October 23, 2002

Converts have had a disproportionally immense impact on the Church. St. Paul, Augustine, Newman - many of the giants were converts. Part of it may be that they have been given, by grace, a vision comparable to the sudden insight Helen Keller had when she suddenly understood the meaning of words at age eight, a joyous breakthrough that happens to "cradle learners" at around age three. Her life was utterly changed that day in Alabama, changed by the opening of a world denied. Cradle learners like us take words for granted - but she had fasted before the feast.

Garcia Lopez de Cardenas discovered the Grand Canyon and was amazed at the sight....The assumption is that the Grand Canyon is a remarkably interesting and beautiful place and that if it had a certain value P for Cardenas, the same value P may be transmitted to any number of sight-seeers - just as Banting's discovery of insulin can be transmitted to any number of diabetics. A counterinfluence is at work, however, and it would be nearer the truth to say that if the place is seen by a million sightseers, a single sightseer does not receive value P but a millionth part of value P.

Why? It is almost impossible because the Grand Canyon, the thing that it is, has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer's mind. Seeing the canyon under approved circumstances is seeing the symbolic complex head on. The thing is no longer the thing as it confronted the Spaniard; it is rather that which has already been formulated- by picture postcard, geography book, tourist folders, and the words Grand Canyon. As a result of this preformulation, the source of the sightseer's pleasure undergoes a shift. Where the wonder and delight of the Spaniard arose from his penetration of the thing itself, the sightseer measures his satisfaction by the degree to which the canyon conforms to the performed complex.
-Walker Percy Message in the Bottle

The convert seeing the Church in its true light for the first time is like someone seeing an infinitesimally small fraction of the light of God. But that light is transformative. Supernatural grace allows those who think they have seen the light to be renewed to see it as if for the first time. Cardinal Newman once wrote a woman who was enthused by her conversion; he said it was great news, but may it continue over time.

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