Last week I started RCIA (Right Catholic Initiation of Adults)—or the course on joining the Catholic Church. I’m taking it at the church I’ve been attending for the last year and will be getting married at in May. There are about fifteen of us in the class. Most of us are there because our spouses or fiances are Catholic and we have some questions. We are at different places in our faith walks, but our walk has brought us together for the next nine months.
For me, getting here began a year ago, when I started thinking about dating a friend of mine. The biggest question for both of us was the fact that he was Catholic and I was Lutheran. Or rather, I preferred to say I was currently attending a Lutheran church. I had also been to Alliance, Baptist, Catholic, United, Anglican, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches. To me, it’s more important to focus on the things we all believe—like the Apostle’s Creed—than the ways we differ. As I see it, we are all Christians serving the same God.
Because it's important to me to attend the same church as my significant other, I began investigating the Catholic Church. One of the first presents he bought me was the Catholic Catechism. We started attending Mass together whenever we could and went to adoration occasionally. (For my Protestant readers, Mass is the Catholic communion service and adoration is simply praying in the presence of the Eucharist.) I read the Catechism and threw all my questions at him—the usual Protestant questions about Mary, the saints, etc. He patiently answered and explained, and I’d think, “Oh. Okay. I agree with that.”
My family and friends had mixed reactions to my becoming Catholic. When I was contemplating dating a Catholic, my dad offered to go with me to the Catholic church, “so I could see what I was getting myself into.” My mom told me not to even date this guy, as our different faiths meant too many differences between us. My best friend (who’d grown up Catholic) bought me a book about the Mass and her family was happy to see me on Sundays. My great-aunt told me she hopes I don’t ever become Catholic and to hang onto my Lutheran faith.
It seems to me that society in general, and Protestants especially, have a set of stereotypical ideas about Catholics and what they believe. I have noticed myself reacting strongly to various things in the Church, but when I stop to think about it, I realize part of that reaction is from growing up Lutheran. We non-Catholics have a negative view of anything Catholic. As I delve into what Catholics believe, and meet more Catholics who have put their faith into action, I’m intrigued by what I see.
Most stereotypes about Catholics apply to Christians in general. We’re a human lot, whether we’re Catholic or Protestant, and there are Christians in every denomination who fail to live their faith as they should. I’ve met as many twice-a-year Lutherans as I have twice-a-year Catholics. And I’m sure the same could be said of every other denomination.
Other stereotypes—such as those about Catholics praying "to" Mary—are misconceptions about the Catholic Church. Most Protestants know a little bit about Catholicism and assume the rest, or have heard only part of the story. When I started asking questions about these misconceptions, they were cleared away. Most of the things I thought were major problems about joining the Catholic Church became nothing to worry about when I had gotten all the information.
There have still been times when I have doubted what I’m doing. My fiance has always said the only reason for joining the Catholic Church is Jesus and what He does for us in the Eucharist. At times, I still felt I was joining just so we could attend church together and raise our kids without having to explain why mommy and daddy don’t believe the same thing about God. At the first RCIA class, I almost didn’t want to mention that I was there because my fiance was Catholic—until everyone else mentioned their reasons for being there.
The thing that keeps me going back is my desire for God. There is something deep inside me that hungers and thirsts for God, and finds an answer at Mass. Before I started dating my friend, I asked him why he became Catholic. He said it was about the Eucharist; if that was where God was, then that was where he wanted to be. That struck a chord with me. I go to Mass, and to adoration, and I feel God is there. My questions attack when I forget about that and feel swamped by other peoples’ opinions and all the changes in my life.
I keep coming back to the one thing that matters: my relationship with God. Because if He is there, then that is where I also want to be.