On April 15, 2017, I was received into the Catholic Church at my parish’s annual Easter Vigil. As I stood and received the sacrament of Confirmation, I felt a stirring in my soul that I had sought for years, but never could seem to grasp. Since that night, I’ve found a world of new experiences—new struggles, but also new blessings and delights—as I’ve lived out my Catholic faith with the never-ending grace of Jesus.
The faith life of a convert to Catholicism is often significantly different from that of Catholics who were raised in the Church. While “cradle” Catholics are very familiar with the rituals and formalities of Church life, many converts may view the Faith as a gift to be unwrapped before, during, and after each Mass. On the other hand, some converts may not find this curious zeal until much later in their walks of faith. But whether you were born into a Catholic family or are a lone convert in a long line of Protestants (or “nones!”), there is always so much to discover about living our faith.
Here are some observations based on my full calendar year as a Catholic.
You Don’t Have to Forget Where You Came From
Before and during RCIA, I foolishly believed that I would have to “forget” everything I learned while growing up in the Church of Christ denomination. It was in the Churches of Christ that I first learned about Jesus, the Bible, and the importance of communion and baptism. I assumed that I would have to “trash” this foundation in exchange for a whole new one.
Rather, I discovered (and continue to discover) that my faith formation as a child and young adult continues to be relevant. This formation helped propel me into becoming a Catholic. Even if you came from a background with little to no religious foundation, there may have been good-hearted individuals in your life who directed you on a path that led you to the Church.
The Church is a Diverse Community
The word “Catholic” means “universal,” and the Church bears this name with good reason. As a worldwide church, Catholicism encompasses adherents from all races and nations. The Church is not restricted by national borders or skin color. During my first full year as a Catholic, I’ve learned that Catholic culture has many manifestations. For example, some enjoy attending Saturday Vigil Mass, while some are consistent Sunday attendees. Some Catholic women may choose to wear chapel veils, and others may not. Some may faithfully attend Adoration, while some may choose a daily Rosary (or both!). There are so many diverse ways to be a Catholic, all while remaining faithful to the Church. Day by day, I am discovering my own unique way to practice Catholic devotion.
Evangelization is Necessary and Tough (but Doable!)
I believe that each Catholic should pursue regular evangelization. However, there are many barriers that stand in the way of this, such as fear or lack of knowledge of the Bible or Church teachings. As a convert, however, I realize that I have a special experience that many non-converts may not have had. Throughout my first year, I’ve met many people who have asked about Catholicism, why Catholics do what they do, and why we hold beliefs that other Christian groups do not. While I don’t always have the answers, these moments prompt me to study and learn more about the Faith. Each day I have learned to make an effort to evangelize my friends, family, and those I encounter daily.
Catholicism is Demanding, but Joyful
I have been surprised by the joy that stems from living as a Catholic. Before, I had not experienced “joy” in my practice of faith. It seemed more like a dull duty than an act of love. As I’ve grown in my Catholic practice, I’ve found a new source of joy in attending Mass, celebrating Holy Days, and even in using the Sacrament of Confession. Catholicism is not for the faint of heart, but we are made strong through Christ. It takes dedication and a willingness to love and learn from Our Lord without limits. Through these obligations and practices set by the Church, I have discovered a joy in my life that has sustained me in the toughest of times.
In sum, my first year as a confirmed Catholic has been a year unlike any other in my life. Through all my new experiences, I have been challenged and consoled in my life of faith. But, most importantly, I have grown closer to Our Lord through His Church. If you are a convert (or a revert), I challenge you to think about the positive changes that have occurred in your life since your conversion or return to the Church. Use these changes to spread the Gospel to those you encounter each and every day. Find and live the joy of Christ, and you’ll find yourself accompanying others in the new land of Catholicism.