Welcome Home: A Convert’s Guide to the RCIA

Young adults gathering in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)
Young adults gathering in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

Well, it’s that time of year again. The leaves are falling, everything is suddenly pumpkin-flavored, and the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) is starting in parishes all over the world. Whether you’re an inquirer (a person interested in learning more about the Catholic faith), a catechumen (an unbaptized person seeking to receive the sacraments), or a candidate (a baptized person seeking full communion with the Church), here’s a bit of advice from yours truly — a former RCIA participant and Adult Faith Formation parish minister.

1. Invest: Let’s talk about some tools it would be helpful to have on hand as you begin your journey. First, I highly recommend having access to a Catholic edition of the Bible. What’s that, you ask? Don’t all Christians read the SAME Bible? Great questions, you brilliant almost-convert! The short answer is: The Catholic Bible is the Bible that was used exclusively for the first 1,500 years of the Church. In addition to all that you would find in a standard Bible, Catholic editions contain books and chapters of books the theologians of the Reformation removed from the biblical canon. Catholic editions are available from your favorite bookseller (in hard copy and ebook formats) as well as from your priest or RCIA coordinator. You can also access a Catholic edition of the Bible online for free.

Second, get your hands on a Catechism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains an explanation of the beliefs, teachings, and practices belonging to Catholic Christians. It’s a great reference for anyone seeking to understand Catholicism as well as for practicing Catholics. You can access the Catechism free online, purchase a copy of your own, or borrow one from your local library. The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) has published a great resource called the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. This is a well-written and interesting companion to the Catechism that I used as the main text for the RCIA classes I taught.

Beyond investing in resources, respect your spiritual journey enough to invest time and effort. Make a commitment to attend your class every week. If your catechist (teacher) or priest asks you to read something before your next class, do your best to get it done. Deciding whether or not to join the Church is a big deal. Give it the time and effort it (and you) deserves.

2. Wrestle: The teachings and beliefs of the Church are sometimes hard. OK, let’s be real … they’re OFTEN hard. At almost every junction they find themselves opposed to contemporary culture, mores, ideas, and ethics. As you investigate whether or not the Catholic Church is your spiritual home, you will most likely confront teachings and beliefs that secular society tells you are out of date or irrelevant in today’s world. Here’s my advice: wrestle with them. Don’t throw your hands up and assume that 1) the Church isn’t for you because it doesn’t comply with modernity (read: relativism) on an issue of particular difficulty for you or 2) you can become Catholic and ignore a particular teaching or belief because you find it distasteful. Have the courage to wrestle with the issue. Make a genuine effort to understand the Church’s teaching and to see the beauty in it. Investigate the implications of this belief or practice on your larger worldview. You are not required (or encouraged) to deny your conscience to become a Catholic. You are, however, required to cultivate your conscience based on reason, true goodness, and conformity with the will of your Creator. And a well-formed conscience is a lifelong project.

3. Wait: Conversion looks different on everyone. Some people may be ready to become Catholic after only a few months of instruction. Others may require years of study and prayer to be truly ready. Do what’s right for you. You can inquire as long as you need to inquire. I’ve known folks who have come to RCIA for years before deciding to come into the Church. I’ve known some who come to RCIA for a while, leave, and come back years later to join the Church. Seriously … no pressure. You’re making a faith commitment, not buying a used car. You’re making one of the biggest (OK, arguably the biggest) decisions of your life. Be patient. Give yourself time.

So, dear inquirers, catechumens, and candidates, what I’m really trying to say is that I’m rooting for you and praying for you and hoping for you. But (full disclosure) I’m also rooting and praying and hoping that at the end of all of your searching and praying and wrestling and waiting, you will find that the Catholic Church is home. That you will claim it as your own. That you will become part of this family that spans continents and cultures and millennia. That you will be emboldened by the sacraments to do radical acts of mercy in the name of Love. Godspeed on your journey, my friends. We are eager to welcome you home.