Questions to Ask Yourself Before Converting
Converting to the Catholic Faith is a pretty big deal. There is still a lot of prejudice against Catholics, even in the 21st century. Some Protestants still insist that Catholics are not Christian, and converting to Catholicism is akin to converting to a cult. Thus, becoming Catholic can be extremely counter cultural. Here are a few things to consider before becoming Catholic. Note that these questions are primarily geared toward baptized Christians who have already made a basic profession of faith in Jesus Christ at baptism before becoming Catholic:
Becoming Catholic means that you consent to all that the Church teaches. This means that if you have deep reservations about Church teachings or morality, you should probably wait. The Catholic Church is not set up as a pick-and-choose, buffet style, religion. While we are always glad to welcome new members into our Church, it is important to join the Church on her own terms, and not one’s own terms. Does this mean that we aren’t allowed to ever have private doubts and concerns about Church Teaching? No. Doubt is natural, and everyone has doubts. The key is to continue to have faith that God has preserved Truth through the Church even when we may be struggling personally.
While some Protestant denominations tend to emphasize mental assent to the exclusion of actions, the Catholic Church, like the early Church, requires both faith and action of her members. You are expected to avail yourself of the sacraments regularly, attend Mass every Sunday and on certain other days throughout the year (unless you are ill or have another just reason), confess your mortal sins before receiving communion, avoid artificial contraception, raise your children Catholic, and so on. While these things we have just mentioned actually draw many into the Church, because they reflect early Christian teaching and are truly radical and counter cultural, they may be too much for some people. We are not discouraging you from joining the Catholic Church, nor are we implying that our readers cannot handle the Church’s requirements. We just want our readers to be aware of what is expected. We may not always live up to what God expects of us, but as Catholics we are expected to make an effort, and certainly we are not to dismiss the Church’s morality and requirements as out-of-hand.
For Anglicans and others whose former denominations have a lot in common with Catholicism, becoming Catholic could entail a simple service of reception into the Church, followed by confirmation either that day or later. For others, the process may involve a four to seven month long program called RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. If you are unbaptized, or were baptized in a manner not recognized as valid by the Catholic Church, you may have to be baptized before joining. This means you must willingly accept Jesus as Lord and profess this before the Church and world at your baptism. The point is that becoming Catholic may require some time and effort on your part. As the saying goes, “the best things come to those who wait.” It is well worth the wait, and in addition to (ideally) getting a solid grounding in the Catholic faith, you will develop friendships in RCIA that will last a lifetime. Don’t feel too badly though, because in the early Church the catechesis process was three years long and very intense!
Unfortunately, some RCIA programs have a reputation for watering down, or even downright denying, basic Catholic Teaching and morality. This is probably done to make the faith less offensive, or because the teachers do not accept Catholic Teaching themselves. However, the result is that many converts become frustrated with RCIA, because they are joining the Church because they believe that Catholic Teaching, even the controversial parts, are true and worth following. While being involved in this type of RCIA setting is frustrating, there are ways to make the situation more bearable. First, act as a charitable witness to true Catholic Teaching, offering an orthodox and factual perspective to counter incorrect teaching. Second, remember that no RCIA program is perfect, and be willing to recognize the positive aspects of your RCIA program, even if there are many negatives involved. Third, pray for your teachers, sponsors, and fellow candidates/catechumens. Fourth, if you feel the problem is particularly bad, discuss the issue with the parish clergy and explain your concerns.