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Help! A Catholic convert misses all the “feelings” from her old Protestant church

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Katrina Fernandez offers advice on what to do when you find yourself searching for the emotional high that sentimental music and arm-swaying used to produce.

Katrina,

My sister is a recent convert, 3-4 years ago. She and her husband have one son and have a very busy life. Two type A’s, two high-caliber careers, travel, big house, big commitments, big pressures, very social, etc. My sister is also is involved in her parish. She has been a middle school age Faith Formation teacher since her Confirmation (I believe it’s a calling for her). She is very solid and in many ways, an inspiration to me.

She’s become frustrated with Faith Formation because of lack of parental involvement, the lack of resources, and the lack of umph of the “cradle” Catholics involved. Her parish is small and not dynamic in emotion. I believe she misses the emotion of her past Protestant life. The singing, the arms swaying, etc., and the apparent spiritual feelings that comes with all that. I can’t relate to this, as for me the Catholic life is all I’ve ever known.

So, any advice / thoughts you can give will be very much appreciated. I want to help her but don’t know how.

Thank you again for your time!

Peace be with you!

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Here’s the thing about sentimental Protestantism… it’s feelings-based and not much else. I converted from a charismatic southern Pentecostal church and went through a period of longing just like your sister. Catholicism seemed cold and unaffectionate in comparison. There is an adjustment period for the convert as they learn to adapt to a liturgy that isn’t designed specifically to make them feel good.

As a convert that was a big challenge to overcome. My typically pre-Catholic Sunday resembled a Christian concert with sentimental music and arm-swaying. I was accustomed to leaving every service feeling an emotional high from the experience. When I first converted my “high” was finally being able to receive the Eucharist. The newness of my Catholicism was exciting enough to emotional sustain me for several years.

Like all highs, it wore off.

I hit my lowest when Mass felt like a chore and I took receiving the Body of Christ for granted. All those wonderful spiritual revelations I learned in RCIA about my faith and the Mass started to fade from memory and I was left wondering where that “feeling” went. That’s the thing about feelings, they fluctuate and are fleeting. Feelings are a terrible foundation to build your faith on. But we’re humans with this great, God-given capacity for feeling and we can’t live devoid of emotion. Our hearts were made for feelings like joy, empathy, and love.    

So what to do then?

There are two cures for this, the first being prayer. It sounds to me like your sister might be overextending herself. I would gently ask her to re-examine her busy schedule to see where she can devote more time to daily prayer. Adoration, the rosary, a novena, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Wednesday evening Mass, or simply a quiet 15 minutes in the morning before everyone else in the house wakes up can do wonders for our spirit’s emotional well-being. If you are used to emotionally charged worship services and expecting the Mass to fill that void you’re going to be left wanting. Which leads me to the second cure: study.

The thing that truly gets me over my emotional funks is frequent and regular study.  

Of course, after several years, all that I learned from RCIA slipped from memory. The meaning of our prayers, the symbolism, the richness of Liturgy … all that knowledge needs to be refreshed in our minds regularly to maintain a newness of faith. Reading the Bible, studying scripture and other holy writings helped me understand what an utter gift the Mass and the sacraments are. When I start to feel the fires of my faith grow cold and indifferent I have to make the intentional effort to stoke them again through prayer and study. And one of greatest things you can learn about Mass is that it is an act of sacrifice and thanksgiving, which makes it completely unique and so fundamentally different from charismatic styled worship.  

The purpose of Mass isn’t to make us feel happy and good, it’s to give true worship to the Lord outside of ourselves. It requires us to abandon our comfort and any self-centered desires to be entertained. Getting used to that can be a huge hurdle for many converts to overcome and can leave them feeling emotionally hungry for more. Some great resources for refreshing our knowledge about the mass are Scott Hahn’s book, The Lamb’s Supper and Mike Dubruiel’s book, The How-To Book of the Mass.   

Read more…“Must worship be entertaining?

Regarding her Faith Formation classes, she can’t fix the attitude of other parents but she can fix her way of perceiving their actions and how she reacts to them. Catholics are naturally more reserved in their worship; that doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of caring. Comparing the way Catholics do things with Protestants is like comparing apples to camels. As far as resources and parental involvement, she needs to bring that to the attention of her parish director of formation or her priest.

I would encourage you to continue offering a listening ear to your sister and remind her that conversion is lifelong process. Lifelong, as in all your life-long life. Remind her to slow down and offer to help her out as much as you can, relieving some of the demands on her time. And since it’s entirely possible that her way of praying is through music, buy her a CD of chant or sweet sounding nuns. If you sister is extroverted perhaps she would benefit from participating in a parish prayer group and nothing says you have to stop attending RCIA after you “graduate.” Our parish encourages anyone who wants to learn more about their faith to attend. And of course, encourage her to talk to her priest.   

But mostly listen to her. Most women just want to have a good venting session. Getting it off our chests is all it usually takes to start feeling better. It’s highly likely her husband has heard all her complaints before and you’re a new ear to unload on. And that’s OK. Listening to her is loving her.

 

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