A reader on his way into the Church writes…

Just want to thank you for your blog. It has put me on a path to becoming a Catholic that I never figured I would be on. This conversion has been on my heart for the better part of 12 years, on and off, and your blog is what finally got me to actually researching the beliefs of the Church and questioning my own Protestant raised beliefs on the Church. I just ask for your prayers that my feet would not stumble from this path or that the seeds of faith not be snatched up by the evil one. Thank you for your service to the Lord and all of His sheep.

I had one question: Is it possible to take RCIA classes via the internet or distance learning so to speak? I will be traveling for work soon and want to proceed in my learning and conversion process. Any resources you may have would be great.

Also, any thoughts on how to graciously act with a spouse who is quite opposed to this conversion to Catholicism? My wife is a believer, but is really against my even thinking of converting. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Wonderful to hear from you! Welcome home! No. There’s no such thing as distance learning RCIA. It’s supposed to be up close and personal. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t study the oceans of literature out there on your own too. I just wrote a little piece on just a smidge of the information that’s out there.

Read broadly, and not just modern works. Also, get to know Catholic culture as well as theology. Also, try to do what you can to *do* the Catholic Faith by practicing her prayers and devotions, and living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Catholic faith is incarnational, both word and flesh, idea and act. And above all, remember that you are looking not at the Perfect Church, but merely at Christ’s Church. It’s a hospital for sinners before it is a statuary of saints. When Catholics let you down (as we inevitably will, and clergy are emphatically no exception to that fact) remember .Uncle Screwtape’s strategy with all new converts when they encounter disappointment at the hands of fellow Christians.

All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?” You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwood, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won’t come into his head. He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet. What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these “smug”, commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.

As to your wife’s concerns, I don’t have a lot of personal experience with this and so am a dubious counselor. Conversion must, by its nature, be freely done. So there’s no question of trying to force your wife to agree to anything. On the other hand, neither is it right to constrain you from where your conscience calls you to go. Also, your love and your marriage vows must be respected and fostered. So it seems to me it might be possible to come together in love and allow a free airing, not so much of differences as of your love for one another and God. The knowledge that you both love God and seek to do his will can be a powerful tonic against fear. I suspect part of the fear here is simply of what this means for her. So sitting down and really listening to the fear without trying to immediately knock it down with apologetics arguments is vital. Five’ll get you ten that in addition to whatever theological and biblical arguments she is concerned about, a lot of the fear is also of losing friends and family, as well as of trying to form new relationships in an alien culture and atmosphere. Those fears are not unfounded and need to be acknowledged, as well as steps taken to help her feel safe in the face of this unexpected move by God. Once those fears are addressed, defensive wall often start to come down and she can hear you when you talk about what you love in the Faith without feeling threatened.

Also, consider inviting her to Mass and/or RCIA (after you’ve had the fear conversation) so that she can get a little familiarity with Catholics in their natural habitat. There’s nothing like getting to know the stranger to reduce the fear of the stranger.

Just my two cents.

  • Emjay

    I have no advice to give, but I’m commenting because I am in *exactly* the same situation this reader describes w/r/t his spouse. If there is any difference between me and him, it is that my wife and I have had a few good conversations about the theological issues over the last year or so.

    Here’s my question–and I would be very grateful for any comments Mark and his other readers care to make–what do you think of the idea of me becoming Catholic but continuing to attend our (wonderful, in many ways) Baptist church with my wife? I have a friend who converted to Catholicism several years ago, and he and his family attend both Mass as well as services at a Vineyard church. Is there any compelling reason not to do this? It seems like it might be the best choice for a person like me (and perhaps for the fellow who emailed Mark).

    • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

      Emjay,
      As long as you attend Mass and avail yourself of the sacramental and theological riches of the Church, there would be no problem at all with you attending your wife’s church as well…perhaps she would eventually reciprocate.

      I think the key in all of this is if the “nonconverting” spouse sees an increase in love and virtue as a result of your conversion, it will eventually open their hearts.

    • Jon

      I am the reader in the post and I took Mark’s advice and actually talked with my wife about her concerns and fears. We are not necessarily on the same page, but we do have a dialogue going and that is the most important thing (and to preface we have a very good marriage; not on the “rocks” or anything of that nature; still madly in love after 14 years; still both seeking for a deeper relationship with Christ). She is even looking to get a book on the basics of the Catholic faith that she found online so that she can try to understand what it is that I am learning. My daughter wants to attend Mass with me after I get a little more used to it and can show her what to do. My son thinks it is all just “weird” to which I replied that someone who does not believe in the Bible thinks he is just “weird” for believing and that gave him pause (he is only 8).

      I told my family that after I attend Mass for a few more Sundays with the RCIA group I got plugged into I will start attending Mass on Saturdays and going to church with them on Sundays. I don’t want us to be separate in our faiths or to have my children feel like daddy is worshiping a different God. And that agreement to go to church with them was what opened their interest in possibly attending Mass with me. And it also opened up a great discussion with my kids on the things that I am learning about at RCIA.

      So thank you for your advice and prayers Mark! God is faithful and is keeping me focused on the goal: Christ.

      P.S. I attended my first Mass last Sunday and it felt like coming home.

      P.S.S. I went to my first Ash Wednesday service last night with my RCIA group and my wife and kids all thought I looked pretty cool when I came home with the ashes on my forehead.

  • Amy

    As far as traveling for work, talk to the pastor or RCIA director in your local parish. We are willing to work with people’s schedules when necessary by doing individual sessions. (We don’t generally advertise that we do this so as not to end up with 20+ different individual sessions). If your traveling puts you in the same place most of the time, parishes in both areas may be willing to work together on your preparation. I had a young man who was in RCIA in a parish several hours away and was temporarily moved for work into my town. He was able to attend our sessions and still recieve the Sacraments in his home parish rather than having to stop and start over.

  • Sealgaire

    Emjay,

    I am no expert, but I do recommend a book by Scott Hahn and his wife about the challenges they faced as a couple when he began his conversion journey. I also suggest checking material at The Coming Home Network. Many folks have experienced just your dilemma.

    Keep praying together with your wife and by all means attend Baptist services with her and invite her to come with you each Sunday to Mass. Please do take some time to learn which worship behaviors, such as receiving “communion” at the Baptist service, will no longer available for you and why. Let your joy in Catholicism shine forth and let that joy infect her over time.

    God Bless

  • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

    I have seen spouses driven apart by one trying to convert the other, forgetting that it is God who converts the heart, not us.

    Perhaps the greatest humiliation comes when one spouse (say, the wife,) realizes that if her husband ever converts, it will not be through her, but through some other person or persons entirely. And the greatest humility is to accept that God will work in His own way, in His own time. In a sense, to accept the penance of the prophet Hosea – but with greater joy and hope, because the spouse is not unfaithful so much as imperfectly faithful. And that could really be said of any of us.

    So, from what I’ve seen and experienced myself, I hesitantly suggest a threefold approach:

    First, honesty: speak your reasons for your decision, and your concern – even pain – over the division it causes in the relationship. Don’t ask anything at all of your spouse, not even understanding. Simply offer your experience to them, as a gift.

    Second, faith: having spoken, let the matter drop; just go on loving him or her as best you can, as you always have. Show by your actions that you still mean the vows you made, and that you trust God to keep you together and to draw you both closer to Him. Pray for your spouse’s greatest good, greatest happiness, greatest union with God, and try to let go of the desire to see the change happening with your own eyes.

    Third, openness: if your spouse does want to address the question with you directly, be ready – but be ready to listen to the question your spouse is asking, and to answer as simply and honestly as you can. Remember that his or her questions are likely to be different than the ones which led you to the Church, and that Christ is big enough to answer them all.

    I hope this is helpful. It comes mainly from my own experience and observations, so please feel free to discard or modify as you see fit.

    • Jon

      Robert,
      Thanks for the comments. I have already been following your advice and not bringing up anything up with my wife and kids. Not trying to convert any of them. Not even talking with them about what it is that I am learning unless they begin the conversation. Then I have the freedom to talk because it is them initiating the conversation.

      This is new for me. I am the type of person that usually shouts and brow beats about the wonderful new “truths” I am learning. Now there seems to be only a quiet and still peace about all of this, a greater deal of introspection and meditation on the Truths that God is teaching me. And the feeling that God has humbled me and there is nothing to shout about because it is all Him and none of me other than my willingness to follow and obey.

      • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

        Jon, you’ll be in my prayers!

    • Joseph

      Ronald,

      This is absolutely fantastic advice and I couldn’t agree more. I thought I was reading some lost letter from St. Monica to St. Augustine speaking of her strategy regarding her husband.

      • Sal

        What Robert said, in spades.
        From my own experience, the best advice I can offer is “Don’t be an ass.”
        My intentions re: conversion of family had to undergo a very long and painful purification. The acceptance of an alternate timeline was a great peace.
        And while not ever gainsaying the power of grace, we will sometimes do well to remember that ingrained prejudices can be stronger than reason or facts.

  • Dwight

    Jon, welcome home!
    I made the leap from Southern Baptist to Catholic in 2009. My wife was hesitant for me to become Catholic, but was supportive to the extent that she asked questions and listened, and even attended the Easter Vigil service when I came into full communion. Our oldest child received her First Communion and all four children were baptized into the faith in 2010. Praise God, my wife joined the Catholic Church on Easter Vigil 2011.
    My real problems with becoming Catholic have come from my extended family. My parents and sister have been anything but supportive of our being Catholic, and it is a very uncomfortable topic, if it’s brought up at all.
    I’ve been in your shoes, and my best advice is to follow the Holy Spirit. God bless!

  • Joe Magarac

    I write only to note that technically, baptized Protestant Christians are “candidates” who are not supposed to go through RCIA or receive the sacraments at Easter Vigil. Only true “catechumens” – unbaptized persons – are supposed to do that. See U.S. Conference of Bishops, National Statues for the Catechumenate, Nov. 11, 1986, at ¶31. As a baptized Protestant, you should be permitted to meet with a priest or his delegate and, if you appear to understand and profess the Catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles, receive the sacraments of initiation from your parish priest in the manner of your choosing (e.g., at a Sunday Mass, daily Mass, or special Mass). See “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults: Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church” at ¶475.2. Most parishes don’t make this distinction and just make everyone go through the 9-month RCIA process. But if you don’t want to or can’t do that, you can use these authorities to convince the parish to accommodate you.

    I cannot for the life of me understand why nearly American parishes force the RCIA process on Protestants who wish to join the Church, when doing so imposes a real burden on many of them and is directly counter to the USCCB documents. But then, nearly all American parishes have a platoon of “extraordinary” Eucharistic ministers at every Sunday Mass, which is also directly counter to the USCCB documents.

    • Amy

      Part of it is ignorance. The person in charge of the RCIA doesn’t know all that much about it and just does whatever the person before them was doing.

      Part of it is also a matter of time and resources. The pastor or director simply cannot hold 10 different classes to suit everyone’s individual level. In my parish we have separated into two groups. We have one for well-catechized Christians who are very certain about joining which is much shorter and less involved than the longer process. However, if I am uncertain about the candidate’s motivation, if they aren’t very sure about it, or if they don’t appear well-catechized, they go in the longer group with those who are not baptized (separate rites though). I can do two classes, but not three. I only have so many nights in the week and this isn’t my only responsibility. If the pastor is teaching the class, they have even less time. And it is hard to justify giving up an extra night for one person. That may sound selfish, and it may be selfish, be we need time off too.

      Also, reception into full communion “should ordinarily take place at the Sunday Eucharist of the parish community” (National Statues for the Catecumenate #32).

  • http://www.wayoftheplayer.com Kieran

    Interesting read, I’d like to get to my Catholic roots, you make it sound really great!


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