Adults converting to Catholicicsm takes much more courage than starting from childhood
by Julie VanSpall
Photo Caption: The mechanics and ritual of faith, as with skating, become second nature when learned young, but take much more thought and effort later in life. ( designpics.com )
I always treasure Holy Week’s rituals and the chances to grow in my faith. Lent is a time not only to become closer to God, but to also come to know ourselves more fully. We challenge ourselves, becoming more in tune with our weaknesses as well as our strengths. We are moved as we reflect on Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for our sake, and ultimately we rejoice in his Resurrection.
Holy Week has particular significance for me this year. One of my sisters-in-law will continue her journey of faith and self-discovery by receiving her first Communion and the sacrament of confirmation at the Easter Vigil. This Easter also happens to be the 50th anniversary of my mom’s conversion to Catholicism.
The privilege of witnessing others receiving the sacraments always fills me with hope and renewed personal faith. These feelings are augmented when the person professing their faith for the first time is an adult.
We live in a time in which many people in our communities and in the media seem to downplay the importance of religious practices: banning religious attire, refusing immigration based on faith, removing prayers from public schools, and prioritizing travel, sports, leisure and even work over any kind of Sabbath worship. Therefore, it’s refreshing to talk to people so engaged in their personal faith development that they are willing to publically declare a life change, centred on Christ.
While other Christian churches are rooted in the same Bible and the same love of Christ, there are many Catholic rituals, rules and even beliefs that are quite different and potentially hard to accept for someone who grew up thinking differently. The decision to become Catholic requires research, discussion, discernment, and great faith.
In a 2009 column I wrote, “I am … inspired each Lent and Easter by the adults completing the RCIA program at our church. My parents chose Catholicism for me and it’s all I’ve ever known, but these courageous people have chosen it for themselves. They have embarked on independent journeys of self-awareness and faith, in an increasingly secular world.”
In that same column, I compared religious conversion to learning to skate. I learned to skate at a young age and didn’t think about the biomechanics involved. I didn’t fear the steps; I just knew that I wanted to skate and kept my sights set on that goal. I stumbled and fell, and I’m sure I became frustrated at times, but I trusted the parents who instructed me.
When adults learn to skate, they do so with trepidation. I have witnessed people gripping the boards, stiffly focussing on each movement they make. I have skated for so long that I don’t really think about it; however, watching adults learn to skate, I recognize the complexity of what’s involved and the fact that a fall on hard ice would be painful.
Children trust their parents’ judgement, follow their lead, and rely on their strength to support them. When my niece, Tara, first tried to skate, my mom asked her if she had felt scared. ‘No,’ she replied and, as if stating the obvious, added, ‘I just held my daddy’s hand.’”
Watching an adult come into the Church that I have known since birth makes me think about everything that conversion truly encompasses. There is a lot of understanding and ritual that I take for granted. Some concepts I accept on faith, which can be very difficult to explain when challenged by other adults. Indeed, I draw inspiration from converts’ ability to leap into something so momentous partway through life – something I’m not sure I could undertake, in a similar situation.
I look forward to discussions on faith with my sister-in-law, and I’m thrilled to be travelling to Ontario to support her as she receives the sacraments. While she may have questions for me, I know that I will likewise learn a lot from her, as I focus on the meanings behind each practice she experiences for the first time.
During Holy Week, let us pray for those who are embracing, or returning to, the Church this Easter. Personally, I also pray for the ability to put fears to rest by gripping my faith and confidently holding the heavenly Father’s hand.