Like Jason said in his last post, it’s difficult to tell who reads our blog- Cradle Catholics, resolute non-Catholics, reverts, potential Catholics, but since there have been a lot of comments from people on the verge of making the jump into Catholicism (yay!!!), I thought I’d address the after-party. I’m talking about what happens after you are actually received into the Church. It’s something I hadn’t thought much about prior to our reception last August. At the time, I was kind of focused on the “endpoint;” you know, agonizing over whether I’d pass out when we had to go forward into the Sanctuary to be confirmed, what it would be like to receive the Eucharist for the first time, things like that.
What I hadn’t considered prior to being official was the sheer enormity of what faced me once I got in: it was like stepping through a tiny little door and finding myself in this enormous, beautiful, old and endless mansion. I had realized that what I was doing was a big deal but I didn’t realize how big. And so the adjustments continue.
Exhibit A: I was totally sweating my first confession, not really thinking about subsequent confessions. The first one is the scariest, no doubt, but why did I think it would be a piece of cake after that? Instead of breezing into the confessional ever after, I’ve worried that maybe my confessions aren’t “good enough”, feeling like a loser because I don’t have the Act of Contrition perfectly memorized yet, and feeling even more looser-y because I don’t want to do confession face to face and will run screaming if that’s my only option (and that has actually come up a couple of times, especially when travelling.) Ok, so I’m finally coming to grips with these things and realizing that the art of confession is something I will learn to improve upon in time, and that if my confession was truly horrible the priest would say something. Right???
Exhibit B: Getting the kids on the Ark in addition to getting them onboard with your plans, and then nurturing the new aspects of their faith. I’d be interested to see demographics on who it is that comes into the Church these days. Is it mainly people whose children are grown, young, single people, families? One of the unique challenges that face young families looking at a Tiber swim is figuring out the logistics of how children will be received into the Church. Especially for those coming from a Protestant background, there are all kind of things to consider, such as your child’s baptismal status, level of religious education, etc. Some of our children are older and so it’s not like we could just say to them one day, “Hey, we’re going to a new church!” We had many conversations about the whys and hows, in addition to taking them to Mass. As the time got closer to Jason’s and my Confirmation, it was determined that since our two oldest children had already been baptized, they could receive Communion and be received into the Church and that our younger daughter would be baptized and will receive her first Communion this spring with children her age. We waited a few weeks after being received to have our two year old baptized because, well, that was an event in and of itself.
Prior to our reception into the Church, our oldest two met with our priest for a number of sessions so he could go over the basics of Catholic teaching- kind of like a mini-RCIA. I had no idea what effect this would have on them but they loved meeting with him. I think it made them feel like they were invested in this journey as well (and rightly so- they had to make the decision to become Catholic; we couldn’t make them), and they have remarked that these sessions helped them immensely once they started their religious education classes this past fall.
Fast forward six or so months, and I can say that we’re well on our way to creating a Catholic household. We try to do nightly readings or prayers, we talk about the lives of Saints, we occasionally (though not enough) say the rosary as a family, and abstain from meat on Fridays. We thoroughly enjoyed watching Father Barron’s Catholicism series. We are also considering making a “Catherdral crawl” over spring break and visiting America’s first cathedral in Baltimore and the shrine of Saint Katherine Drexel in PA. Oh, and we’ve gotten some cool Catholic artwork for the house, some of it with the help of the kids. Jason and I are also intentional in sharing a little bit about what we are currently reading with the kids, even if it might be a little over their heads. In all, we’re really enjoying assimilating Catholic culture.
In addition to the “positives” of helping our children develop spiritually, there have also been some issues we’ve had to address with our oldest two. I don’t know why I didn’t anticipate this better, but both have had uncomfortable conversations with a couple of their peers. These situations have led us to have some great discussions with them- especially in the area of being charitable and not combative (kind of hard for their red-headed, tempermental mama, too.) We also got set 1 and 2 of Friendly Defenders, which are flash cards for Catholic children that offer Biblical and theological answers to common objections to Catholicism they might encounter (such as, “Hey, don’t you worship statues?”) in addition to objections to faith in general. Our kids have been handling the challenges well, but it has made us sensitive to the kinds of situations we put them in down the line.
Exhibit C: Catholic devotion. The time Jason and I spent in our pre-Catholic-about-to-leap stage was not super long. Most of it was spent reading (and reading) and talking to each other and a couple of other sympathetic friends. The reading for me began in seminary, with the Church Fathers and the like and then extended to apologetics and conversion stories. Of course, we went to Mass, but that was not the bulk of our pre-Catholic experience. And it’s not like we were BFF with tons of Catholics, either.
At this point, I can say that what I “do” now is significantly different. First off, I’m kind of tired of apologetics after all that reading and if I do read the Church Fathers, it’s more for devotional purposes. I realized quickly after becoming Catholic that I was hungry for the Mass, and that I wanted to acquaint myself better with Catholic prayers and devotions. What my encounter with the Eucharist showed me was that I wanted to be as close to Jesus as I could. Sometimes that has meant just grabbing the rare opportunity to pop into our parish Church and sit in the silent presence of Our Lord, it has also meant going on a spiritual retreat one weekend, it has meant reading more about the lives of saints and reading papal encyclicals “just for fun” and not for research purposes. It has meant looking up stuff when I don’t know what it is or when I don’t understand it (like when our children each received a Miraculous Medal the other night at religous education.) That’s not to say that I didn’t do much of this stuff before, but that now that I’m not at this fever pitch of trying to grasp everything before I came in, I’m discovering that it’s ok to discover all of these wonderful things at a more deliberate pace. There is no way to take it all in all at once.
Exhibit D: The Mass: some things change, some stay the same. The more we attend Mass, the more familiar it becomes. Like the awesome baby in the opening graphic, I, too, do a fist pump whenever I don’t mess up the responses. Ok, maybe not. But I’ve got to say, being able to participate fully in the Mass is amazing. Instead of staring like a hungry puppy at all the lucky people who line up for the Supper of the Lamb, I get to step right in line with the rest of them. The thing that hasn’t changed is the complete sense of awe I feel during the Mass. I recall hearing somewhere that Thomas Aquinas would often be moved to tears when he offered the Mass. I know how he felt.
There are a million more things I could say about being “post Tiber” but for now I’ll just stop and say that obviously, it doesn’t end the day you are received into the Church. It is truly the beginning, and it has, thus far, been more exciting and promise-filled than I could have imagined. Potential Tiber-swimmers, take heart: the water’s fine, and the far shore? Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself.