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I’m A Disappointment

June 12, 2024

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I was going to tell my dad, but I was petrified. 

How would I do it? How could I tell him that I was leaving the faith of our family? That I was going to convert to Catholicism? 

And, even more, what would he say? 

I was afraid of being a disappointment.

Raised in a loving and faith-filled family, the Worners were Lutherans. Baptized in infancy by my grandfather (a Lutheran pastor), Sunday schooled, and confirmed Lutheran (I even spoke at my Confirmation ceremony), I was about to leave that all behind and tell my father that I was—how would I say it?—Swimming the Tiber? Becoming a left-footer? Joining the papists? No. I would simply tell him I was becoming Catholic. 

There are only two people whose reaction I feared upon revealing this seismic life change: my father and my dear friend who happens to be an extraordinary Lutheran pastor. Though my decision—rather, my answer to an undeniable, irrefutable call—was the product of a fourteen-year wrestling match between God and me, it was perhaps the greatest decision I have ever made. In the end, I had no reservations about becoming Catholic. But I did fear disappointing these two dear figures in my life. 

Many who have converted to the Catholic faith have been deemed disappointments by those they knew and loved. 

While G.K. Chesterton’s journey into the Church was lauded by friends and mentors like Fr. Ronald Knox, Hilaire Belloc, and Maurice Baring, others such as his friends (and atheistic sparring partners), H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw were less than amused. “I love G.K.C.,” Wells exclaimed, “and hate the Catholicism of Belloc and Rome. . . . I begrudge Catholicism, G.K.C.!” And George Bernard Shaw, asking whether Chesterton’s decision came when he was drunk, chastised, “My dear G.K.C., this is going too far.” 

“Every day, I rise a saint and retire a sinner.”

The 1930 conversion of modernist British writer Evelyn Waugh thunderstruck literary high society. London’s Express headline bellowed, Another Author Turns to Rome, Mr. Evelyn Waugh Leaves Church of England, Young Satirist of Mayfair. Contending with letters and editorials about how the “ultramodernist became an ultramontanist,” Waugh fired back with his own missive Converted to Rome: Why It Has Happened to Me. In it, he mocked the three leading theories explaining his conversion: 

  1. The Jesuits have got hold of him.
  2. He is captivated by the ritual.
  3. He wants to have his mind made up for him.

Even the enlightened T.S. Eliot, converting to Anglo-Catholicism in 1928, could not escape the biting disappointment of his “open-minded” Bloomsbury confreres. In an acid letter to her sister Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf (who characterizes God as “this old savage”) spat,

I have had a most shameful and distressing interview with poor dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward. He has become an Anglo-Catholic, believes in God and immortality, and goes to church. I was really shocked. A corpse would seem to me more credible than he is. I mean, there’s something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God.

In the eyes of an unbelieving world, Chesterton, Waugh, and Eliot were not only fools, but sad, naive disappointments. 

But they didn’t care.

Fr. Thomas Walker, the Beaconsfield parish priest, who offered the solemn, perspiring Chesterton his momentous First Communion, remembered Chesterton saying “I have spent the happiest hour of my life.” 

Evelyn Waugh, in classic fashion, boiled his argument down to the choicest nub, “It seems to me that in the present phase of European history, the essential issue is no longer between Catholicism, on one side, and Protestantism, on the other, but between Christianity and Chaos.” He would go on to say that the Catholic Church’s definitive stances, universal nature, healthy discipline, and combative zeal in defense of Truth stand alone among Christian creeds. Instead of the wayward stance, “I am good; therefore I go to Church,” he would resonate with the Catholic assertion that “I am very far from good; therefore I go to church.” 

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And T.S. Eliot would simply and unapologetically declare, “[My point of view is] classicist in literature, royalist in politics and Anglo-Catholic in religion.”

And so, with a heart thumping with trepidation, I told my dad. And I told my friend. My dad smiled and said, “I understand.” And my friend, the pastor, reassured me in my decision. He even shared a letter penned by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus describing misgivings he had over the Lutheran resistance to reconciliation with Rome. This proved to answer one last question that ached deep inside of me. 

I’m a disappointment. To be sure. As a good friend says, “Every day, I rise a saint and retire a sinner.” And yet this brokenness leads me to marvel at a God who not only won’t throw me away, but instead invites me to rest my weary head on the loving shoulder of Christ. I’m a disappointment, but I will never be disappointed. My faith is all.

Following the morning of his reception into the Faith, Chesterton arrived home and furiously scribbled a poem called “The Convert.” It begins with the dizzying feeling of finding your way home after being lost for a time,

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,

And it ends with life.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

No disappointment. 

I live.