamaCare as it is often called). They pick up a scintilla of perceived deception, and run a mile of pure fiction with it when just a rudimentary look at Snopes or the IRS would prove it wrong. (I believe there are wrong things in the HealthCare bill, like the “Mandate” and coverage for contraception and abortion, but that is not the subject of these attacks.) When I email back with quotations from these sources proving false their original claim, I hear nothing back. They simply do not wish to hear it. They have ears to hear, eyes to see -but do not listen or look.

  • Victoria

    You are right, you never know what effect your seeds will have.. I still remember with gratitude the people who said they would pray for me, 40 years ago. I didn’t appreciate them then, but God intervened and I am sure used their prayers to help in my conversion.

  • yblegen

    Thank you for throwing out the seeds in love and faith.

  • tyler.nethercott20

    I really recommend the book “Soul of the Apostolate”
    I have gone through many similar battles and your poise seems to have been better than where mine was at the time…but as others have said, prayer is the key. Prayer, fasting, and mortification….the two wings of prayer.

    God Bless

  • chaco

    Hey Sis, “There is No greater love than for one to lay down their life for a friend.” (Jn. 15: 13). Can you even imagine the love in our Lord’s eyes when we endure ill treatment for loving Him & His Truth ? ! You’re on “The Narrow Path” Sister; “They went away rejoicing that the had been counted worthy to be persecuted for Jesus’ sake.” (Acts 5: 41) Just look into those eyes of Divine Mercy and you’ll experience love that’s worth more than a lifetime of incomplete love from the masses of “Lost Sheep”. [ I leave you peace; not as the world gives..." (Jn. 14: 27) ]. When it all gets too comlpicated/ involved, I recall Jesus saying; All understanding comes from 2 laws; Love God (acknowledge that we are spiritual beings) & Love neighbor (realize that we are all brothers & sisters in God’s family). When it comes to differences with other christians, just remember that God’s enemy(deceipt) must come in “Sheep’s Clothing” to score any points at all. The enemy has made it’s mark on all humans except for 2; Is it any wonder that the 2 main distinguishing features separating us and “Separated Bretheren” are The Eucharist & Mary as mother of The Body of Christ ?

  • James Stagg

    Mrs. Roberts, your kindness and patience are the only remaining tools with which we can work to combat the hate that appears in countless online forums….especially directed to the Church and the occupants of the Chair of Peter.. Somehow, some way, SOMEONE will judge our work in defense of the Truth, and we will win eternal glory for that consistent effort. In this world? You are right, Only the Holy Spirit, springing from that small seed you planted, can convert hearts. Bless you for your effort!

  • Peter Nyikos

    I stopped being an internet crusader for seven years after nine years in the trenches, in two of the most vicious Usenet newsgroups, talk.abortion and talk.origins.

    Then I returned, first to one near the end of 2008, and then to the other at the end of 2010. It is the few reasonable people in these newsgroups that keep me going. They need help, and I am able to provide it better than anyone else.

    But the biggest reason, perhaps, is that these newsgroups provide “proving grounds” for arguments. I see what works best there, and then when anti-Catholic invaders show up here in Catholic Exchange from time to time, I can counter them much more effectively than those who haven’t gone through their “baptism of fire.”

  • Peter Nyikos

    History, alas, shows that opposition to the Catholic Church cannot be repaired by correcting the harm “a few” within it have caused. The Church will always be hated by those to whose misspent lives it is an eternal reproach.

    I see it in the various forums where heated debates about issues like abortion generally devolve into vicious personal attacks. The most hateful words I have ever seen one person post about another on the internet were aimed at a Christian woman who “turned the other cheek” consistently, just like Cate Roberts did as she recounts in the article. The attacker just couldn’t bear to have such saintly behavior go unpunished.

  • rosebud

    One way to discern when the Holy Spirit is urging us to share “The Word made flesh” comes from Peter’s words; “Be ready with an answer for THOSE WHO INQUIRE (respectfully) about the hope in you.” (1 Pet. 3: 15). For as we also know; “Don’t cast your pearls before swine (disrespectful).” (Mt. 7: 6) “Faith comes through hearing…” (Rom. 10: 17) but it definately isn’t all that’s necessary; St.Paul was well versed in the Jewish faith and St. Augustine had read the scriptures before his conversion, but both had to be touched by Christ’s mercy before they could be converted. Pray that the Risen Lord will introduce himself to the lost sheep. I heard a story of sister who prayed her whole life for her brother’s conversion. She couldn’t be at his side when he died so the attending nurse relayed the details; “A priest came to him but he spit at the priest.” Later, while praying in sorrow for her unrepentant brother, the sister recieved an inner vision of Jesus appearring to her brother in his dying moments saying; “Are you going to spit on me as well ?” Her brother responded with; “My Lord & my God, have mercy on me.”

  • Aging Flower Child

    Dear Cate – this article meant a lot to me. I keep coming back to it and reading it again. Until I read it, I did not realize how ardently I have been spending my thoughts and energy on the attempt to convert family members! The whole idea “I will never convert anyone” really rattled my cage big time. I vacillate between not wanting to alienate my family and feeling an urgency to make them realize how disengaged from the faith they are, and their need to ‘wake up’ before they are like the proverbial frog in the pot of water.
    I agonize sometimes about how I can become the kind of Christian so that as one poster quoted by Paul Claudel – “Speak about Christ only when you are asked. But live, so that people ask about Christ!” Humble pie indeed.
    However I also remember in my atheist/agnostic decades, many times people said things to me that just made me angry – but really must have made an impression on me. Things I did NOT want to hear.
    The Holy Spirit can and does work on anyone and everyone. It did me! I fear the slings and arrows of professing the faith yet I so ardently want everyone to know and love our wonderful faith! Lord – please take over my evangelization efforts!

  • Alliverjig

    Cate thank you.
    God allows to let the seeds in us grow! And only God!
    God Bless

  • Rosie

    Could you please be more specific? What harm has been or is being caused by whose actions to whose livelihood?

  • Shayne

    Cate–God Bless you!!! Thank you for all that you’ve said and done. I know how you feel. Like Blessed Mother Teresa used to say: “People aren’t at peace with themselves because they aren’t at peace with God.” And if a person doesn’t believe in God…then you get the picture. A great book to read to calm your soul is: Union with God by Blessed Columba Marmion the famous Benedictine Abbot. A five-star book that is highly, highly recommended. May the peace of Christ be with you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathleen.riney Kathleen Riney

    Keep on writing!!! The Church needs STRONG informed Laity to confront the Liberals that are running the Church…and I mean the Laity Liberals! It seems like the Bishops & Priests are afraid of them!! My sister & I fought it for 40 yrs…someone else’s turn now!! Please don’t stop. Who cares what “They say”. And your Right on the Vitriolic Hatred spewed out all over the internet, after ANYTHING posted about the RC Church.I believe you are facing a persecution, a very real, physical persecution. I know! But the German Jews had the same problem in Germany in the 1930′s……God’s going to clean house!

  • Roger

    A humanist believes people are naturally inclined to do the right thing without any outside interference. Which they are not and will not.

    People left to their own devices will sin, make bad choices, and believe anything they are told without looking into it themselves. Someone has to inform these people of Truth and not make-shift ‘relativistic’ truth that will led them to yet another dead end in order to help them.

    If anything humanism has done more harm to modern society than any faith has. It’s the opposite pendelum swing of dictatorship. Instead of oppressing and hurting, they simply don’t help.

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