by Fr. Jonathan Atchley
This is a handy little guide for people interested in converting to Catholicism, the beliefs and practices of those living the Catholic faith. Let’s define our terms. Catholic means all-embracing or universal. Catholics are Christians who believe in a “wide variety of things” handed on through tradition (i.e. the transmission of beliefs and customary practices). Catholics trace their religion directly from Jesus Christ through the Apostles and roughly 2,000 years of popes who have headed the Church after the fashion of St. Peter, appointed as “rock” by the Lord. Faith means an intellectual assent to divinely revealed truths. Catholics believe that it is God who guides his Church set in motion or established by his Son Jesus. Their acceptance of these beliefs and practices is not blind but rather reasonable and based on truths revealed by God that can be defended by reason but not necessarily proven by reason. Catholicism is a muscular, thinking person's religion, grounded in truth, and shows itself to be true in oh, so many ways. And it is balanced, like a cat, because if you turn it upside down and drop it, it always lands on its feet. There is a definite coherence of truths to which one ascribes in being Catholic, meaning that that which was hidden from the world in mystery has been made known in ways that are consistent and bear out in experience over time like resonating proofs.
For those wishing to join the Church, there is a process set up by the bishops (overseers, literally, or spiritual descendants of the Apostles) in the U.S. called O.C.I.A, the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults into the faith. The process is a gradual introduction to the essential tenets professed by the Catholic Church, which converts will find takes about a minimum of one year (or so) to complete.
There are five steps in this process (sometimes reduced to three, though all five are actually present): 1) Inquiry, where you come to take a look and ask questions. 2) Catechumenate (that period of conversion in which a person is given rudimentary instruction in the faith). 3) Period of Enlightenment, an in-depth time during the six weeks of Lent to experience and embrace this universal form of Christianity. 4) Sacraments of Initiation, in which the convert will be brought into the Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confession or Reconciliation, the Eucharist or holy communion and Confirmation at Eastertime. Even if one has received one or more of these sacraments as an infant or youth, the process of conversion as an adult brings one to more firmly understand what is expected by God of believers, usually referring to essential dogmas (doctrines), faith (beliefs based on Scriptures) and morals (how one is expected to live in order to participate in their salvation). 5) Mystagogy, or the profound and joyful mystery of living out the faith, usually taking place during the seven weeks of Easter to Pentecost.
I ask the readers some leeway in understanding as not all parishes bring all believers through the same exact process. Some programs are rigorous, others, frankly, lackadaisical, but the process remains essentially the same, that by which the Church through her leaders have come to embrace others into the faith. Imagine reading a book and not fully understanding it; on the other hand, imagine reading a book and getting the main points quite precisely, such that one is able to go on and share what the story was about with others. The latter is the intention of the O.C.I.A. process, to bring adults into a lively understanding and practice of their Catholic Christian faith.
For those wanting to investigate what the “coursework” might be like—because O.C.I.A. entails learning many things—you can find a free one offered by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order dedicated to sharing the faith with others. That program can be found here: https://www.kofc.org/en/who-we-are/our-faith/cis.html
This particular program consists of ten lessons with a short quiz after each to see how well you grasp what is shared. These lessons are on 1) The Apostles Creed, 2) The People of God, 3) Christ’s Seven Sacraments, 4) The Mass, 5) Grace, 6) To Sin is to Die, 7) The Precepts of the Church, 8) Christian Life, 9) Sacramentals, 10) God and Me. Again, this is one particular introduction to Catholicism; there are other training manuals or "catechisms," if you will, to help one along the way.
It is a glorious life, following the Lord Jesus in faith. Catholics are the original Christians and have perdured through the centuries with a calming sameness of religious belief and practices (even as there are diabolic forces attempting to wrest that faith from the Church). Mine is a rather informal introduction here, which you may find varies somewhat but should adhere essentially to the same content of dogma, faith and morals universally believed by Catholics worldwide. God bless you, brother or sister wanting to join (or already belonging) to the body of Christ. I earnestly pray that we merrily meet In heaven!