Katrina Fernandez gives great advice, and not just for converts
I just became a brand-new convert this Easter Vigil. What advice can you give a newbie as he’s about to plunge into the Tiber and start a new life as a baby Catholic?
Welcome home! We share a birthday. Ten years ago I too was brought into the fullness of the Catholic Church, and also like you I had tons of questions. The first being, now what?
Here to help, let me offer you some quick and dirty tips to practicing your new faith.
Let’s start with fun stuff. Get you some yard statues and a papal flag to announce to the neighbors, the postman and anyone who happens to be driving by that you are a proud papist. For a real statement set up a roadside shrine or install a bathtub Madonna.
Moving indoors, the essentials in Catholic home decor are a crucifix (one in every room is the goal), icons or images of your patron saint, Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. With Catholicism’s rich history of religious art and imagery you’ll easily find something that appeals to your tastes. I also recommend a home altar or icon corner in the area of your house where you tend to pray the most.
Don’t forget your car! Every vehicle must have a rosary and St. Christopher medal swinging from the rearview mirror. Bobblehead popes on the dashboard encouraged but optional.
I know it sounds like I’m making light of this but really, these things can absolutely aid in your new faith, especially if you have them blessed. Accessorize too. Get a nice crucifix and a medal of your patron saint. Surround yourself with visual reminders that you’re Catholic now.
I often caution new Catholics from trying to do it all right away. Avoid the perfect papist trap of going from heathen to holy hermit overnight. Pace yourself. Don’t jump right into the divine office, a novena and the promise to attend daily Mass from the start. You’re setting yourself for failure, and this failure is the number one killer of convert zeal. I recommend starting off with something simple and easy to remember, like the Jesus Prayer, that you can say throughout the day until you get into a habit of prayer and conversation with Christ.
Do go to adoration as much as your schedule permits. Familiarize yourself with all the parishes in your area and near where you work and see if they offer perpetual adoration, so that way if you just happen to be driving by you can pop in for a quick chat. Just never stop praying, and make regular use of your rosary.
Don’t give up studying the Bible and your Catechism now that you’re an official member of the club. Continue taking Bible-study classes or whatever other resources your parish has available. If you don’t have the time, sign up for daily e-mails from one of the many Catholic resources that will e-mail you info on the saint of the day along with the daily Mass readings, or download some apps for your phone. To keep your faith fresh, keep learning something new everyday. Remember, just because you’re fresh out of RCIA, you don’t know everything. There’s always something more to learn, and what you know now you can and will forget if you don’t make the effort to stay knowledgeable.
4: Don’t put your faith in people
Remember why you became Catholic: that search for Truth. Rest assured in the knowledge that you have found that Truth in a Church founded by Christ … which happens to be run by men. Fallible men. Don’t be discouraged when other Catholics disappoint you or priests fail to live up to your expectations. Don’t let horrible liturgical experiences and poorly run parishes question your faith. Remember who’s in charge and follow him.
5: Live your new faith
This is one of the most difficult parts, in my opinion. At times it can feel like cultural appropriation, claiming a religion who haven’t been brought up in. But remember the Church is universal and Catholicism is practiced on every corner of the globe. If you practice your faith everyday through prayer and the use of the sacraments, it will begin to feel as natural to you as breathing. Confession keeps us accountable, so make frequent use of it.
6: Remember why you became Catholic
When, in 10 years from now, your faith doesn’t feel so fresh anymore, look back to the moments in your life that made you take the final plunge into the Tiber. Always celebrate your “birthday” by attending every Easter Vigil so you can share and relive vicariously that wonder of your First Communion with those walking the same path you walked.
Converting to Catholicism is an act of will, and so is staying Catholic. Remember that and pray daily and you’ll be all right.
Katrina Fernandez has a PhD in being single, and a master’s in single parenting with a concentration in Catholic guilt. She’s been writing about these and other life-survival topics for more than a decade. Submit all questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.