Is it difficult to become Catholic?
I don’t often disclose personal thoughts on this blog, but I feel that this is something that might be helpful for folks on both sides of the Tiber: Ten Reasons why it’s hard to become Catholic.
I have spoken to somewhere between 50-100 Protestant ministers who have become Catholic or are contemplating entry into full communion with the Catholic Church. Most of these are Anglican or Presbyterian. A few have been Lutheran.
Over the last several years, I’ve gathered up the “big ten” that either cause pain or lead to a man saying “No thanks,” to the Catholic Church.
#10 Theological Submission
It’s difficult to say serviam (“I will serve”). Theology is no longer “what I think”. It requires a submission of the mind. At the same time, this a liberation of the mind. Still, it is difficult to tell oneself: “I don’t fully understand the Treasury of Merit, but I will submit my reason to the reason of the Church.”
Catholic priests are not like Protestant ministers. Relatively speaking, they are more distant than Protestant clergy, albeit for good reasons sometimes. A Protestant has the experience of a minister smiling whenever he sees you, memorizing your name, and generally going out of his way to make a personal connection. This rarely happens in Catholicism. I admit it – it wounds my pride a little. I wish that I were greeted and hailed by the pastor after Mass. It’s humbling to be part of the masses at Mass.
Protestant ministers usually have smaller congregations and more competition with one another. Hence, the minister is much more likely to say, “Hey, let’s go to Starbucks this week and talk about your faith.”
Of course, I know dozens of Catholic priests who do reach out on a personal level, but for the most part, Catholic priests are stretched out more thinly. Consequently, personal access is more rare. And to be honest, I’m glad to know that my priests are hearing confessions and going to the hospital all the time. That’s a much better use of their time than drinking expensive coffee with me.
I am beginning to think that there is nothing as controversial in the Catholic Church as liturgy. It is at the center of everything.
I like clean, tight liturgies. Altar boys turning on a dime and making a 90 degree right angle around the altar. Latin. Gregorian chant. Synchronized genuflections. Defined signs of the crosses. Corporal folded the proper way (up not down!) You may have guessed it. I attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
However, it’s not like that everywhere. There are some wonderful liturgies and some not-so-wonderful liturgies. Sometimes, potential converts walk in to a not-so-wonderful liturgy with broken rubrics and oddities. It’s difficult for many – especially if they are coming from a more liturgical form of Protestantism. I don’t know the best answer to this problem. All I know that it is a problem.
My suggested solution is the “Great Catholic Migration of the 21th Century.” Click here to read more about “the great migration.”
#7 Dealing with marriage, divorce, homosexuality, contraception, abortion
Some people have irregular marriages, live homosexual lifestyles, or enjoy the comforts of contraception. It’s painful to allow your divorce and re-marriage to be examined by the bishop’s tribunal. It’s embarrassing to talk about a ‘lifestyle.’ It’s not easy to imagine having a minivan overflowing with car seats or to rethink the vasectomy.
For some, they have to revisit an abortion that occurred decades ago. These sort of things cut deep to the heart and make us squirm. All this is understandable and I think that these things should be addressed with caution and compassion. If you’re a potential convert, pray for and seek out a good priest with whom you can speak confidentially.
I’ll also add from personal experience, the healing a good confession is about 100 times more powerful than any of the shame or fear associated with past problems. I think others here would agree.
(Please leave a comment below to testify to this reality so others might be assured.)
#6 Financial discomforts
If you’re a clergyman you stand to lose your great pension, great health benefits, discretionary fund, and your salary. I’ve been there and it’s tough. It’s likely that you haven’t been trained to do anything else that is marketable. I doubt that anyone out there will pay you six figures to write sermons for them or lead a small-group Bible study. It goes without saying that most ministers take a major pay cut when they become Catholic. Their family income goes down. They usually start having more kids. Also, they usually start paying for parochial education – another hit to the pocketbook.
#5 Vocational confusion
It was difficult at first to admit that my Anglican priesthood was invalid. I wasn’t a priest long, but I heard confessions, anointed the dying, etc. What was I doing? What was God doing? Why did God let me function sacramentally with people who were deeply hurting. I still don’t know how to “classify” those ministerial acts.
I think other would-be converts struggle with the same ideas. Even if they were laymen, they wonder about their past roles as Sunday school teachers, mentors, Bible study leaders, counselors, etc.
#4 Non-Catholic ridicule and estrangement
Family and friends do not understand. Even when they try to understand, they will never appreciate the frustrations, study, and heart-searching that goes into becoming Catholic. Some Anglicans still call me “Father”, which makes me feel uncomfortable. Others have written terrible things about me. I’ve never been more greatly attacked for anything else in my life.
Tension often arises with parents and siblings. I’ve even heard of converts who were cut out of the inheritance because they became “Roman”.
#3 Catholic ridicule and estrangement
This may seem odd, but some Catholics are suspicious of converts to Catholicism. These come in two forms. Type A is the cradle-Catholic who has all their ducks in a row and suspects the convert of being a crypto-Protestant unschooled in the ways of being Catholic. If the new Catholic prays extemporaneously, then it’s “We don’t do that.” If the convert quotes Scripture about something, they frown upon this, too.
Some Catholics also seem to think that it is helpful to ridicule my past as a non-Catholic, as if that would somehow validate me as now “one of them.” Some Catholics just love to hear converts bash their former faith. This places converts in a strange position.
Type B is the cradle-Catholic who is less committed to the distinctives of the Catholic faith. They see zealous converts as a threat. These converts are overly-concerned with dogma and truth. And this leads us to obstruction number two…
#2 RCIA (Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults)
RCIA must have been invented so that every conversion to the Catholic Church might somehow be miraculous. It is becoming an element of Catholic lore that RCIA is commonly led or organized by someone who is a “type B” Catholic as described above. These people don’t seem to understand how zealous these converts can be. These leaders stress the “feelings” part of Catholicism and not the “orthodoxy” part of Catholicism much to the chagrin of the converts who have had it up to their ears in Protestant appeals to their feelings.
It’s amazing how many people “give up” in RCIA. It’s also amazing how many push on through. I know many who have had wonderful RCIA experiences, but I know many more who had to defend the Catholic faith while taking RCIA.
Just so I don’t step on any toes, I salute and applaud all the great RCIA teachers out there. I know that you’re out there and we are thankful for you! Keep up the great work.
I don’t know how to say this in a witty way, but pride holds the number one slot. At one point in life I felt that I was too good for all those people who respected the Infant of Prague. I’m ashamed to admit, but there it is. Why join a religion where adherents air brush images of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the hoods of their lowriders? (I grew up in Texas…) One Protestant gentlemen even told me that he couldn’t be Catholic because it was “the religion of the masses.” I asked him what he meant, and the term “Mexicans” was employed in his reply.
It’s snobbery against the religion of the masses and immigrants.
It’s just cooler to go to an Evangelical mega-church that has a pool, basketball gym, powerpoint presentations, podcasts, and a rocking “praise team.” I sometimes wish that our homilies had really cool cultural references in them or solidly crafted “gotcha” endings. Alas, this is not typical of the parochial homily.
Question: So these are the top ten that I perceive. I’d love to hear what you think are the obstacles to Catholicism. Would you please share a comment?
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