Becoming Catholic Is Worth the Effort, and Worth the Wait

COMMENTARY: Whatever your reason for wanting to become Catholic, run with it. It’s your road sign pointing you in the right direction.

A catechumen from Cuba is baptized by Pope Francis at the Easter Vigil on April 16, 2022, at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.
A catechumen from Cuba is baptized by Pope Francis at the Easter Vigil on April 16, 2022, at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. (photo: Tiziana Fabi / AFP via Getty Images)

“What do I do till RCIA starts?” someone asked me and some other people who’d entered the Church as adults. She’d grown up in an unreligious home and didn’t have much idea how religious institutions worked, especially one with as many rules as the Catholic Church. 

After a long time of reflection, in January she’d decided to become a Catholic and started going to Mass, and then found that the instruction in her new parish didn’t start till the fall. She couldn’t enter the Church for a year and a couple months. She seemed to feel that a long time to fill out. I told her to go on as she started. 

This advice may help people like her, but also people who’ve entered the Church and don’t feel as excited as they once did. It happens. You can become a Catholic the way you learn a language: with great pleasure at first, when it’s fun and easy, but then you have to start learning the weird grammar and all that vocabulary. You need a reason to keep going.

Go On as You Started

“Why did you start going to Mass?” I asked. “Whatever brought you to the Church will carry you along.” 

People find themselves asking to be received into the Church for all sorts of reasons. For the Mass, for the teaching, for the saints and heroes, for forgiveness and healing, and hundreds of others — even just a sense that religiously, the Church is where the action is.

Whatever your reason, run with it. It’s your road sign pointing you in the right direction, so follow it. It’s your happy place, so settle down there. It’s the game you’re good at, so keep playing as long as you enjoy it. (So I like metaphors. Sue me.)

For me, I wrote, the idea that Jesus was literally just around the corner waiting for me in the tabernacle was a huge attraction. Sticking my head into church for even just a couple minutes when I happened to be going by meant a lot. So did going just to sit with Jesus for a bit, though I had no clue then what adoration was. He was here and I was here, in the same room, and I loved that. That helped me feel settled and comfortable with the Church, even when a lot was still so alien or odd to me.

Another attraction was the idea of the Church as the Communion of Saints with the reality that the saints were available and concerned with our lives. Reading the theology of that helped, as did learning about the saints, most of whom I’d never heard of. It was like being continually introduced to extraordinary people, who became instant friends.

Just these two were enough to be going on with, and rich enough to keep me moving toward the Church even though I didn’t see the attraction of other parts of the Church’s life.

Sustaining Attractions

Whatever attracts you, I wrote her, is a thing that will sustain you, if you grow into it. And it’s less work to run with something you already like than to work up feelings for something new. Interest in the other things will come in time. Just be faithful to the good you see now, and you will eventually see more.

Thinking about it now, I’d say that your relation to the Church is like any close friendship, especially marriage. It begins with a few points of attraction, but the points increase as you get to know the other person better. You find kindness when you’d first seen only wit, or wit when you’d seen only kindness.

I first asked out the woman I’d marry for several reasons, some of them superficial, and a couple wrong. But those few points kept me with her as our friendship developed. Forty-some years later, she isn’t the person I first met, because then I saw only the outside, and only part of that. (And she’s still a mystery, because others will always be greater than you can see.)

The Church we find ourselves drawn to is only part of the Church. It’s the part we understand, and like, based on what little we know. Which is more than enough to be going on with, until we learn more.

Don’t Get Pushed

I think I also told her not to let eager Catholics push her either faster than she wanted to go, or toward devotions and reading she didn’t want to take up. They will do that, with good intentions, because people have trouble seeing how other people think and feel. They think you will love what they love, and often can’t believe you don’t.

I didn’t get the Rosary at all, though eager Catholic friends pressed it on me. You must do this, starting now, they said. They loved it, and couldn’t imagine me not loving it at first sight. 

But they treated it as the key that let you into real Catholicism, or even the sign that you were really Catholic. I got the impression that not taking to the Rosary as a duck takes to water was seen as a sign you weren’t Catholic enough. Fortunately, I knew to ignore them, but not everyone will.

I love the writing of St. John Henry Newman, every single piece I’ve ever read, except for the things that were over my head. He influenced me greatly when I read him as an Anglican and even more when I started reading him as a Catholic. To my shock, some Anglicans drawn to the Catholic Church just didn’t like his writing. The insights and arguments that I found persuasive left them cold. I annoyed some, and maybe discouraged them, by telling them to read Newman when they didn’t want to read Newman.

I think she found my and the others’ advice helpful. It was a somewhat random encounter and I don’t think we heard from her again. I hope she kept going, enjoying the things she enjoyed, and letting herself discover the Church at her own speed while she was waiting to enter.