For the majority of Catholics, belonging to the church is rooted in the faith of their parents...
They are baptised soon after birth, and brought up to accept the teaching of Catholicism as a part of their lives. Yet there are others, for whom the beginning of faith and the call to join the church occurs in adulthood. To Beverley Smith, the decision to convert is the response to a deeper searching that touches a spiritual part of one’s life.
‘I think that innate to all human beings is this search for spirituality’, Beverley says.
Beverley was herself an adult convert to Catholicism. Until recently she worked with the Melbourne Archdiocese preparing individuals for the different stages of RCIA. A senior member of her parish, Beverley was involved in welcoming those inquiring about the Catholic faith, and facilitating their belonging within the community of the church.
‘It can be quite scary for some if they’re not church people, or if they’ve come from other denominations. I’ve had the experience of converting and I find it to be a great help, like welcoming someone into your own home’, Beverley says.
There are many catalysts that prompt people to enquire about RCIA. They might be influenced by Catholics they know, and wish to emulate the structure and values they recognise in their friends’ lives, or they may have found love with a Catholic. Even if love is the catalyst, Beverley is adamant that ultimately the call to the church is something that must be undertaken for oneself.
‘I’ve known one gentleman who wanted to participate in RCIA because his wife was Catholic, and his children were Catholic. But when he came close to the sacraments of initiation, he said "No, this isn’t what I want". A number of weeks later, he came back with a huge bang and said "Yes! I want to do this for myself!"
‘RCIA is a big transition, and at whatever age this takes place—it could be 16, 30, 65—they need to really want to do it.’
For Nicole Wilkin, the call to Catholicism began in Kalgoorlie. Raised in the Anglican faith, but never practising, she began attending the local Catholic church when she met her husband, David.
‘My husband’s a Catholic, and he grew up a Catholic, but he wasn’t going to church. I wanted to go’, she explains.
Nicole began to enjoy the gospels and the homily, and often found herself reflecting on its message through the following week. Nicole also enjoyed the sense of community she found in the parish, and credits that as an important motivation.
‘I think part of the decision to convert is about the togetherness. You really come to feel part of something.’
Nicole was initiated into the Catholic church two years ago. The support she received from her husband was instrumental to the deliberation she underwent, and the eventual decision that she made.
‘He was one hundred percent behind me. Going to church became something we could do together’, Nicole says.
For Nicole, preparation for RCIA took around nine months. It involved weekly meetings and prayer, and the study of scriptures and Catholic traditions. Whilst for many, the spiritual journey can be drawn out by questions, reflection and doubt, Nicole describes the process of preparation as an intensely enriching experience that served to deepen her faith.
‘I think you actually feel closer to God ... because you’re surrounded by people with really deep faith: people you can talk about it with all the time’, she says.
Although the stages of RCIA follow the Liturgical calendar, according to Beverley the journey can take years. While there is a structure to the RCIA, the point of taking the sacraments of Baptism, Communion and Confirmation is not pushed upon those who aren’t ready.
‘If people aren’t ready, they can journey a little bit further’, Beverley clarifies. Conversion is a life-altering decision, so it’s important that participants proceed at a comfortable pace.
Nicole reflects that she never consciously deliberated over whether she was ready for the sacraments of initiation. On the day, however, doubt did surface, and questions arose: Am I doing the right thing? Why am I doing this today?
‘I think a part of it was that I got very nervous’, Nicole explains. ‘It’s quite a personal decision, but at that point it becomes public.’
Ultimately, Nicole and others who have experienced RCIA describe the event as a wonderful high. Beverley attributes this feeling to being embraced by the Catholic community.
‘It’s a very exciting time—new life, new energy, and new members of the Catholic faith bringing their particular gifts. The backwash on the parish community is powerful’ she says.
Nicole has since christened her own daughter into the Catholic faith, but reflects that there is one advantage to being baptised as an adult. ‘It’s a choice, and so therefore I think you respect that choice ... and want to keep following it through. So the commitment’s there. I think you’re more conscious of it and I think you appreciate it more. For my husband David, it’s part of his life, it always has been and maybe you don’t think about it as much as when you’ve made a conscious choice as an adult’, Nicole says.
‘I’m very pleased with my decision. I’d never trade it for the world, and now I’ve been married in that church, and my baby’s been christened in that church. They’re things that I never thought I’d do, and I’ve absolutely enjoyed those occasions because they’ve been in a church, with God around me.’
This article first appeared in Australian Catholics. Copyright © 2002 Jesuit Publications.