The obvious reason to become a Catholic is that you accept the claim of the Church to be a divine institution meant for all men, yourself included. A lot goes into that claim—what the world is like, how the Church fits into it, Church doctrine, ritual, organization, history, and what not else. One can discuss such things forever.
Conversion has a subjective side as well, though. What is it in us that makes us feel the need for the Church? No doubt the answer is that man is naturally social and ordered toward God, so he can be what he is only in society and by reference to God. Still, a defective relation to God and man shows up different ways in different times and people. Here are some thoughts about the situation today, at least among many people:
- Most people don’t seem to feel the need to be saved from their sins any more. That feeling depends on knowledge that there is an objective moral order from which we have fallen. The knowledge is natural, but it can be suppressed by habitual dissipation or bad education. Modern life multiplies dissipations, and modern education makes objective moral order seem incomprehensible.
- So what we experience today is a lack of objective moral order. “Do what you want,” within the limitations imposed by the equal authority of all other wills, is the highest law. “What you want” is no guide at all, however, to someone who’s asking what it makes sense to do, what he owes to himself and others, or what will give him the enduring satisfaction of having done what is right.
- It seems to us then that the world has no meaning apart from what we give it. The problem though is that we can’t create meaning. At most we can pursue pleasure, fall into obsession, submit to the desire of others, or try somehow to divert our attention from our situation. None of those things satisfies us. Further, we can’t really believe things have no meaning. As a result, we come to feel that our whole way of life is not simply directionless but radically misdirected in a way we can’t identify or put right. Hence the appeal and power of radical ideologies like the politically correct liberalism now dominant.
- A world that means nothing can be nothing that matters to us. But to the extent the world becomes unreal we become unreal as well, and without a relation to a real world and real others language becomes meaningless. In the end we cannot even talk about our situation in ways that can be understood. We end blind, deaf and dumb.
- What Catholicism does for us today is give us back the world and ourselves. Incarnation fills the world with ordered meaning. The Real Presence decisively connects us to that ordered meaning and so makes it possible for us to be really present to each other and to ourselves. We know we are connected to other men through our common incorporation in the mystical Body of Christ. And the capacity of language to state truth, without which it could not carry determinate meaning, is guaranteed by the doctrine of infallibility.