Considering Catholicism

When a Protestant who is considering the Catholic Church calls me for advice the conversation goes back to some recurring difficulties. So here are some commandments for converts.

  1. The Catholic Church is not just another denomination. It’s very different from all the Protestant churches you have ever attended. Behave as if you’re visiting a foreign country.
  2. Be curious, not critical.
  3. You’re right. There are plenty of hypocritical, heretical and lukewarm Catholics. There are a fair few Prots like that too aren’t there?
  4. The Catholic Church is huge. Don’t compare it to your Protestant sect. Compare it to all Protestants of every kind in every Prot organization everywhere. Did you find some loony, left wing scary Catholics? Remember the Episcopalians. If we have to answer for radical theologians and loony leftie nuns you have to answer for Kitty Schori, Mary Glasspool,  the Jesus Seminar and Matthew Fox.
  5. I know it seems like you’re “not getting fed.” Once you’re received into the church you’ll be fed alright: Fed the Body of Christ. Be patient.
  6. Stop imagining that there’s a perfect church somewhere. Utopianism is an American disease. If you expect conflict and imperfection you won’t be so disappointed with the Catholic Church (or with life generally for that matter)
  7. The Catholic Church is in an epic battle with modernism. Don’t just complain about fuzzy feel good sermons, comfort hymns and carpeted churches. Join those of us who are working to ‘reform the reform’ and play your part.
  8. You wonder where the ‘fellowship’ is. That’s because a typical Catholic parish is huge and socially varied. Protestant churches tend to develop congregations from the same socio economic background. No wonder they have ‘good fellowship’. In the Catholic Church you will find your ‘fellowship’ in one of a huge number of sub groups. Once you’ve swum the Tiber, join the Women’s Club or the Knights of Columbus or the Pro Life Group or the Carmelite Prayer Group or the Third Order Franciscans.
  9. Yes, we do read the Bible, but we read it within the tradition and prayer of the Church. The Scriptures are woven into the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. Be prepared to see the Scriptures you love in a totally fresh and exciting way.
  10. Ask why you are considering the Catholic Church. If you’re just church shopping you still have a long way to go. The big question is authority. If you have come to believe that the Catholic Church really is the fullest expression of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and that the Holy Father is the God-appointed successor of Peter, Christ’s apostle on earth, then get yourself into the Catholic Church as soon as you can. Everything else will follow.

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  • dancingcrane

    Left the looniness long before it hit the papers. Proud member of the Tiber Swim Team of 1980!

  • Robert

    WRT the perfect church, it would stop being perfect the moment a single sinner entered. Anyone looking for the perfect church must agree with Groucho Marx who refused to be a part of any organization that would accept him as a member.Anyone looking for the perfect church must not believe Jesus when he said he would let the wheat and weeds grow together until the day of judgement.

  • Tim H.

    Outstanding Father. Thank you.And perhapse a word on fervor and excitement as well… The child-like noise and clamor over Jesus you are probably used to will be replaced with great calm and peace. This peace can only come after you realize that Christ is physically present in the sacraments. This presence is not symbolic, metaphorical or strictly spiritual. This presence is physical and actual. There is great feeling of calm and dignified confidence in knowing that in the Eucharist, you have been fed with the body and blood of Jesus Christ and that you have been infused with Christ's soul and divinity.This is why Catholics don't need so many Jesus bumper stickers. -Tim-

  • Janny

    Father–I've got a couple of friends I've been patiently trying to "encourage" toward the Catholic Church, both of whom are evangelical Protestants and both of whom are Catholic-friendly. May I steal this wonderful post and use it for a good cause (i.e., my blog)?:-)JB

  • matthewsmom

    Going into a Catholic Church for the first time is like visiting a new country. You have lined up your passport, scary as THAT was with all the questions and the money forked over, you have traveled a long distance, looking for friendly faces and you finally arrive at your destination.Will you be able to understand the language? Will you be able to follow along in their customs and traditions? How will you know what to do and when to do it?You will never know unless you actually GO!To all those who are curious about the Church – come, please, you are WELCOME at any time – come and sit in the quiet, come and sit during a Mass – but come – Jesus is calling YOU!

  • Magister Christianus

    Father, you write:"The Catholic Church is huge. Don't compare it to your Protestant sect. Compare it to all Protestants of every kind in every Prot organization everywhere. Did you find some loony, left wing scary Catholics? Remember the Episcopalians. If we have to answer for radical theologians and loony leftie nuns you have to answer for Kitty Schori, Mary Glasspool, the Jesus Seminar and Matthew Fox."That is something most Protestants would not consider. Because we are hived off from each other, we do not consider the lunatic fringe to be part of us.You are, of course, absolutely right. It is a point well worth making. Please pray for me as I continue to consider the Tiber swim.

  • Kristyn

    As a convert, I want to add my agreement to your last lines, Fr.:"If you have come to believe that the Catholic Church really is the fullest expression of Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and that the Holy Father is the God-appointed successor of Peter, Christ's apostle on earth, then ***get yourself into the Catholic Church as soon as you can.*** Everything else will follow." (emph. mine)This past week I have suffered a miscarriage. I am thankful with all my heart, soul, mind and strength that I did not suffer this loss as a Protestant. I don't know if I could have borne up under the sorrow. Sometimes, particularly in RCIA, we heard how Catholics and Protestants have so much in common, we're practically the same. Balderdash. I noticed it was the "cradle Catholics" who said that. If you have been Protestant, if you have wallowed in the quagmire of trying to get it all right and have it fall apart time and time again, you know that there just ain't nothing like the real thing—the Church Jesus started is the Church Jesus started and you just can't improve on that. God bless you, Father. :)

  • The Idler

    Thanks for this post. I have been really suffering some major discouragement lately with all of this, and RCIA has often left me feeling like I am surrounded by immaculate saints and then there's me. :(Conversion is hard. Especially after reading Anne Rice's statements…Oh well.

  • HCSKnight

    Fr., what do you mean by>>Join those of us who are working to 'reform the reform'<

  • David

    One additional question: I can't get my head around the Catholic teachings about Mary's immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, and bodily assumption. Where do those come from?

  • Michael

    Dear Fr. Longenecker,Thank you for this post. I have been leaning towards Catholicism / RCIA for quite some time. On analysis there are, however, some obstacles to my conversion, one of which I have tried unsuccessfully to obtain an answer to on a variety of Catholic websites:I was appalled to read in CCC 846 (I bought the Catechism last week)that Non-Catholics are basically on a one-way ticket to Hell. Yet this seemed to be in conflict with CCC 604 and 605: Christ died for us (no qualification in 604)and is confirmed as "none of the little ones will perish /Christ died for all – without exception"(CCC 605).Any advice? I hope that I have misread something and am continuing my private studies, but I do not think, for one moment, that any church could claim that if anybody who is not a member of their specific Church is damned. Such a stance would be cultish and in direct opposition to Jesus's outlook on mankind's salvation.Here's hoping for guidance.Regards and blessings.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    Re: Mary, you might want to try Mark Shea's trio of books on how the Marian doctrines work and why they were developed. (It's really one big book, but separated into three volumes of less scary size.)If you like a debate form, our host has a nice book for you, too!Re: non-Catholics — That very paragraph says very clearly that it's about those "who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it." That's not being someone who just happens to be a non-Catholic, is it? That's being someone who really truly knows — which is to say, believes — all the most important Catholic beliefs about the Church, and who deliberately says no to God anyway. Deliberately saying no to God in a grave matter with full consent and full knowledge is a mortal sin. Hence, damnation is very possible if such a person doesn't repent and come to the Church.You can see that this isn't just a matter of "oh, yeah, I read about that once". It's more like the demons, who know perfectly well that Jesus is God, but aren't Christians for all that! :)So the vast majority of non-Catholics, non-Christians, and so forth don't fall under this paragraph at all, since they are ignorant of the whole thing. People who've learned the info but can't believe it for honest reasons are "invincibly ignorant", and so it also doesn't apply. This is mostly a paragraph for ex-Catholics, I'd have to say — and even there, most ex-Catholics leave because they never really believed this stuff. People who believe it usually want to stick around.I hope this helped.

  • David

    Suburbanbanshee,That certainly helped me! Any chance you could also share a similarly brief summary of the Marian doctrines? Specifically, what basis they are founded upon?

  • Mark

    Well said, though when mentioning left-wing loonies in the Church and their counterparts outside, you might also have mentioned right-wing loonies in the Church (Traditionalists who think all Protestants are going to hell) and their counterparts outside like the "Reverend" Fred Phelps of Topeka who pickets the funerals of homosexuals.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    David – I'd love to, but there's a lot more scriptural and historical stuff to explain, if it's explanation you need. It's just not a fast pithy thing. Also, I don't know what you specifically have problems with or why.Try Mark Shea's books. They're a pretty fast read, and they'll point you toward plenty of good sources.

  • Michael

    To Suburbanbanshee: Thanks for the trouble of explaining re my question about Non-Catholics and CCC 846. Much appreciated!Regards and blessings

  • Author Greg

    Excellent post, very helpful. I was fortunate to have a wonderful RCIA team, but more important, perhaps, was the growing sense that I had "come home." Of course, the thought just occurred to me that, perhaps, "feeling I had come home" was due to the prayers of the RCIA team. (And the growing awareness of the reality of the "communion of the saints.")

  • Malvenu

    Thank you, Father, for a fabulous post. I’ve been attending a Catholic Church for about a year now and all 10 points describe my experiences. I firmly believe that the Catholic Church is the One, True Church, instituted by Christ and would definitely have at least started the RCIA by now but for my wife being very anti-Catholic (for reasons that seem to be standard Protestant prejudices but, you can’t tell a Protestant that, can you?!). I realise I sound a bit like those who told Jesus they would follow him after they’d buried there parents, etc. and it frightens me.I would love to ‘get myself into the Catholic Church asap’, as you say, but doing it to the detriment of my marriage or placing obstacles in the way of my wife’s own future (hopefully) journey to Rome doesn’t seem right. Any advice?

  • Mark

    Malvenu, I faced a similar situation in my own conversion. Have you listened to Scott Hahn's conversion CD? He faced the same thing and prayerfully dealt with it in a Christ-like manner. He delayed his conversion for a while for the sake of his wife who eventually joined the Church herself. Kimberly Hahn's conversion CD is the perfect companion to his and also addresses what you're going through. The short answer is "Love her." Share what you can, whatever she is willing to her. Don't argue about it. Just love her. With Christ's help and the prayerful intercession of Our Lady, love her as you never have before and better than you ever could on your own. God bless! I'll be praying for you.

  • Malvenu

    Thank you, Mark.I haven't heard the CDs but i have read Scott and Kimberley Hahn's book about their conversions, which was heart-rending in parts.That prayer and love are key makes sense, and it's good to hear from someone with similar experiences how important those things are. Thank you!