A few days ago I turned forty years old. Since I was baptized when I was twenty, I have spent more or less half my life as a convert to Catholic Christianity. I'm still a little awed when I think of this having happened to me. On the one hand, there were lots of kids just like me at Connecticut College. Why should I have received this gift, this mercy of God? Maybe it's none of my business to know. On the other hand, the older I get, the more I can see the work of God preparing me for the vocation he has given me. I feel it in the daily practice of my priesthood; in many ways, some plain and practical and others very subtle, from a very young age God has been preparing me to offer the sacrifice of the Mass.
Of the half of my life I have been a Catholic, I have spent about two-thirds of it in religious life: a year and a half in the OFM right after college and then with the OFM Cap. starting in the summer of 2000. In another six months, on our Blessed Mother's birthday, I will have been a priest for five years. The first three years of my priesthood I spent working as a parish priest in Yonkers, New York. After that, the community asked me to move back to Boston to begin doctoral work. This assignment, however, has been interrupted by another. Last I heard, I am to move to Italy in the later spring, spend the summer in Assisi learning Italian, and then take a position in the Capuchin general secretariat in Rome starting in the fall.
It's funny being a convert. Some say converts make the best Catholics. Others say that converts tend to by annoying and given to rigidity. For better or for worse, I share some of the typical traits of Catholic converts and reverts of my generation, such as a delight in doctrine and a certain sort of attachment to the practices and behaviors of the faith, what the older generation likes to call 'structure.' Like other converts and reverts, I have found in this a blessed deliverance from the vertigo of this world's relativism and a refreshment from the boredom of its hedonism. I want to say that I don't make any apologies for this, though that would be a lie. I have made apologies over the years, in my sin and to my shame.
So, on the one hand, being a convert makes me an intensely committed Christian, Catholic, religious, and priest according to a certain pattern and along certain axes. On the other hand, the convert knows God in all of his blessed adventitiousness, as a God who has worked life-altering discernments, desires, decisions, and movements in one's life before, and who has to be known as someone who is free to continue to do so.