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What to Expect When You’re Converting to the Catholic Church

November 30, AD 2013 37 Comments

Becoming Catholic is a tricky business.

When I left my wonderful Evangelical church two years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Now I’m a self-confessed Converty Pants (a term I made up for nerdy converts/reverts like myself!) So I’d like to share with you what you can expect when you’re converting to the Catholic Church…

What to Expect Pin

Expect to be excited, scared, joyful, anxious, and overwhelmed all once.

Expect to be “rebuked” and accused of betraying the Gospel, the Reformation, John Piper, Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, [insert prominent Christian here], your ancestors, and all the martyrs who ever lived.

Expect to be told that you’re not a Christian anymore and ergo, you probably never were. But if you just read Galatians, all your problems will disappear!

Expect your friends to be (understandably) confused and/or concerned. Expect them to keep loving you just the same because that’s what friends do. (Give them some time but if they don’t want anything to do with you, they were never real friends to start with.) Also, expect your mum to cry, your dad to make dad jokes, and your whole family to think you’re quite weird.

Expect to love receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Expect to feel unworthy to do so, and just a bit light-headed and clammy when you receive Him. This is normal because DUDE, YOU JUST ATE JESUS.

Expect some serious awkwardness when, after a glass of bubbly or two, you bring up the morality of contraception at your Protestant friends’ engagement parties and kitchen teas.

Expect some serious awkwardness in general.

Expect to feel conflicted about a whole host of issues, whether contraception, gay marriage, women priests, health care, or singing “Come As You Are” for the fifth Sunday in a row. Trust me, these will resolve themselves in time.

Expect to meet some of the loveliest people, and some not so lovely people, and some strange people. Actually, scrap that. Expect people. The Catholic Church is full of them. (“Oh look, here comes everyone!”)

Expect to be scandalised by other Catholics. Not in the gossipy — “oh ma word! Didya see what Susie-Anne wore to church today?” — way, but in the genuinely shocked — “your irreverence, ignorance and blatant disregard for the teachings of the Church actually makes me wonder what on earth I’m doing here” — kind of way. (This isn’t fun.)

Expect to get over-excited about the liturgical calendar. (This is a lot more fun!)

Expect to start loving the Pope. Expect to start calling the Pope Papa, and then expect to start casually referring to him as Papa Frankie. Because that’s just what you do now.

Expect several people to ask if this is really just about a boy. Do not expect them to be amused when you answer, “I wish! Joining the Church established by Jesus Christ Himself, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, and getting a boyfriend all in one go? Saweet!”

Expect to be blown away — repeatedly — by the depth, breadth and richness of the Catholic tradition. Expect to be overwhelmed by all the possibilities, all the doctrines, and all the devotions. Expect to get into scapulars, mantillas, holy cards, Introits, crucifixes, Latin missals, rosaries, fish on Fridays, and even those horribly tacky Sacred Heart fridge magnets. (A personal favourite of mine.)

Expect to find the Rosary way more compelling than you thought you would. Also expect to lose a rosary at least once a month, so buy the cheaper ones until you’re used to remembering where you left the Weapon Against Satan this time. 

Expect people to assume this is just a phase, just an emotional crisis, just a little rebellion, just an aesthetic longing for a vanished past, or just a post-modern experiment in theological pastiche. And after a year, if you joke – on April Fool’s Day no less – that it was all a ruse, expect some people will find it easier to believe that you faked being Catholic for a year than that you genuinely converted to the Catholic Church. (Not that I speak from experience…)

Expect to have times of peace and joy, but also times of doubt and fear. Expect that there will be times you wish you didn’t have to convert, but also expect to remember that if you had the chance, you’d do it all over again.

Most importantly, expect to love being Catholic, not because it makes you different or better or holier or smarter, but because it draws you closer to Christ. It’s His truths in the dogmas, His grace in the sacraments, His presence in the Eucharist, and His Spirit uniting us all. It’s His Church.

So expect Jesus.

You won’t be disappointed.

About the Author:

Laura is a baby Catholic, research student, writer, tea-drinker and aspiring countess from Sydney, Australia. Formerly an Evangelical Protestant, she came back to the Catholic Church in 2012. She disturbs the universe at Catholic Cravings.
  • Perfect. I loved this when I first read this on your blog, and I’m enjoying it even more now I’m a few weeks further on as another Converty Pants. Personally, I love saying to non-Catholic friends things like: ‘My relationship with Jesus has become so much closer and more intimate’; or ‘I was drawn to the Church where I was experiencing the Holy Spirit so powerfully’; or (perhaps my favorite) ‘I love the deep immersion in Scripture I’ve discovered here.’ You can almost see the unthinking assumptions getting undermined before your eyes!

    • Thanks John! 🙂 Yes, some people are confused by a Catholic with a real relationship with Jesus. Of course, we don’t want to rub it *too* much. 😉

  • George Dushensky

    Congratulations on finding your way to the Catholic Church and welcome! I really enjoyed reading your post. I hope you find nothing but love, grace, peace and excitement with the endless layers of depth the faith has to offer.

    I’m curious, have you been drawn to any saints in particular through your conversion?

    • Thanks for your warm welcome, George. God grant special blessings to you.

      Your question has stirred an excitement in me! Noone has asked me that before. I’m still settling in and being amazed at the day by day changes going on inside me, ever since First Communion. The Catholic Church is a treasure house. And my mother.

      So I’m gradually becoming aware of the Church in heaven, and I’m utterly delighted in learning about the saints, and getting used to the wonderful fact they are alive with us and praying for us. But so far, I haven’t struck up a special rapport with one in particular. Excepting our Lady, of course. That didn’t happen immediately, but once I opened my heart to her just a bit, the dam burst and her love and the force of her personality overwhelms me. So many years without her – hard for you to comprehend what it’s like to come home at last.

      I think why your question has excited me, is this sudden revelation which came shortly after: there is a particular saint who has made my conversion his or her special concern – and I’ve never asked who that is! But now I shall, and I’m so eager to meet up in the Spirit!

      • George Dushensky

        John, thank you for the blessings, it made my day find you excited to dig deeper and contemplate and pray about who may have aided you throughout your conversion. Have you been able to discern any saint(s) that have helped you through your conversion?

        Having that relationship with the Blessed Virgin is the best place to begin when building your relationship with the heavenly family. I love to meditate on this idea… Picture going to a party where you only knew 1 person, the guest of honor, and wasn’t sure who was going to be there, how long it would last or what the plans were. I know I personally would have to step out of my comfort zone to introduce myself to new people and wait my turn to spend a few moments with the guest of honor. Things would be a lot different if the party was full of people you knew, loved and enjoyed being around.

        God invites us every day to do just that. We can become friends with the saints, learn about their lives, model ourselves after them, each one bringing a unique perspective and special gift to touch our lives and hearts. Build up that list of friends, family and loved ones that will welcome you into the heavenly banquet, the party that never ends.

        I think heaven will be a lot more fun if you get to know as many people as possible before we enter, not only the ones that have gone before us, but also those of us here on earth who are our Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

        May I encourage you to build your foundation around the Holy Trinity, the Holy Family, your Guardian Angel and St. Michael the Archangel. Then see who the Holy Spirit leads you to and pursue the saints that you can relate the most to.

        I personally have been drawn to the saints who did complete 180’s in their lives, such as St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Augustine and St. Francis of Assisi.

        Keep us posted on who paves the way for you on your journey to the heavenly banquet!

    • Great question, George! I know for myself I was very drawn to St Teresa of Avila: mystic, reformer, and first female doctor of the Church! 🙂

      • George Dushensky

        St. Teresa is such a wonderful inspiration to all. I too am very drawn to the mystics. Her and St. John of the Cross have deepened my spiritual life and provided me with something to strive for.

        It’s amazing how the saints continue to impact the lives of the faithful again and again. It is something to aspire to ourselves as we are all called to be saints. How will we leave our mark on earth?

        God bless and thanks Laura!

  • Ana

    I’m what you in English call a cradle Catholic, I even attended private Catholic school, I was Baptized at 3 months old, made my first Communion at 9, etc. I live in a country where being Catholic is the standard and still, a lot of what you wrote here resounds in my heart very much. You’ll see, I stopped going to church for a long time, though I never stopped for identifying myself as a Catholic and a believer, I just wasn’t close to the church.
    Afew years ago I started hearing the call to come close again and let me tell you that the journey hasn’t been that easy, people do ask questions about why my faith has been renewed? If I now feel “illuminated by God”? If I now am a prudish person? If it is only a phase? If I did something wrong because I didn’t used to go to mass and now I do? That’s the reason I haven’t told anyone about me being in the process of being Confirmed, only my Mom knows and I still have gotten some questions from her.
    I always love to hear stories about converts, they give me so much courage, because I really can’t imagine how going to that process is and if I struggle inside a “catholic” environment I can’t fathom going through it in a protestant/other religion setting.

    • You’re finding the pearl of greatest value, Ana, and it’s worth selling everything else for. God is romancing you and you’re falling into His arms of love. During this fertile season in your life, I’ve these suggestions:
      1. Keep a spiritual diary, which majors on recording what He is saying to you. Meditate on His words to you, pick out key sentences and carry them around with you
      2. Go to Mass and especially Eucharistic Adoration as often as you can
      3. Get encouragement by seeking out kindred souls, to counteract those who are making you feel uncomfortable

      Remember: God specialises in helping broken, sinning people like us, and all heaven is delighted and on your case!

      • Ana

        Thank you so much for your kind words and the encouragement, John.

      • MarytheDefender

        Hi! I agree wholeheartedly on the kindred souls part. I also live in a Catholic country but feel weird sometimes. If you don’t mind my asking, are you Filipina?

    • It’s often not easy, is it? I am sorry though that you’ve found it so difficult. I think though it could well be harder if you know the people in the Church you’re coming back to. I admire your courage and your conviction, and I will be praying for you! Confirmation too is an amazing sacrament — I have a friend who compares it to getting combat boots! 🙂 God bless you Ana!

      • Ana

        Thank you Laura, great article. And like I said, it’s me who takes courage from all the people who convert and share their stories, some have nicer and easier stories than others, but still I’m always amazed.

  • theresaEH

    I became a “born again Catholic” 10 years ago every single point in this article is so correct. But you missed one, expect to become annoyed with catholic school and theologians that are catholic in name only 🙁

    • Haha, I’m sure I missed many others too but that’s definitely one! Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • Kirsten Michelle Petermann

    I found myself nodding emphatically (and smiling!) as I read your list. I don’t know if you encountered these in your journey, but these are ones we (the husband and I) got a lot of, too:

    “What about the Episcopal church? Or Orthodox?” Yeah, because those are all totally the same. And because God hasn’t already hit us over the head a hundred and nine times with the Catechism and flashed Buick-sized neon signs twelve inches from our faces that flash “GO TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.” (That’s kind of what it took for us.)

    Also, this: “You should talk to some people who left the Catholic church.” Sure. I also probably should have talked to a few divorced people before I got married.

    This is a great piece! It’s always fun to meet a fellow Converty Pants. 🙂

    Kirsten, Class of 2010 ;o)

    • shaunmc04 .

      Kirsten, me too. I got the “well which Catholic Church?” sort of questions. It was tough not to get irritated with that. Great comment.

  • jamey brown

    Wonderful, wonderful article. Because it’s so funny and mostly because it’s so true. I have experienced most of what you say since converting 6 years ago. I also experience waking up every morning with the thought (gulp) that I have to convert the whole world. Not just seeing how Pope Francis does it, but I have to do it–you and I, and all of us.Not by going to China or Africa or an Eskimo village but starting with the irritating lady next door who complains because I feed the pigeons and the doves–the doves?–from my window.
    Welcome to Ignitum Today and remember that if you get a negative comment it’s usually just your editor under a pseudonym testing your metal and whether you really know your stuff. I look forward to reading more of your columns.

  • Bethany

    Love this! I told my evangelical small group leaders that I was looking into the Catholic Church and the very next thing we studied was Galatians. I was told several times how important it was for me to be there. Also it was a guy who introduced me to the Church so I must be doing this for him. Why else would I alienate family and friends and go through turmoil, loneliness, confusion and leave a church that I loved? It couldn’t possibly be that I found the truth, authority, peace and joy that my heart was unbeknownst to me seeking. Coming home 4/27/2014 and can’t wait to eat Jesus.

  • Aaron Siering

    I was Baptized and Confirmed just last week at the Easter vigil–although its seems like its been an eternity for every. Now of course I am in the conversion stage of the Mystagogy. So as a new Baptized and Chrismated Catholic I just wanted to say that I absolutely loved your article.

  • Harvey

    I’m an atheist that secretly gets turned on by converting to Catholicism and practicing all the rituals of the faithful. What does this mean?

    • Don’t worry, that’s quite normal. ‘Come out’ in your own time

      • Harvey

        My girlfriend, who is Catholic, doesn’t think it’s normal, so I couch it in less “offensive” verbiage. I have never heard or read about this, and it’s not (to my knowledge) discussed anywhere, on the Internet or otherwise, so I don’t understand how it’s “normal”. How so?

      • I was being humorous in a British way. (Which means you joke when you’re serious, maddening for the rest of the world , sorry.)

        It’s normal for our head and heart to be out of step – that’s you, over religion. You’ve picked up various prevailing cultural notions so you think you’re an atheist; while actually your heart desires God, and you feel very drawn to the holiness of Catholic practices.

        All I’d say is, grant more importance to your heart!

      • Harvey

        Just a follow-up. You were right. I’ve now told a few people that I was secretly wanting to become Catholic and have been praying to hear God and walk with Jesus. Praying is amazing, I’ve discovered, in that the more I do it the more comfortable I feel with this whole thing. It’s very habit forming for me and I can’t not do it now.

        I’ve now been going to Mass (not taking Communion of course) for months, never missing a week and sometimes going more than once a week. I feel at home there. Note, the odd thing is that I’ve been an ardent atheist all my life so this is quite an identity dissonance. I still feel very embarrassed about this and try to keep it quiet.

        I’m registering for RCIA as I feel compelled to do this.

      • I hope it goes well, Harvey. Yours is a moving testimony, an illustration of the Bible verse ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’. For you, the detail of belief is going to follow; others find they have to wrestle over that first. I’m like you – very aware of being drawn towards God, and also sure I would believe everything as I got to understand it. A gift of faith-to-be, as it were. Like you, I knew I belonged, before I believed. I think that’s very Catholic: Protestant evangelism centres on getting people to say yes to particular formulations of faith, and then they’re supposed to be ‘saved’. The Catholic Church understands better how our whole person is to be converted, and that is life long. Incidentally, I was first converted (from atheism to Anglican Christianity) largely as a result of marrying a Christian girl! God bless you both.

      • Harvey

        I’m a bit concerned about what’s happening to me and now think it’s a little crazy. For example, if I try to go to sleep without reading the Bible, I can’t sleep! I now have to pray because, for example, If I rush to go to work and don’t pray in the morning, I get a very uncomfortable feeling and actually have to pull my car to the side and pray to God, to be thankful in one way or another or for a good day, etc.

        My fiance actually giggles at times because for years I used to poke a little bit fun at her and now I’m worse than she is. She said that God is teaching me a lesson but I don’t believe in God, yet still act as if I do. This is why I wrote about how dissonant this all is. Can you imagine someone asking me if I believe in God and I say no, I don’t. And right after I feel I have to pray to God for forgiveness? I think I need therapy.

      • There’s a proverb in Scripture about the spirit of a man being like deep water – but a man of wisdom can draw it out. It’s always a good idea to seek spiritual direction. Start with your fiancee’s parish priest. If that’s not his gift, then contact other local priests. One piece of advice: God’s spirit refreshes and makes us more free. An evil spirit coerces and makes us feel forced into something.

      • Harvey

        Actually, I did speak to our Priest (I say “our” since he was my fiance’s Priest and has become, by default, ours) and he said that the Holy Spirit is directing me and that I should surrender to it as doing so will “set me free”, which is sort of what you stated here in your reply. But, at the same time, I feel “forced” because, though at first it was something I wanted to try and do, it’s become (now) something I feel compelled to do (praying, Bible, etc.).

        My cognitive side doesn’t make any sense of a notion of God yet, here I am, compelled to thank God for my day, hoping that God directs me to do right, thinking that God helped me when things are good, or that I’m being tested by God when things are more challenging. Or, worse, if I get home early from work or have a day off, feeling like I now NEED to go to Mass! Need to go, not deciding to go. Even involuntarily, automatically memorizing certain parts of the Bible and, note, I’ve always had a bad memory for these kinds of things. My friends would be shocked and I hope I can keep it all secret, as my fiance has already told her mother and maybe others.

        I’ve tried to find if anyone else had experienced something similar to me by researching it on the Net with no luck as any atheists that have converted have usually done so after studying philosphers but in my case it’s come from somewhere inside me.

        This is what’s odd: the dichotomy between my emotional, irrational self (and I assume we all have that part of ourselves) and the rational, critical thinking part that’s been a major aspect of my identity virtually all my life. In fact, I remember when going to Hebrew school before age 13 (I come from a lite Jewish background) and HATING it every minute. I was relieved after being forced to have a Bar Mitvah. But, after decades of avoiding anything having to do with religion, POOF, I’m behaving, even thinking in a strange sense, like some sort of pious Catholic, all because my fiance got me to go with her to her Mass and my obsessive attachment to it which came out of nowhere.

        I don’t even know what surrender means. Does it mean that I should just admit that I’m a believer and forget my doubts? Is that even possible? Should I go for therapy? I’ve actually gone to a hypnotist to help my conscious mind accept belief but it’s helped for a short term, making other aspects even more ingrained than before.

        Sorry to belabor this but it’s very disturbing to me. Similar to the feeling of having a constant itch that needs scratching.

      • MDK66

        Hi, Harvey. Have you ever heard of Jennifer Fulwiler? Maybe should talk to her. She was an atheist who came to the Church. Here’s the contact page of her website: http://jenniferfulwiler.com/contact/

        Here is her story: https://youtu.be/sXmX8NrpaLE

      • Harvey

        OK, I read and watched Jennifer’s videos and writings and found them quite fascinating. With me, though, it’s not the intellectual aspects that draws me but more on a primitive emotional level. I decided that I must convert and have joined RCIA in my Parish. I state that I believe I “must” convert because of what I keep wanting to do: go to Mass, pray, read the Bible, etc. It seems to have come from nowhere but my girlfriend, who unknowingly (or maybe knowingly, at least subconsciously) had been praying for this to happen for many years. After learning about the value the Catholic Church places on marriage I find that I’m in total agreement with it, at least as it pertains to me, and want a sacramental marriage.

        So, after being atheist all my life, I find now that being Catholic would be a much better “fit”. I long to share Communion and feel very left out at this point as, until I convert, I will have to sit that part out. I still haven’t shared this with my family and all but one friend, though I think they’re getting the idea in other ways. I just decided to stop fighting it and finally realize that I’m becoming a believer, even if I don’t know how this has happened. My fiance told me she was quietly praying for this for many years. Maybe that had something to do with it?

        It felt strange but, at this point, it’s a good strange. 🙂

      • Harvey

        I’ve converted to Catholic and, in doing so, I made baptismal vows. Being honest and a man of my word, it’s all become a lot easier for me now. I will live according to those promises, not only because I gave my word, but because I now realize that those promises were based on Catholic truths that are now my truths. It feels very freeing….

      • Doesn’t it just? I’m very happy for you – mazel tov. My conversion was rather like yours, a powerful attraction to the Faith, like falling in love. I’ve been catching up on the rational aspects ever since! And the Catholic Faith can certainly stand up to examination – it’s food for every strand of our human makeup. Deo gratias

  • Ashley

    I just came across this article today and found it quite intriguing. I just went to my first Catholic mass yesterday. About a year and a half ago my heart was completely pulled to the Church and to a relationship with Christ. So I spent this past year in a non-denominational church just trying to learn as much as I can. I actually had no interest in the Catholic church just based on the stereotypes that you hear about it. But, after stepping in there for a couple hours I found myself feeling completely at home and imagining a future there where my children could attend school and grow up learning these amazing traditions. This will all be a new journey for me and I’m very nervous about what all my friends will think. But I definitely feel my heart being called to the Catholic church.

    • That’s wonderful to hear, Ashley. Don’t be deterred: you’ll never regret becoming Catholic. It’s the true Church founded by Christ where nothing has been removed: the Christian faith and the Gospel in their completeness. All Protestant sects are lacking something or other, although blessed by God in the measure they allow Him to – He overlooks our faults so graciously.