We chatted on the phone recently, and I remembered all the things I wish someone had told me when I was a newly minted Catholic. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Dive In
The Catholic waters are deep and broad. It’s impossible to plumb their depths, even in a lifetime, but what a joy to swim and go deep! So make use of that head of steam that often accompanies conversion and plow full speed ahead. We’ll see some concrete ways to do this shortly.
2. Time is on Your Side
The flip side to diving in is realizing that you have time–hopefully, the rest of your life–to immerse yourself in the Church. So you haven’t read the Summa yet? Well, it can wait a while; you don’t have to read it now necessarily.
So you haven’t yet experienced Mobile Loaves and Fishes, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Perpetual Adoration, Corpus Christi processions, the March for Life, read the Catholic Encyclopedia, all the lives of the Saints, gone to the Tridentine Mass and prayed the 54-day Rosary novena? It’s okay! You’ve only been Catholic for a month (or a year, of five years). You have time for it. Do whatever God leads you to do, during the current season of your life.
3. Write Down Your Story
And also write down the thoughts and emotions you have experienced in converting. Write down your mindset as a Protestant and how the paradigm shift occurred that led you to become Catholic. The central part of it is mysterious, unquantifiable, hidden in the heart of God and His grace. But you can commit to paper (or electronic ink) as much as you comprehend. It will be valuable later, for you certainly, maybe for others.
You could start a blog right away if you feel called to. Or just jot them down on paper, or save them on the computer. Whatever medium you like is fine; the important thing is just to do it. It is easy to start forgetting (quite quickly) what it was like to not be Catholic.
4. Watch Out for Wonkiness
No, not Willy Wonka and his delicious chocolate confections. Wonky people. Confused people, ones who do not believe in the Church’s teachings. Sometimes they are priests and nuns; sometimes liturgists and organists; sometimes Joe Catholic next to you in the pew.
It can be a shock to the system to encounter such persons, especially since you gave up a lot to become Catholic and can scarcely imagine why someone would remain in the Church who rejected her divine authority. Yet these persons exist, in need of prayer and love. Give them that, but do not let your faith be shaken by their doubts.
5. Get Involved, Meet People
Join the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Knights of Columbus, or some other group you are interested in; go to Theology on Tap and Eucharistic Adoration. Go to daily Mass and get to know the oldsters there (and maybe as well that lovely young lady who is on fire for her faith and feels called to marriage!). Before you know it, you will start recognizing people at your parish, and they will recognize you.
6. Saints, Catechism, Devotions
Read the Catechism, and use the footnotes as a launching pad for reading particular encyclicals, Church Fathers, and Bible passages. Don’t forget that you now have seven new books in the Bible! Read them all and enjoy them.
Find out which saint’s day you were born on. Or hopefully you got to choose a Confirmation saint. Read all about them. Find a novena to them or make one up (yes that’s okay to do). Pray the Rosary and/or the Divine Mercy Chaplet, both alone and in a group and see how the dynamic differs. This entire area is inexhaustibly rich.
7. Don’t Try to Convince Your Old Friends
I became Catholic and immediately set out trying to “convert” my old Baptist friends. Did it work? No. None of them became Catholic. Instead, we had heated arguments and feelings got hurt.
Sure, always be ready to give a defense for the hope you have. But do so with gentleness and love. You may not be able to accomplish that just after becoming Catholic; the feelings of betrayal your friends are undergoing are painful and raw. You are new to the Faith and still learning a lot. It’s best just to explain as lucidly and kindly as you can why you made the decision, and then leave it to God how they respond. You cannot convince them through reason alone. It is a mystery of grace, faith, and their response to it.
8. Discern Your Vocation
If you are single when you become Catholic, guess what? You have new vocation options open to you! You may have assumed (as almost all Protestants do) that you will get married and have a family. But God might be calling you to religious life or the priesthood. How amazing, to be chosen to give yourself radically to Christ and His Church, in poverty, chastity, and obedience!
Read about St. Francis, and St. Benedict, and St. Dominic, and Sts. Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier. Read the lives of St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux.
It may be that, through your discernment, God confirms that you are called to marriage. Wonderful! Study the theology of the body, preferably with a group of other single Catholics, and learn about how beautifully we have been created by God, to give ourselves as gifts to another.
Becoming Catholic is the most awesome thing in the world. The fullness of the means of salvation are now opened to you, as well as the fullness of the truth. Embrace it all, and be not afraid to put out into the deep, for a catch, as Blessed John Paul II constantly exhorted us to do.