What to Expect When You’re Converting

My friend Anthony just became Catholic. We posted his story under the pseudonym “Steven” a month or so ago, but he’s now made his identity public.

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.

Check out the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the Sisters of Life, the Dominicans of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and any other religious communities you discover.

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.


Devin is the author of If Protestantism Is True and he blogs at St. Joseph’s Vanguard.

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  • MaryK

     “The Catholic waters are deep and broad… ‘  and even if it takes the rest of a lifetime, we will have so much more to learn.  For instance, it took me 25 years to learn that the “A” word we’re not supposed to say during Lent is “Allelujah”.  Okay, so i’m a slow learner!  More importantly, every time i’m at Mass (daily and weekly), i thank Jesus for this gift of himself to me, personally.  When i pray before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration, i am awed by the experience.  When i receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, i am renewed by God’s forgiveness, and when i am sick i receive His healing touch in the Sacrament of Anointing.  And, these are only the highlights of receiving grace from God, for there is so much more.  Yet, it’s in giving loving service in parish ministries that i am able to take what i have been given, and pass some of it on to others without losing anything i have been given.

    “What wondrous love is this . . . . ” 

  • Clement_W

    I get really excited at the stories of the converts. I am a cradle Catholic and for many years, I had not even read the Bible. Then, 10 years ago when I had fallen on hard times, I cried out to God to fix me. He did, immediately! and since then I have an almost as fervent a conversion back to catholicism.

  • James H, London

    Hi, Clement

    My reconversion was through the CCR. I was a sad, lonely 20-year-old, and these happy-clappy Catholics didn’t avoid me! The friends I made there are still friends 22 years later. With Charismatic glasses on, I could make the responses in Mass, sing the hymns and say the prayers, and really, deeply mean what I said! It makes me sad and angry when some people fume that Charismatics water the Faith down or aren’t reverent enough.

    Oh, and the renewal goes back about 50 years, already.

  • Clement_W

    I am happy for you. The Catholic church as a rule does not emphasize the words of Jesus Christ when he told his disciples that He was going to the Father and would not abandon them but would send the “Advocate”, The Holy Spirit to complete the work He had begun. It goes back to the Old Testament where The Lord talks about the continual rebellion of the Israelites who still were unable to believe in Him inspite of having seen His awesome deliverance of them from slavery and shepherding them into freedom simply because they could not see Him. St. Paul talks about it when he talks of ‘Belief in things unseen’. Yes, I was there myself, believing in Jesus Christ because of His incarnation to be seen and having given sight to the unseen, return to the Unity of Father, Son AND Holy Spirit.

    You are right about the renewal going back 50 years but it has grown remarkably since Pope John Paul II encouraged it. As to the some people claiming the watering down of the faith, I believe that they are taking Christ as if he is not not part of the Trinity. The Gospel of John goes into this at considerable length, I believe it is in Chapter 23 but I could be mistaken.