The Catholic Church has a magnetic quality; it may attract or repel, but its presentation of the Gospel will not allow one to be merely neutral, unless one is made of plastic. She is viewed with wonder by everyone-those opposed to her can't believe she's made it this long; we who are thankful for her are amazed at her great beauty after all this time. She attracts and keeps people as diverse as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi, as G.K. Chesterton and Stephen Colbert. As a convert, the Church amazes me with her great wealth of tradition and wisdom. The prevalence of lapsed Catholics has also amazed me. While it is certainly true that the lapsed protestant is not an endangered species, a conversation with several friends of mine about topics as diverse as Walker Percy, confirmation saints (mine is St. Francis), and the Church shed much light for me on the mindset of a few of our brethren or, in this case, cistern.
I was most amazed by their love of tradition. In my mind, this is the most noticeable difference between the Catholic Church and the protestant churches-while doctrine and the Real Presence of the Eucharist cannot be minimized, one immediately notices that the Church has been around for a while. One realizes that the other churches, at least in their genesis, were defined by how they differed from the Catholic Church. My friends recognized this; one's exact phrasing of the tradition was, "it's like a secret code." Coming from a protestant background, where tradition is most noticeable in the wonderful old hymn selection, I was surprised that those who are not active in the Church still recognized it and found it attractive. If I may borrow a thought from Walker Percy, an ex-Catholic novelist who writes a book about being a communist in Columbia owes more to his novel writing from his upbringing than he does from all of the Marxist claptrap he quotes. Similarly, the Church's sense of tradition gets into the blood, and it is there indelibly whether you like it or not. Apparently lots of people like it.
The admiration of St. Francis didn't surprise me; oftentimes people remember his love of the world and forget his love of Christ. However, admiration of St. Francis guided Chesterton to the Church, and there is no reason to believe that " ad Jesus per Francis" won't become a description of more of our lives. It is the same with the admiration of Walker Percy, who I've always thought is accessible to anyone, including people who think like my friend.
The Church has an impact on those blessed to know her. If anything, it shows that the last thing the Church should do is sell her tradition in a doomed attempt for "relevancy." The fact that the Church makes such an positive and pervasive impact on those of us who are not practicing shows that there truly is something behind the Church and her traditions. That person is Christ; how else would the traditions of the Church be so tenacious?