So Now You’re Catholic! A Welcome (and a Warning) to Neophytes and Converts
“The Church is holy: the Most Holy God is her author; Christ, her bridegroom, gave himself up to make her holy; the Spirit of holiness gives her life. Since she still includes sinners, she is ‘the sinless one made up of sinners.’” (CCC 1867)
Last Saturday evening in America, as the secular world piled chocolate eggs and jelly beans into Easter baskets or tuned in to watch the NCAA basketball tournament, thousands of people were stepping forward to profess their fidelity to Jesus Christ and to the teachings of the Catholic Church. In parishes around the world, catechumens were baptized as Catholics, while candidates (those already baptized in another Christian faith) received the sacrament of Confirmation. In our parish alone, 15 people took the next step to become fully Catholic.
It was deeply touching to see the joy on the faces of the newly baptized, and to realize how God had poured his grace upon them. In an instant they became my brothers and sisters in Christ. From this time forward, we share a common faith. Each Sunday they will, along with me, share in the immense treasure of the Eucharist, receiving Jesus into their hearts, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.
The Catholic Church will be changed, too — enriched by the gifts they bring, strengthened by their conviction and their energy.
A Warm Welcome
To those of you who have taken that step, who have grown in faith, studying the Church’s rich history in RCIA classes and learning to answer the hard questions raised by your family and friends, I say: Welcome! Your “Yes” to God's will has brought us together, and I pray that we will grow close in our common mission to become saints, and to carry the Gospel to the world.
Within the Catholic Church, you will find many opportunities to learn — so come to the Table of the Lord on Sunday, but also take advantage of the many classes and workshops and study groups that are out there.
Within the Catholic Church, you will find many opportunities to share Christ’s love — so become involved in charitable works, helping out at the soup kitchen or in pro-life organizations. These ancillary activities are a natural expression of the faith we hold dear. Let the world know that you’re Catholic by your love.
And a Warning
But now, the warning: While the Catholic Church is the repository of faith and of truth, it is sometimes going to disappoint you. That’s because the Church is full of sinners. Pope Francis called it a “field hospital” — and indeed, it is. In a homily at Casa Santa Marta in 2015, the Holy Father reiterated the common theme of the Church as a place for healing: “People need their wounds healed!” he said.
“This is the mission of the Church: to heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good, God forgives all, God is the Father, God is affectionate, God always waits for us.”
But all of those wounded people will sometimes leave you wondering what you’ve done, why you’ve taken this Brobdingnagian step (go check out Gulliver's Travels to see what I’m talking about). Catholic people — laypersons, priests, religious, even bishops — will be exposed as sinners. Some will be calloused abusers; some will merely be lackadaisical about sharing their faith. Sometimes the ladies’ group will fall into gossip, or the teen in the next pew will wear an inappropriate shirt to Sunday Mass. Sometimes a teacher will make mistakes, and will spread his or her errors to others. Often the homily will offer you insights to strengthen your walk with Christ, but occasionally it will be just plain boring.
Despite our shortcomings, Catholics want to do the right thing. And remember: God is in control. These things will happen, but don’t be afraid. “And I tell you, you are Peter,” Jesus said in Matthew 16, “and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
Take Jesus’ word for it: Despite sin, despite lethargy and inertia, despite occasional misinformation, the Catholic Church always has answers to the difficult questions which may arise. Seek out those answers. I’ll see you in church!