How to Not Become a Catholic, A Convert’s Guide

How to Not Become a Catholic, A Convert’s Guide March 28, 2015
Photo Credit: Jamesy Pena.
Photo Credit: Jamesy Pena.

As a Protestant convert to Catholicism whose journey culminates a week from today, at the Easter Vigil, I have some experience, oddly enough, in how to become a Catholic. For me, it was a particular, miraculous journey that I’ve been writing about for a few months now. For me, I can trace certain lines—a certain narrative—through nearly a decade’s long journey. In my own journey, I can check off certain boxes and say, definitively, yes, that made me become a Catholic.

So, naturally, I wanted to help others to avoid a similar fate.

For me, it’s too late, but there’s hope for you. If you can, with the help of our Lord and your closest friends and family, avoid these certain pitfalls, while I can’t promise, I can assure you that you’ll have a much easier time avoiding the trap that I fell into.

Friends, I offer some unsolicited advice: here’s how to not become a Catholic.

Don’t Read Scott Hahn

One of the first mistakes I made as a Protestant was to read Scott Hahn.

Dr. Scott Hahn is a renown bible scholar, and Catholic convert. In the 80’s Scott and his wife Kimberly were part of a wave of famous Catholic converts from Protestantism. Dr. Hahn, a evangelical pastor, was radically converted to Catholicism and soon after his “conversion story,” recorded onto cassette tapes, started being passed around. The popularity of Scott, and then Kimberly’s, stories touched off a massive wave of Catholic conversions and encouraged the pair to write a book based on their experience called Rome Sweet Home.

Do not read Rome Sweet Home.

What you’ll discover is that Scott and Kimberly are intelligent, well-read, and well-meaning people. Dr. Hahn is now a highly renown biblical theologian, a prolific author, and a voice of authority, compassion, and expertise in the Catholic Church. He’s brought his evangelical fervor to Catholicism and hasn’t slowed down. And you, poor evangelical, thought that Catholics didn’t know their Bibles—and certainly weren’t charismatic.

Reading a conversion story as fulsome as Rome Sweet Home is dangerous. In the story of Scott and Kimberley, and the stories of other converts to Catholicism, you’ll see echoes of your own faith journey. You’ll encounter questions you may have asked, or may not have, but you’ll sure be asking them now.

And, if you’re not careful, your road may begin to take a slight jog to the left and you may find yourself at the very beginnings of a Rome bound journey.

 

Don’t Read Church History

A second, major mistake that I made was to read Church history—the history of Christianity.

I did my best. I tried to select a truly academic, historical overview from as secular a source as possible. I didn’t want history tainted by an overly Catholic perspective, a heavily Protestant point-of-view, or a work of pseudo-historical merit. I wanted the real, scholarly deal. I’m a History major, after all, so I figured I could hack it. I chose the 800-page Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch (among other sources I’ve read since).

Do not read The Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch.

MacCulloch, a self-described lapsed Anglican, describes the time of the Reformation with sometimes mind-numbingly minute detail. It’s, truly, a thick slog and you could begin thesis work based on any of the small sub-sections MacCulloch includes. Suffice to say, however, his giant tome gives you a pretty intense overview of why the Protestant Reformers split from the Catholic Church in the 16th century and what was happening in culture and society in such a seminal time and place.

But reading Church History is dangerous.

From a fulsome reading it’s clear just how tenuous some of the decisions and attitudes of the Early Reformers were. How much of Martin Luther’s personal story of enlightenment is exaggerated. How much of his doctrine of justification and the very things he split from the Church over are driven directly by a manic personality. How so much of the Reformation was thrust forward by cultural, not religious, details. How politics, war, and the European dynasties proliferated and exacerbated tensions.

And, if you’re not careful, you might realize, like I did, just how shaky the foundation—the origin—of my Protestant faith truly was. And how adequate and immediate the response of the Catholic Counter-Reformation truly was in cleaning up places the Church of 1,500 years had gone awry.

 

Don’t Read the Early Church Fathers

A third mistake that I made was nearly fatal: I began to read the Early Church Fathers.

Understand, these are the apostles of the apostles, the Christians who were taught by the very first Christians that Jesus taught. These are giants of Christianity who had direct access to those who heard Jesus’s very words, and touched his flesh. As an evangelical I didn’t even realize that this material exists and when I did, I began to devour it.

Do not read the Early Church Fathers.

As a naive, curious Christian I began to read the Early Church Fathers only to find out that they were startlingly Catholic. The Fathers wrote about Jesus being really present in Holy Communion—not simply as a symbol. They wrote, endlessly, about the importance of submitting to Bishops and respecting the authority of the Church—a Church which, in their minds, Jesus began, the apostles continued, and then passed on to them, by appointing them into places of authority.

When I began to realize that the Early Church didn’t look like the evangelical tradition I had grown up in I was shocked, and then affronted. I was always told, as an evangelical, that “house churches” were biblical—that independent, small groups of Christians meeting in an “upper room” was what happened in the first centuries of Christianity.

Instead, the Early Church is decidedly Catholic in its doctrine and its hierarchical structure, and if you’re not careful, you may come to a similarly shocking conclusion as I did. And then what?

 

Don’t Meet Any Great Catholics

The next mistake you might make is to meet some great Catholics. Don’t do it.

You may have already come to realize, at this point in your journey, especially if you didn’t heed my earlier advice, that there are some pretty amazing Catholics out there. Maybe you’ve read people like Scott Hahn, Stephen Ray, G.K. Chesterton, Frank Sheed, or Robert Barron. Sure, they’re great, and they’re vigorous, enthusiastic Christians (who are also Catholic) but you haven’t met them you, so you’re still relatively safe.

Be careful though, don’t meet any great Catholics in person.

As soon as you meet great Catholics you’ll realize that right in your very neighbourhood, right in your workplace or your community centre or—heaven forbid—your local Catholic parish, there are actual Catholics. Catholics who might be trying, for real, to live out the Christian life. Catholics who are striving to represent Jesus to the people around them.

Catholics who are devout.

And those are the ones you certainly want to avoid, at all costs.

 

Don’t Start Living Like a Catholic

But, if you’ve already met devout Catholics there’s still hope, even at this late point in the journey I can offer this solid piece of advice: Don’t start living like a Catholic.

You’ve been warned.

Because at a certain point in my journey towards Catholicism I realized that for all the book learning I’d done, for all the lectures and stories I’d watched, and for all the conversations I’d had (mostly with myself) I simply had to begin to live the Catholic life. I had to try it on for size and see if, living it out, it actually made any sense.

Don’t live like a Catholic!

Don’t start going to Mass or asking for the intercession of the saints (because you’ll get it!). Don’t try to pray the rosary (it’s shockingly easy to learn!). Don’t dabble with the Liturgy of the Hours or Eucharistic Adoration because you might fall in love with these decidedly Catholic practices and then there’s very little I, or anyone else, can do to help.

You may be, at this point, too far gone.

 

Don’t Give God an Inch

But maybe there’s still hope, maybe the slope is not yet too slippery. Maybe your descent into Catholicism can be halted and I think I have some suggestions that, even at this late hour, can help to prevent your seemingly inevitable conversion into the Catholic Church.

Here’s one idea: Don’t give God an inch.

Don’t, whatever you do, let up even the smallest part of your life to God’s control. He’ll run with it, and that’s the last thing you want.

Don’t yield your will. Stand firm, and refuse to be moved. I know, in the past, He’s gotten you through some tough times and difficult situations. I know you think you can rely on Him who is Eternal and All-Knowing to bring you through, safely, to the other side.

But you’re wrong!

The minute you give an inch to God, He’ll take a mile, and He may very well take you to a place you don’t want to go. A place of deep reverence, devotion, beauty and—on occasion if you’re lucky—sweet-smelling incense.

 

Don’t Pray

Also, whatever you do, don’t pray.

This could, ultimately, be your greatest mistake. You must simply stop praying altogether. If you insist and continue praying you may, accidentally, pray in a way you don’t mean to. Thoughts, petitions, or thankfulness are all well and good but something else might creep into your prayers and you might, by no fault of your own, pray for guidance in your faith journey.

You might pray for help, and then, friend, you’re done. Finished!

You may pray, like I did, for God to help lead and guide you and suddenly all barriers to the Catholic Church might tumble down like those mighty walls of Jericho. And you might find yourself marching right on in.

Because God answers prayers, of that you can (and probably are!) assured. In this area you need to be maximally alert and abide by the old adage: be careful what you pray for.

God gives very good gifts, and loves us very much. That’s exactly what you need to be worried about.

 

Don’t Let Your Faith Be Challenged

Finally, friends, if you’ve come this far I’m not sure what else we can muster up but I’ll surely try.

You’ve read some conversion stories, the history of Christianity and the shockingly Catholic Early Church Fathers. You’ve met some great Catholics both online and in the real world and you’ve started to make small steps in living the Catholic life. You’ve given up part of your stubborn will to God and asked Him for guidance in your journey. And now you’re here.

How, at the last bastion of common sense, the final battlefield, the great basilica of reason and sanity, can we make our stand?

We must, at this point, completely refuse to challenge our faith.

I recommend burying one’s head in the sand although successful techniques may vary.

In any case, we must refuse to be moved. We must dig in, friends, and dig in deep.

We must read all the authors we’ve always read. Visit all the websites we’ve always visited. Spend time in conversation with friends who only agree with our points of view and refuse, at all costs, to challenge the faith we’ve always known.

We haven’t grown complacent—no way!—we’ve grown confident in our faith. We know what we believe! We’re not scared to think about the Bible, the Sacraments, or the Christian Church in a new way. Nothing scares us, we’re simply too busy or too happy with the way things are right now. We won’t be challenged because we don’t need to be.

After all, Jesus taught that change is bad, complacency is good, and we can get to Heaven by doing what we’ve always done.

Right, Pharisees?

Although, if you’ve come this far, and all else fails, maybe you should just become a Catholic. I know I am.

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  • A mom in Oregon

    That was great!! I agree good Catholic friends are very dangerous!!!

    • I have read “Rome Sweet Home” by Dr. Scott Hahn about three years ago but

      this book was lost in the supertyphoon yolanda onslaught. Great reading as well as the above post “How not to become a Catholic …”

  • D.T.

    Good Catholics friends are dangerous but sadly, there are not a lot of them around!!!!! =( I wear my big miraculous medal around my neck in hopes one day, someone would approach either at work or on the streets and share my love for my Catholic faith but so far, nothing! Not even the Catholic ones. =(

  • Brittany at EquippingGodlyWomen.com

    uh oh… I’ve done nearly all of these…. I may in trouble.

    • Albert Little

      Ha! Brittany I’ve been following your story, and I’d say you certainly are. 🙂

  • Too late — I’ve done all of those and was received into the Church almost 3 years ago!

  • Beautiful article, it is true for us “back-sliders” I went to “faith disneyland” because I was away from the Catholic Church for many years, and knew I was missing something. I went to 5 or 6 different “Protestant” churches and finally settled on one non-denominational church, but decided to check out the Catholic Church one more time…It too me 5 minutes to know I belonged to the Catholic Church, but decided to read Church History, the Early Fathers, and worst of all, Scott Hahn! Father Robert Barron also! I’ll never leave the Catholic Church again. I loved the people I met at the Protestant Churches, but the beautiful richness just wasn’t there. I deeply love my Catholic Faith.

  • Martha

    Too late for me as well. Raised Lutheran and lapsed for years, 20+ years ago I picked up a copy of “Rome Sweet Home” and it was all over. I was received into the Catholic Church 20 years ago this past Easter and have worked for the Church for the past 17 years. I love our Catholic faith, I admire and love our Holy Father, I depend on the saints and the Blessed Mother, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Rome is truly home sweet home.

  • Edward A. Hara

    One thing you forgot … under no circumstances go into a Catholic forum board such as Steve Ray’s and think you are going to “get the poor, deluded papists saved from their evil idol worship.” You will meet brilliant converts and cradle Catholic who will not only be unimpressed by your Protestant logic, but will rip it to shreds, then dare you to read the books they suggest.

    Yeah, I did all the other things….been in the Church now since 2001. Ad Majorum Dei Glorium!

  • Eva-Maija

    I didn’t do any of these – except for praying and of course I had already given Him more than an inch – and still could not resist! Came home 2th of June 2011 and never regretted for a second. Quite the opposite. I love the Church (never thought one could really love it) and I am so grateful to God that He called me Home. Nice article, thank you!

  • I converted at about 40. I was watching my family members at a family reunion melt down and several couples in the family announced they were divorcing. What a great reunion. Since they were all fighting screaming and crying at my house. I took a moment and sat down and was flipping through channels randomly to drowned out the craziness when I landed for no reason on a channel I had never heard of EWTN. I was staring at the rosary. I felt a deep stirring in my heart. I felt the whispering wind of the Holy Spirit. My niece stepped next to me and said, Why are you watching that. You are not Catholic. I was like I don’t know. The next day same thing, more screaming crying and divorcing. I sat down and turned on the TV, and everyone had used the TV but there it was again on that station the rosary. I sat down and stared at it and my niece came in and stood by me. Why are you watching that? You are not Catholic. I looked up at her and stared at her. You know those moments where you realize you don’t have to find God he is standing right there in front of you. I looked around at my home, I saw like someone took off the blinders books on the medieval church, pictures of saints I had drawn, and crucifixes. My eyes went wide. I was raised a fundamentalist and had long ago stopped going to church. I still loved God… I knew God in that moment and Mary were drawing me down a path. I did not even like or understand Mary the way a Catholic would but she was fervent in her love for me. I was freaked out I tried to pretend it was not happening. Then I contacted a priest and said, okay this will sound crazy but… There were many philosophical and life choices that made me an unlikely candidate, but I told the priest. I don’t have a choice. even if I am never allowed to become a Catholic I am called to be one and I will sit in a pew for the rest of my life just to be where God told me to be. He helped me through study and counseling to make it to confirmation and first communion. There was a reason why this happened. for many years I had searched for my biological mother. I gave up a few years back and then. The day my son began RCIA my phone rang and a woman said, I think I am your aunt. She had found me on a genology site trying to find the woman from the birth certificate that I petitioned the state to give me. I knew her maiden name and the area she lived in. There they were brought to me by God. Her second question to me after identifying who I was — to what church do you belong? I was so scared I said I am a Catholic. She began to cry. so are we. Our grandmother converted to Catholicism and had the first church built on our property in a remote mountain valley and the priest conducted the first mass on our land. All things happen for a reason. For me it Is not a story about being Catholic as much as it is about going where ever God tells you because there he has something waiting for you beyond your imagination. I met my birthmother for the first time on Right to Life, Sunday and knelt with her at the cathedral in Asheville, North Carolina. May God bless her for her courage to have me under terrible circumstance and give me into the hands of a good family that loved me. Peace.

  • Yep! It happened to me too. I started the RCIA class ready to fight with the priest, then started learning about the history that had been missing from my childhood education and realized what I had been missing and looking for for the last 4 decades. Ultimately it was the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharist that convinced me. and I’ve been a Catholic for over a year now. Can’t believe it took me so long.

  • If you’re already a Catholic and do all these, you’ll fall in love ever more with our beautiful faith! It’s never too late to fall madly in love. <3 The beauty and richness, it's all there waiting to be discovered.

  • Robert “Saber Bob” Lehnert

    I stumbled on this site via Big Pulpit–and once again I have to say, the revival of the faith IS happening among the converts and “reverts” (like myself, February 2002)> Keep in up and my prayers for you and your wee little apostulate!

  • Lara Kees

    So enjoyed your post! I’m wondering if you could change one tiny grammar issue, though. Scott Hahn is a “renowned” Bible scholar, not a “renown” one, although he is a scholar of great renown.

    Sorry. And thanks again for the post. We live in the Deep South, so all encouragement for our conversion is welcome.

  • Christine

    I am so glad to have read this article. It gave me more insight as to how I wanna broaden my understanding of my Catholic faith. I am raised and born Catholic and I desire to live and die as Catholic. I can’t wait to discover more of what I have already believed in. Praise God and more blessings to you Albert!

  • It’s still shocking to me that many people find this book “Rome Sweet Home” to be the major turning point on making a religious decision. That book was riddled with so many errors and misrepresentations of the Protestant position that it merely confirmed my belief that Roman Catholicism was not true. And as for reading the early church? Well, if you mean anachronistically reading current beliefs back into it, then I guess it can make you become Roman Catholic. Kind of odd how there are some great patristic scholars and historians that have not converted! Now how is that if just reading that history makes you Roman Catholic? Scholars like J.N.D. Kelly, Richard Hanson, Jaroslav Pelikan, Markus Vincent, and many more. So, that one just makes me scratch my head.