If you think Facebook is just for superficial commentary on the silly and sundry things that happen throughout the day, think again. Sometimes Facebook gets serious. And spiritual. Yesterday a Facebook friend posted the following status update:
“Ok, all you Catholics out there - what words of advice, encouragement or warning would you share with someone who is thinking of converting to Catholicism?”
Wow. It takes a lot of courage to send that message out there into the universe, or at least the world of Facebook. I promised, in my OSV Daily Take post yesterday (where you can read what others have to say on this subject), that I would respond with my own answers to that question today. It's a good question for any Catholic to ponder every once in a while, I think. So here we go...
Advice: Follow your heart, or, more accurately, follow the Spirit. If you're being drawn to the Catholic faith and feel the stirrings of something deep within your soul, don't ignore it. Embrace it. Revel in it. Sometimes, as a lifelong Catholic, I'm envious of those who have had a "conversion experience," those people who aren't just born into the faith but are called to seek out the Catholic faith in an active way. What a tremendous gift!
When I hear about someone considering the Catholic faith, I am filled with awe and excitement. Awe because it's a reminder that God is still calling people; excitement because I know that grace will flow from your conversion, and your life will be transformed.
Encouragement: Ours is a rich and beautiful tradition, filled with ancient rituals that connect us back to our beginnings but also feed us where we are right now. Take the time to explore and appreciate the many diverse spiritual practices that will strengthen your faith, starting with Mass, of course. But don't stop there. You can find spiritual nourishment in so many wonderful places -- private devotions, like the Rosary; silent meditation or contemplation; the lives and examples of saints and holy men and women from throughout our history; the Liturgy of the Hours (although I have to admit that I still struggle with this one in a big way).
As you continue on this journey, know that you are surrounded by countless others -- the Communion of Saints -- who walk the same path. We are a family, and you are never alone.
Warning: Unfortunately, every family has its issues. Many of us born into the Catholic faith take it for granted. We forget, sometimes, just how amazing this gift of faith really is. We sit in church and look bored. We forget to pray at home. We complain about this priest or that parish. You will come to the faith with a zeal that many of us cradle Catholics have never known, so you may look around and wonder why you're the only one who seems to be on fire with the faith. Be patient with us.
Being Catholic isn't always popular. In fact, it's often not popular. People are likely to tell you you're crazy for wanting to join us. People will decide at dinner parties and summer picnics that it is the perfect time to confront you about every single thing they hate or don't understand about the Catholic Church. Don't be afraid. Although it can get annoying to be grilled about things over which you have no control or misconceptions that many people cling to, it's all part of the package. Jesus never said it was going to be easy. He often said it was going to be really, really difficult. Those moments are likely to be the times that reaffirm your faith and force you to put into words what you normally just keep hidden in your heart. It' s a beautiful faith, a Church that stretches back in an unbroken chain to Jesus Christ. You can't get that anywhere else.
Finally, our Church is not perfect. It is made up of human beings, and while I'll be the first one to stand up and say that I find that excuse rather lame when monumental sins and scandals come to light, the reality is that it is true. God gave us free will, and some of us will not use that freedom for good. Given the history of our Church and the enormity of our world, it is inevitable that sometimes someone with less-than-pure intentions is going to enter the picture and do things to hurt the rest of us. Keep the faith. They are not the Church. We are the Church. We are the Body of Christ on earth, and if Christ is for us, who can be against us?
UPDATE: I'll be talking about this on the Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick tomorrow, Nov. 12, at 6:50 a.m. Eastern time. If you're not in Cincinnati, you can listen live online by clicking HERE.