Walking into the light

Walking Into Light

I was received into the Catholic Church on Sunday! As my new friend Russ might say, I have crossed the Tiber. I have made it to the other bank safe and sound, but the journey continues…

Before Sunday I was a Christian. After Sunday I am still a Christian. What has changed is my full participation in the only Church Jesus founded and in the fullness of faith therein. The path to here was not only one of learning but of rediscovery and exploration of my Christian roots. I am now an enthusiastic part of a community that will stay true to God’s word. I am home.

Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

It was a bright, beautiful day. We candidates sat up front with our families and sponsors. The Rite of Reception took place after the Homily and included the Sacrament of Confirmation for those of us who were not already confirmed (that was most of us, including me). Father Paul prayed for each of us with his hands placed upon our heads and anointed us with oil that we may receive the Holy Spirit. Through this simple and touching ceremony we each began our Catholic lives.

The normal Mass continues with the Liturgy of the Eucharist for everyone, including (at last!) us newly confirmed. I chose to receive Communion under both forms, although it is equally valid to receive only one. It is proper to bow in the presence of our Lord as you approach to receive Communion. This is normally done as the person in front of you receives the Eucharist and was certainly my intention. I had carefully gone over this in my head. As things worked out, when I approached no one was in front of me and in my excitement and nervousness I forgot to bow. The respect was 100% in my heart, but I did not receive the sacrament completely as I had intended. We are so new!

After Mass the newly confirmed joined the exit procession and headed to the PLC. It was Donut Sunday, so there were donuts, bagels, coffee, juice, milk, etc. plus a cake in our honor. We all enjoyed this reception and the chance to talk with family and friends. During the months in RCIA, attending Mass, various events, Men’s Fellowship, etc. I made many new friends.

There were other memorable moments too. The applause that welcomed us, friends gently touching my shoulder as they passed for Communion, a surreptitious “thumbs up,” and big smiles all stand out. I did not discover one particularly touching part until I was at home. In the envelope with my confirmation certificate were 2 handmade, personal welcomes from children in our youth classes. Crosses, stars and other adornments decorated them with “George, U Rock!,” “Keep Working!,” “Good Luck!,” “Stay Strong” and signed by the kids. Such a perfect welcome.

Being a “convert”

Being Convert

Labels are funny things. They can mean different things to different people. They influence how people view you. They influence how you view yourself.

In a broad context, Catholics are informally labeled into 2 groups: cradle Catholics and converts. Cradle Catholics were typically baptized and raised as Catholics. The rest of us are converts.

When I first began RCIA I was sometimes introduced along the lines of “this is George, he is converting” or “George, this is Jane and she is a convert too.” Something about the word just did not fit how I saw myself.

Maybe it was because it might somehow imply I was “wrong” before, thus bruising my pride. It might be that I still wanted to keep my options open in case this whole Catholic thing did not work out. I know that some have felt the word implied they were converting to Christianity (although that is sometimes the case). For that matter, it might just be saying “this is George, beware – an outsider.”

Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to figure out the true subtext, and it is all good!

It may surprise many non-Catholics to learn there are a lot of us converts in the Catholic Church. We are not a rarity at all. Meeting a new person starting RCIA for some is a happy, fond memory of starting their own journey.

I spoke of this earlier, but cradle or convert, you will also find that people are genuinely happy for you and that you are here.

Then there is the topic of knowledge. The Church has a long history and deep tradition. There is a lot to learn and probably a lot that may never be learned. The RCIA process together with the zeal to learn of many new adult converts actually places them not on some lower tier but on a higher one in some eyes.

Finally, there is a sort of special blessing in being a convert. We are led here, away from our status quo and accepted the call to be Catholic. We didn’t have to. We could have decided not to make the effort, to beat back that nagging feeling something was missing, to ignore the errant paths of our churches and to just learn to “live with” how things were.

I am happy to call myself a convert. Now if I could only figure out what took me so long!

The journey


The general path for non-Catholics to become Catholic is through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). The details vary some from parish to parish, but it is a process in which you learn about the Catholic faith and way of life. The class meets once per week for about 2 hours over a period of 5 or 6 months. For many but not all people.

When I started 4 months ago I was told that I needed a sponsor. Hmmm, that sounds like I might be joining a country club and need someone to vouch for me! It briefly brought to mind Groucho Marx’s paradox:

I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.

Your sponsor can be any Catholic in good standing, 16 or older. Generally it should not be a spouse or close family member. The sponsor helps the candidate (someone who is already baptized) or catechumen (someone who is not) during the process. They help answer your questions, attend Mass with you, RCIA classes, various Church activities, etc. Your sponsor helps “show you the ropes.” My good friend Rigsby is my sponsor, which meant he had 2 of us for a few months, myself and Eric. Eric’s RCIA class overlapped ours. Fortunately for Rigsby, the classes are combined during those periods! Don’t worry if you need a sponsor, there are many volunteers.

RCIA is described as a journey. When I first heard that, a part of me thought “yea, sure.” Classes have a starting point, a syllabus, a schedule, an end date and some sort of graduation / certification – right? A class is a “journey” only in as much as you hopefully “travel” from less knowledge to more.

My classes are interesting, taught so far by Deacons John and Ron and lay folks – Daniel, Derek, Ed, Marianna, Mike, Skip, Tom, Trish, and Vince. The pace is not hurried, and questions are always welcome. The 2 hour classes fly by. What started out as another scheduled activity soon became something I eagerly look forward to.

The classes are serious but fun too. Deacon John taught the class on the Sacrament of Reconciliation (a/k/a confession). One of the questions he was asked is if he hears confessions. A big smile came to his face and a twinkle in his eye when he replied that he would love to hear our confessions any time! Pause. Pause. Then he noted however that he would not be granting any of us absolution! Only a priest can do that.

I have found that RCIA is not just for learning about Catholicism. It is a gentle process that deepens your Christian faith and slowly opens your mind and heart to living it better. It is also a spark that ignites a passion to learn more.

So, when exactly do you become Catholic? I don’t think it happens at a single point in time. The Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are very important and are milestones but insufficient by themselves. It happens when you are Catholic in your heart. That is the journey – one that continues long after RCIA.

I know that conversion of heart is not always reached by everyone in a class. Sometimes people feel they are not yet ready and continue in the next session. For others it may not be the right time. This is something each individual must discern.

Joining an RCIA course is a wonderful journey. If you know practicing Catholics at a local parish, ask them. If not, call the parish office and ask for the RCIA coordinator’s contact info.

If you have been away from the Church, your parish will have RCIA or other classes as appropriate to help. Welcome home.

This is my Conversion Story, part 4 of 4. Please also see:

Sign me up!

Sign Me Up

It was time to put my toe into the water. Time to figure out more about the Catholic Church. Time to figure out exactly how they pitch their faith to sincere, interested prospects.

I was blessed having several friends who attended a local parish. I had visited several times before – a friend’s funeral, special events at my friend Marcie’s invitation and for Mass. I first attended their Friday morning men’s group at my friend Jack’s invitation. In short, I was familiar with the place and knew a few people there. That was before I ever thought, in my wildest dreams, that I would one day be interested in joining.

(Perhaps you don’t know anybody at your local Parish. That’s OK too. You probably won’t be alone in that regard. Maybe you will meet a few other folks that only know 1 person. No big deal. Just call the Parish office and ask for the RCIA coordinator’s contact info.)

It was different now. I was led to the Catholic Church and wanted to seriously consider it. I didn’t know much about how one does that. Might there be some sort of brief introductory class followed by a ceremony some Sunday where you join? Lots of churches are like that.

Well, not exactly. The Church really, really wants you – but they also know how important it is that you first understand the core beliefs of the faith and make an informed decision. They call this inquiry, and it is an informal, interactive class held over several weeks. The next step is to dig deeper through classes called RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). In this phase you are on the path to joining but are free to jump off or continue in RCIA until you feel ready. There is no test, no one pressures you in the slightest way…   you alone make the call.

There can be complications getting started. The Catholic Church recognizes your Christian baptism, so long as it was made in the Trinitarian formula (“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). If you were baptized in any other way it can not be considered valid and you will need to be baptized properly. If you have no record of your baptism then perhaps family members witnessed it. If it just can’t be determined if you were baptized properly or not, a conditional baptism may be necessary (conditional because you can only have one real baptism).

Another complication may be marriage. If you were married, divorced and remarried — that can be an issue. Marriage is a vocation and sacred covenant. It can not be “undone” through a civil or any other process. However, there may be extenuating circumstances that render an earlier marriage attempt invalid and subject to annulment.

Baptism and marriage status are very important. If your situation is complicated then speak to a Priest, Deacon or RCIA coordinator for guidance. They are compassionate and want to help.

These were not complications in my case. My close friend Rigsby invited me back to the mens group where I met Deacon John, and he asked why I was interested. I explained the best I could without going into a really long explanation (which as you can see, I am perfectly capable of!). That Sunday after Mass I met Vince, our local RCIA coordinator. It wasn’t just any Sunday, it was the day those who were entering RCIA had their Rite of Welcome – a truly beautiful ceremony.

My timing was excellent [heavy sarcasm] as always. For my specific background the inquiry classes would probably not be too helpful. Starting with RCIA seemed the most appropriate approach…   but I missed it by one week. Vince discussed my situation with Deacon John, and he agreed it would be OK for me to jump right in.

I guess the bottom line is everyone’s circumstance is different. The process of joining – or potentially joining – the Catholic Church is not rigid. It is focused on you personally. Speak with a Priest, Deacon or RCIA coordinator. You are not a number to them and they care about you individually.

So, I have taken that first big step. What was it like? Nothing I was expecting.

The Catholic Church is incredibly welcoming. People you meet as well as people you have long known are so happy you are there. Not because it bumps up their membership. Not because you validate their faith. They are genuinely happy for you. You are immediately embraced as a potential new parish brother or sister at the start of your journey. The joy is deeply sincere.

Details of RCIA programs vary slightly by parish. In my parish, we meet on Sunday morning and are able to attend the first half of Mass. Those interested in joining, the Catechumenate (not baptized) and candidates (baptized), are called together and dismissed as a group. This is a wonderful, ancient practice and happens after the Liturgy of the Word (readings and homily) but prior to the Liturgy of the Eucharist (which we are not yet ready to receive). One thing I will always treasure is the dismissal hymn by Christopher Walker sung for us as we leave for class each week. “May the word of God strengthen you; May the word of God nourish you; May the word of God comfort you…   all your life.” There are a lot of people at Mass making this prayer for us, and it is sincere every time.

This is my Conversion Story, part 3 of 4. Please also see: