Like many converts from Protestantism, my conversion was primarily intellectual. I had lots of fun reading and reasoning my way into the Church. It is the tendency of Western Catholicism to favor this approach in winning souls to the Church. Just look at the countless books on apologetics, tracts about the Eucharist, radio programs, television shows, and YouTube videos shoveled out by the Catholic media machine year after year to convince the masses of the Church’s Truth.
Lord knows how many this approach brings into the Church. I know it was my experience, and probably the experience of many (Cardinal Newman and G.K. Chesterton spring to mind). The logic of the reason/rational method is very simple. People believe false things because they have been taught falsely. All We have to do is to teach them correctly and show them why we are right. Right? Well, not exactly. It seems very straightforward on paper. Once the Evangelist exposes the false logic of a belief and demonstrates the superior logic of the Church’s belief, conversion should follow necessarily. But, as we all know, real life don’t work that way.
What are we to do when after you’ve argued someone to a point, using such strong and sound syllogisms that the conclusion is unavoidable, the person just shakes her head and says, “Uh-uh.” You can’t argue with logic like that. As successful as the reason/rational from of evangelization was at getting me and Jen Fulwiler and Jimmy Akin into the Church, all the evidence seems to suggest that minds like ours are in the minority and that our Western experiment is failing. The modern world has become bored with what it sees as stale, monolithic Christianity. It wants to feel alive and transfigured. Its interest in reasonable arguments and logical proofs is noticeably lacking. Not finding it in Catholicism, they turn to the so-called Eastern religions. If we’re lucky they become Orthodox. More often than not they wind up some kind of watered-down Hindu or Buddhist.
This past Sunday we celebrated the brothers Sts. Cyril and Methodius, equals to the Apostles, who brought the faith to the Slavs. Their story reminds me of a separate but contemporary incident: the conversion of Prince Vladimir and Kievan Rus’. St. Vladimir, looking for a new religion to revive and unify his Pagan subjects, sent envoys to the surrounding countries. In Islam they found no happiness, and thought their prohibition of alcohol decidedly anti-Russian. In Germany they found the faith but said they saw no glory. When they arrived in Constantinople, however, the Byzantines put on their Sunday best (so to speak) and upon returning to St. Vladimir they told him, according to the legend, “We knew not whether we were in Heaven or on Earth.”
Notice their response to beauty, which then prompted them to accept goodness and Truth. The genius of Catholicism is its universality (after all, it’s in the name isn’t it?). No matter where you are on your spiritual path, there is bound to be something that will speak to you. The Church is known for its appeals to reason, but it also maintains a tradition of mystery and beauty to which we modern evangelists would do well to return. The same Church which appealed to the intellectual genius of Newman and Chesterton also appealed to the decadent aestheticism of Oscar Wilde. When asked why he remained a Catholic (a Byzantine Catholic, by the way), Andy Warhol’s answer was basically, “It’s pretty.” Simplistic, yes, but noble in its simplicity.
People today don’t care about whether their beliefs make sense. Existence precedes essence, so what does it matter? They yearn not for Aristotelian proofs about some vague first-mover, but rather for the sweetness of a personal God who loves them. Even the most intellectually-minded among us know that our conversion wasn’t complete until the Church found its way to and made its home in our hearts – so much more satisfying than mere intellectual surety. “To the hard of hearing you shout and to the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.” So take your friends to Mass. Show them the Divine Liturgy. In our day which is so obsessed with its own whims and desires, bypass their minds and go straight to their heart. Show them what they really desire but can’t see. Show them the fulfillment of all that is good and true and beautiful. Beautiful most of all. This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.