The general path for non-Catholics to become Catholic is through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). The details vary some from parish to parish, but it is a process in which you learn about the Catholic faith and way of life. The class meets once per week for about 2 hours over a period of 5 or 6 months. For many but not all people.
When I started 4 months ago I was told that I needed a sponsor. Hmmm, that sounds like I might be joining a country club and need someone to vouch for me! It briefly brought to mind Groucho Marx’s paradox:
I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.
Your sponsor can be any Catholic in good standing, 16 or older. Generally it should not be a spouse or close family member. The sponsor helps the candidate (someone who is already baptized) or catechumen (someone who is not) during the process. They help answer your questions, attend Mass with you, RCIA classes, various Church activities, etc. Your sponsor helps “show you the ropes.” My good friend Rigsby is my sponsor, which meant he had 2 of us for a few months, myself and Eric. Eric’s RCIA class overlapped ours. Fortunately for Rigsby, the classes are combined during those periods! Don’t worry if you need a sponsor, there are many volunteers.
RCIA is described as a journey. When I first heard that, a part of me thought “yea, sure.” Classes have a starting point, a syllabus, a schedule, an end date and some sort of graduation / certification – right? A class is a “journey” only in as much as you hopefully “travel” from less knowledge to more.
My classes are interesting, taught so far by Deacons John and Ron and lay folks – Daniel, Derek, Ed, Marianna, Mike, Skip, Tom, Trish, and Vince. The pace is not hurried, and questions are always welcome. The 2 hour classes fly by. What started out as another scheduled activity soon became something I eagerly look forward to.
The classes are serious but fun too. Deacon John taught the class on the Sacrament of Reconciliation (a/k/a confession). One of the questions he was asked is if he hears confessions. A big smile came to his face and a twinkle in his eye when he replied that he would love to hear our confessions any time! Pause. Pause. Then he noted however that he would not be granting any of us absolution! Only a priest can do that.
I have found that RCIA is not just for learning about Catholicism. It is a gentle process that deepens your Christian faith and slowly opens your mind and heart to living it better. It is also a spark that ignites a passion to learn more.
So, when exactly do you become Catholic? I don’t think it happens at a single point in time. The Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are very important and are milestones but insufficient by themselves. It happens when you are Catholic in your heart. That is the journey – one that continues long after RCIA.
I know that conversion of heart is not always reached by everyone in a class. Sometimes people feel they are not yet ready and continue in the next session. For others it may not be the right time. This is something each individual must discern.
Joining an RCIA course is a wonderful journey. If you know practicing Catholics at a local parish, ask them. If not, call the parish office and ask for the RCIA coordinator’s contact info.
If you have been away from the Church, your parish will have RCIA or other classes as appropriate to help. Welcome home.
This is my Conversion Story, part 4 of 4. Please also see:
- Part 1: How I came to be an ex-Protestant
- Part 2: How in the world did I end up here?
- Part 3: Sign me up!