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Q: What did you do, then, when you realized
you could no longer be Anglicans? What were the practical steps that you
took toward Catholicism?
Budziszewski: We met with a priest, telling him that we wanted to
begin preparation to enter the Catholic Church, but that we were still
troubled by certain obstacles which we hoped he could assist us in overcoming.
For me, the last such obstacle concerned the title of co-mediatrix often
given to Mary. By using such a title, was the Church contradicting her
own teaching that Christ is the one mediator between God and men?
He was very helpful. A convert himselfMethodist, then Anglican,
then Catholiche understood the difficulty immediately and encouraged
me to read Chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium (doc). As he expected, it resolved
my difficulties. After all, there are many ways in which many people may
be mediators. If you intercede for someone in prayer, you are a sort of
mediator. If you explain the Gospel to someone, you are a sort of mediator.
If a priest offers the sacrament of Reconciliation, he is a sort of mediator.
Mary has an even more exalted role in this economy of grace. Yet all these
things are possible because of what was uniquely done for us by Jesus;
they dont lessen or compromise it
So that obstacle was justgone!
Q: Was that the only major obstacle that you had to clear?
Budziszewski: Although the doctrine of justification had at one time
presented an even greater obstacle, by this time that obstacle had already
broken up. The Churchs approval of the Joint Declaration on the
Doctrine of Justification, in 1999, had been especially helpful to me.
We came to recognize that the Churchs actual teaching about justification
is quite different from what we had always taken it to be. It was not
what we had believed as Protestants, but it contained nothing to which
we were unable to submit, and it made sense.
Q: With that problem resolved, did the rest of the process go smoothly?
Budziszewski: We went through RCIA in the ordinary way. It was good
to go through it with all kinds and conditions of people. One of the thrilling
things about the Catholic Church is that it is so obviously drawn from
all classes, all nations, all cultures. At Protestant services one tends
to see only people like oneself. At Mass on Sunday morning, we saw every
sort of people: professional, working-class, Hispanic, black, Asian, speaking
all sorts of languagesnot because of a quota system or a multicultural
ideology, but because this is the Body of Christ.
Q: Were there any individualsfriends or colleagueswho were
particularly important in the process?
Budziszewski: Yes, certain Catholics we know have been deeply important
to us. Two such people were our sponsors, close friends of very long standing.
For years they had been saying to us, "Your whole understanding of
things is Catholic. You think like Catholics. You sound like Catholics.
You have a Catholic sensibility. Why arent you Catholics?"
We know now that many other Catholics were praying for us. And of course
certain conversations with Catholic friends and colleagues had helped
us along the way.
Q: Can you think of any particular example?
Budziszewski: Some years ago, during a long conversation with a Catholic
friend who knew of my attraction to the Church, I indulged in a bit of
bellyaching. "I cant call this an objection to Catholic doctrine,"
I said, "but you cant deny the flat tonelessness of the language
coming from some of the liturgical reforms. Besides, the Church puts up
with forms of popular piety that are utterly inconsistent with its own
teachings." My example was an urban Catholic church I knew that displayed
the motto "MARY, SAVE US" in enormous letters. I said, "You
know, I know, and the Church knows that Mary doesnt save us. Mary
points to her Son. Jesus saves us. So why is this tolerated?"
My friend leaned back and answered, "All of this is true. These are
real problems. The Church knows about them. But in 200 years theyll
all be taken care of."
It was a preposterous reply, and on another evening, in another mood,
I might have considered it glib. That evening, though, it struck me that
my friend was viewing things from the perspective of the Church. As a
Protestant, I realized that I had a much shorter timeline and that much
of what I considered wisdom might actually be impatience. The mystery
of the endurance of the Church through the centuries sank in a little
Q: In light of your concerns about the liturgy, and your background in
the Episcopalian Church, did you have any interest in the Anglican Use?
Budziszewski: Never. We knew about Anglican Use. But we said if we
were going to be Catholics, we wanted to go all the way. We had "made
God wait" long enough, and had no remaining nostalgia for Anglican
By the way, "concerns about the liturgy" is a little strong.
I was too ignorant to be "concerned." I was merely annoyed.
Besides, submitting to flattened language is an exercise in humility.
Who am I to say, "The Church must live up to my aesthetic standards?"
We are supposed to become saints, not aesthetes. We dont need to
waste time complaining about plaster statues, plastic Rosaries, or words
that dont come up to our poetic standards.
"Flattened" is also a relative term. The Catholic liturgy retains
deep beauty. It is a deep grace to be given the opportunity to say before
receiving the Eucharist, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but
only say the word and I shall be healed."
Q: Were there any doors that you found either opened or closed socially
or professionallyafter your conversion?
Budziszewski: Thats a difficult question, because much of this
is still sorting itself out. We did wonder what would happen after our
conversion. Would our Protestant friends think that we werent Christians
any longer? But although there have been a few isolated problems, most
of the Protestants weve worked with have said to us, "We know
you are following Christ. If youre still glad to work with us, were
still glad to work with you."
We were Catholic-friendly Protestants, and of course we intend to be Protestant-friendly
Catholics. The teaching of the Church strongly encourages us in that intention.
Q: Has anything surprised you about being Catholic? Have there been any
Budziszewski: There have been many adjustments, but they seem more
like an adventure than a difficulty. One thing weve found is that
it takes much longer to learn Catholic culture than Catholic doctrine.
There are so many things that we had misunderstood!
For example, when we first began to visit Catholic parishes, we had the
reaction most Protestants do: They seemed cold. You go in, and no one
but the greeter says anything to you. You sit down, and at the end of
the service everyone leaves. We concluded from this that parish community
doesnt exist. What weve discovered is that this isnt
true. Parish community exists, but it doesnt manifest itself at
the door as it does in Protestant congregations. It manifests itself in
the multitude of ongoing ministries. That is where you meet people and
One Sunday after Mass at St. Marys Cathedral, our Austin home parish,
we found our perspective turning upside-down when a new acquaintance warmly
said to us, "Ive noticed you coming for several months, and
Ive wanted to talk with you so much, but I was afraid of speaking
for fear of scaring you away." Im absolutely convinced that
she was sincere. She plainly wanted us to become part of the community,
but we wouldnt have known it. What might have seemed like chilliness
was really an expression of her warmth. It was rather touching, rather
amusing, and a little bit bizarre, like finding yourself in a tribe where
you express your gratitude for the meal by belching loudly.
Q: Its also a different style of welcome, isnt it? You can
come into a parish church and sit in the back anonymously, and youre
free to do that; no one will bother you.
Budziszewski: Thats right. The idea is, "Take your time.
Were not going to greet you so aggressively that you become alarmed
and run away." You have to appreciate the consideration in that.
While getting used to these fascinating aspects of Catholic culture, weve
also been "translating" them for our Protestant friends. Let
me tell you about one of our most interesting experiences as translators.
The modern university, you know, is an aggressively agnostic placeoperationally
atheist, if not theoretically atheist. People of faith often feel isolated
on the university campus. This is especially true of graduate students.
So for several years my wife and I have hosted a weekly meeting in our
home for Christian graduate and professional students in various disciplines.
We supply the dinner; they supply the discussion.
Most of these young people are conservative Evangelicals. When they found
that Sandra and I were becoming Catholic, they were stunned, simply floored.
They couldnt believe that we were no longer Christians, but they
couldnt believe that Catholicism was Christian, either.
Discussion at these dinners is wide open, so they knew that they were
free to raise their concerns. For weeks, the only topic they wanted to
discuss was their objections to Catholicism. It was a great introduction
to Catholic apologetics. We view it as part of our catechesis. To answer
all those questions, we had to learn a lot, really fast.
It was also fun. We saw barriers dissolving and prejudices breaking up.
Another interesting result was that the Catholic members of the group,
who had always felt outnumbered, found their voiceand grew, unexpectedly,
closer to the others.
Q: Have you encountered any altered expectations about your professional
work? You recently published an article in First Things about the death
penalty, for instance. Are there people who think that now, since youre
a Catholic, you should think in a certain way about specific issues?
Budziszewski: I wondered if that might be the case. But the view that
I take on capital punishment is compatible with Catholic teaching, you
know. Its not disobedient for a Catholic to believe that capital
punishment still has a place even today.
Q: Certainly its not disobedient. But its also not popular.
Budziszewski: Right; its not popular. The general tendency in
Catholic discussion runs the other way. Frankly I think that one side
of the debate has seized upon certain papal teachings and exaggerated
them to its own advantage.
I had expected that some people would say, "See here, no sooner do
you convert than you become a dissident!" That hasnt taken
place. People may think Im seriously wrongIve received
a certain amount of email telling me how mean I ambut they rarely
claim that Im heterodox or disobedient.
Writing the article did involve some struggle for me. The main difficulty
doesnt lie in submitting to the magisteriumthat I can dobut
in trying to understand what submission means in this case.
The Holy Father is obviously deeply uncomfortable with capital punishment.
This is not an infallible teaching, and as a scholar, I am supposed to
present the best arguments I can. Yet even with respect to teachings that
fall short of infallibilityand with respect to discomfort that falls
short of explicit teachingI should try to think with his mind, and
I am glad to do so. But what does it mean to think with his mind, when,
with respect to some applications of capital punishment, we would probably
disagree? Ive been trying to work that out. I hope Im succeeding.
Q: Are there other notable discoveries that you have made since becoming
Budziszewski: Your request to interview me illustrates something else
that my wife and I have discovered since becoming Catholics.
We had always thought that the telling of conversion stories was an Evangelical
Protestant custom. Evangelicals love such stories so much that when two
Evangelicals meet, the very next question after "Tell me your name,"
and "Tell me where you live and work," is often "Tell me
We have been surprised, and affectionately amused, to discover that Catholics
love conversion stories, too. But what Catholics especially love is the
stories of Protestants who convert to Catholicism!
Lifelong Catholics sometimes tell us, "Its so good for us to
talk to people like you, because people think were crazy to be Catholic.
Were so encouraged whenever we find someone who isnt Catholic
discovering that Catholic faith makes sense."
Q: Your story can also be encouraging in another way, since it gives us
a window into the thinking of people who are not Catholics, but might
be interested in the faith. Your story may give us some insight as to
how we can encourage others to enter the Church.
Budziszewski: That reminds me of another discovery weve made
about Catholicism. Catholics are said to be uninterested in evangelism.
Of course they are interested in evangelism. But they approach it in different
A Catholic young woman whom my wife and I know well always had a strong
negative reaction to the term "evangelism." We were surprised
to learn that she has a very strong positive reaction to the term, "evangelization."
When she thinks of "evangelism," she thinks of Protestants throwing
Jack Chick tracts into the windows of passing cars. But when she thinks
of "evangelization"the term that weve found is more
commonly used in Catholic circlesthen she thinks of sharing the
Differences in vocabulary and language needlessly inhibit understanding
between Catholics and Protestants. It has been awfully good to discover
that some of these barriers are smaller than we had expected them to be.
Q: Its a bit more than simply a linguistic difference, isnt
it? Theres a cultural difference behind that use of different terms.
Catholics are more inclined to take what one might call a Hippocratic
approach to evangelization; the principle is: "First, do no harm."
Budziszewski: Yes, but "First, do no harm" might seem to
Protestants to be a euphemism for doing nothing. What weve found
is that although Catholics "do something" about evangelization,
what they do is different.
For instance, a Catholic is more likely to think: "If only I can
get my friend into church, then he may be willing to talk about the Gospel,
because the liturgy itself is such a teacher." Whereas an Evangelical
is more likely to think: "If only I can talk with my friend about
the Gospel, then he may be willing to come to church."
Q: And neither approach is right. Or maybe it would be more accurate to
say that each approach is both right and wrong.
Budziszewski: Each is partly right. Theres something to be said
for each approach. They need each other.
I believe the Catholic Church to be the true Church, but I dont
think that I attenuate my Catholic faith by saying that we can learn some
things from Protestants. We ought to be in dialogue.
This interview originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Catholic
World Report. Read Part One of the interview here.
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