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Issue 05 – Saint Anselm 2021


Tears For Surprise

On a pilgrimage.


The marble hit hard against my knees. I had knelt—though it could be described as a slight fall—upon the cold floor of this cathedral. I felt compelled to do so, not by anyone in the room but by a recognition of something. I had knelt in front of relics of the cross. I had knelt like a Catholic would kneel before relics. I wasn’t Catholic, not by baptism, not even by faith if I was being honest. Before kneeling, before I had boarded a plane to Rome, before I had walked the silent hills of Assisi, I had wrestled with the Church. But I was not Catholic. I was a Protestant confronted by the deep historicity of the Church, by the internal continuity of Catholic theology, and mostly by Scripture. Before I knelt here, I had acknowledged that I was probably missing something that the Catholic Church possessed. But here before the Cross, that privation struck deeply into me, almost breaking me in half. And I wept. That moment in Rome was not the beginning of a conversion; it was the end. It was the finale to a year and a half of reading and arguing and obsessively asking every priest, pastor, and mentor I could find endless questions. At the beginning it was intellectual—and it still is, by and large. But the power of Christianity is its transcendence. If you approach a mystery, expect to be entranced by it. And that mystery possesses me, which is something I didn’t realize before I hit the marble floor in a side chapel of the Basilica Church of Santa Croce in Jerusalemme. It was the moment when I knew I had not assented to a series of dogmas, although I had, but that these dogmas had ingrained themselves into me. I was Catholic and content to be so.

I have never really loved conversion stories the way others seem to love them. They do not function on an evidentiary basis; they are stories, nothing more. I did not come to understand and appreciate their power until people began to ask me for my own story. It was then that I saw they are more than stories: they are testaments. That is their power and the reason for their attraction. We ask to know how people changed their minds because it tells us that such a thing is possible. So, we ask, how did you become Catholic? I suppose that question has easy answers for some. My answer is not succinct.

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About the author

Emma Mutch