The decision to become a Catholic, as an Evangelical Christian, is an earth-shattering decision to make.
It’s a paradigm shift—requiring a complete re-orientation of standards, values, and worldview.
Douglas Beaumont, a theologian and convert himself, describes the experience of converting to Catholicism more akin to moving from Atheism to Christianity than to moving from one denomination to another.
It’s not as simple as taking your ball to play on another court, it’s trading in your ball for a pair of skates.
When I first decided to become a Catholic I made the cardinal mistake of thinking that all Catholic churches were the same. Unlike the Evangelical world, where different denominations meant different interpretations and emphases, I thought all Catholic churches were simply identical—it was a comforting pipedream, and nothing more.
(Spoiler alert: They’re not.)
So I called up the closest Catholic church to where we were living (they didn’t have e-mail, which should’ve been a red flag) and signed up for RCIA—the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, a 9-month initiation into the Catholic faith.
Now I’m eternally grateful for the earnest folks who ran the program but it wasn’t, from the get-go, exactly what I was hoping for.
Having already consumed a dozen books on various facets of the Catholic faith, having watched what must’ve been hundreds of hours of lectures on YouTube, and having been well-heeled in the Bible as an Evangelical I often felt like I knew more than those running the course; that their dusty overheads and linotype photocopies didn’t exactly get to the point.
Still, I went through the process, and I’m grateful. But I’ll never forget, a month or so after becoming Catholic, what the elderly parish priest said when he approached me after daily Mass one morning.
At the time, before kids, I was blessed with a schedule that was flexible enough to be able to attend Mass every morning before zipping off to work. I was a regular pew-warmer with a diverse crowd of about 50 or so who attended.
“I’m so glad to see you out,” he said, taking me aside one morning. “Most folks who go through RCIA are never seen again after the first month of Sundays. It’s a shame.”
As a wannabe Catholic consuming literature and lectures and digging into the beautiful world of Catholic piety the faith can seem like the greatest slice of Heaven on earth imaginable.
In practice, it can sometimes be nowhere close.
Instead of a choir of heavenly angels singing at the consecration of the Host we’re treated to an off-key chorus of guitars or the melancholy drone of the retired music teacher, subbing in on the church’s antiquated organ system.
There is, in my experience, a certainly reality that Catholic converts have to face down eventually and, when it hits, it hits hard.
See, there’s a lot that’s incredible about the Catholic Church but a lot that sucks, too.
As an Evangelical I read and read and read until I was convinced that the Catholic Church truly was the Church founded by Christ; that it hadn’t disappeared or fallen into disarray or been abandoned by God.I came to believe that when Christ said he was present in Holy Communion, and that we must consume him, he actually meant that. Literally. And, truly, I could never understand why Evangelical literalists wouldn’t come to the same conclusion, too.
I came to believe that the best representation of the undivided, physical body of Christian believers that Jesus prayed for, and about, in his last recorded prayer on earth was best sussed out—best represented—in the Roman Catholic Church.
And, most of all, I came to be so strongly convicted of this that I could do nothing but become Catholic—as difficult a decision as that may have been.
But becoming Catholic and then being Catholic are two different, disparate things because once you make that leap it doesn’t take long to discover that while on paper the Church sounds beautiful the choir often ends up being that off-key chorus instead.
But new converts should take heart, like Jesus told us to, because we haven’t been abandoned.
It’s simple, but difficult, to imagine that God has the best things for us in store—things we couldn’t possibly imagine—in our new Catholic lives.
For one thing, if what the Catholic Church says about itself is true, then it’s the most vibrant, fulsome expression of Christian faith imaginable. Off-key chorus and all. That we are taking part in the Holy Communion of the Saints in the most full way possible should, alone, be an incredible comfort to all new converts.
But sometimes once that beautiful afterglow of the Easter Vigil wears off it can feel a little, well, dull. Depending where you are.
Because there are those parishes with the droning organ music, half-hearted liturgies, and few programs to actually engage and equip parishioners and while that shouldn’t be the case—while Catholic churches should be the most life-giving places on earth—it’s the simple, sad reality sometimes.
But it’s something we can change, and we’re likely where we are for a reason.
Us, the Evangelical converts of the Catholic Church, bring a set of skills, knowledge, and passion that our Cradle Catholic friends can greatly benefit from. We, too, are an important part of the Body of Christ. And while we certainly don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water (maybe the guitar chorus can stay for now) we should certainly feel invited to get involved in parish life—or start parish life altogether.
Plug in; get involved.
What depressed me, years ago, about what that parish priest said to me after daily Mass was that a mass dropout of newly-minted Catholics, following the completion of RCIA, was completely avoidable. Certainly, in many Catholic parishes, the on paper beauty of the Catholic Church is nowhere near on display but in many others it is.
And in many there are, at least, aspects of what drew you and me into conversion in the first place. The Blessed Sacrament, which is always present, the beauty of the Sacrament of Confession, the liturgy. These aspects are at least a starting point.
So start there.
If you find yourself, as a new convert, wondering where that beautiful afterglow has gone to take heart and begin. Hook up with other pious, devout Catholics in your parish and get things going—pray, and act, because maybe this is exactly the opportunity parishioners in your orbit where waiting for. Maybe this is exactly what God’s had in mind all along; maybe you’re the catalyst.
And, maybe not, but we’re Catholic now and we can do every little thing for the glory of God. We’re infused with grace from the most ultimate, incredible source—Jesus Himself in the Eucharist. We’re blessed through the Sacrament of Reconciliation; ministered to by the ministers who trace their succession, their lineage, back to the very first apostles themselves.
We’re Catholics; nothing should scare us. So don’t give up just yet, okay?