When I came into the Church at Easter Vigil three years ago there were a few things that nobody told me. Well, one thing that people did tell me that I did not listen to was that the high I had at the time would wear off. It’s called the honeymoon phase, and like all relationships it happens. Even in our relationship with Christ. I did not believe people because I am the most prideful human being that has ever lived. And the love that God was showering me with at that point in my life gave me the delusion that I was special. That somehow I was never going to feel that emptiness that comes when God starts preparing us for battle. (That is what He is preparing us for; battle against the evil inside of us, in the world, in the Church, and in our everyday life.) I thought that the little moment of sadness or the times that I didn’t get chills when receiving the Eucharist were those “dark nights of the soul” that everyone was talking about. Now, three years later, I realize that is laughable. But nobody really told me what to prepare for. I’m not sure why we don’t talk about it; whether it’s because we don’t want people to run away or if it’s because we don’t really want to bare our souls like that.
The only thing that makes me feel safe is baring mine. So, here are a few things that I wish people had told me when I became Catholic.
1. The Catholic Church is like a family
I read a post by Simcha Fisher the other day where she said, “Come on in, it’s terrible”, and that about sums it up. The last 3 years of my life have been full of seeing the most appalling acts made by some of the most decent Catholics. We act like 2 year olds sometimes. We call each other out, we type in ALL CAPS in online debates with one another, we disagree about everything, even things that by the very name Catholic we should agree on. We don’t see anything the same as anyone else, we love different kinds of music and all come from different personal experiences that makes us take all kinds of stupid things wrong and personal. And thanks to Facebook, we do it in public sometimes. Who am I kidding? We do it in public all.the.time. But we still love each other. The second that some secular media outlet attacks all things Catholic you can bet your horse that we will all swarm their Facebook page or Twitter to tell them how the cow eats the cabbage. (I’ve been talking to my husband about this post so I have a lot of Texan sayings in my head.) So, don’t be shocked or heartbroken or offended when you are admonished for anything and everything you do. Be prepared for it and cling to Christ when someone in our family hurts your feelings, but get up and move on. We don’t have time for pity parties right now. The Apostles had this problem, it’s not new, so dust off and focus on God’s Will for your life. It’s not a popularity contest.
2. You will be admonished for everything you do by someone
No matter what you do, if you have enough Catholic friends someone in that circle will judge you. They will judge you on your choice of music, speech, clothes, shoes, hairstyle, when you go to Mass, or any number of other things. Why? Because that is how the evil one gets us to let ourselves off the hook, we judge others. So, chances are that someone somewhere will be judging you. Forgive them and remember that feeling so you don’t turn around and do it to someone else. It’s just so much easier to point a finger at someone else than it is to turn the spotlight on our own short comings. We all do it. And don’t make the mistake that I’ve made over and over again and end up judging them for judging others. That is a mirror in a mirror and it takes a long time to get out of it. It took me countless confessions and a lot of heartache to finally get out of mine. Sparky is a sneaky guy and he can con you into thinking that wrong is right in the name of truth and justice. Don’t fall for it.
3. Sparky aka the devil is real
There is a fine, and I mean a supa fine, line between knowing this and thinking that everything is the devil’s fault. Legions of demons do not have the power to take away our free will. Our choices are ours to make (which makes the whole motto of the pro-choice movement so extremely frustrating since they seem to think that their freedom to make choices comes from the Government, but I digress). So no matter what, we choose. And we will be held accountable for those choices. But what Sparky can and does do is tempt us. He uses scripture, papal documents, newspaper articles, Facebook, Twitter, our mood, our surroundings, and everything he knows about us to do it. We have to acknowledge this in order to avoid those temptations and to ask for God’s Mercy when we fail and fall for Sparky’s tricks. Also, he is no chump. When Sparky attacks us it can make our nightmares look like fairy tales. His attacks can make us feel more alone than we have ever felt in our life. There have been times when I beg God to let me be anything but Catholic. My RCIA director said once that he had at times felt like his soul was being ripped apart and away from God. I have felt the same. What you have to hold on to is that God allows all things for our good. Even what we consider the ugly parts, because He knows that all real relationships mature. At the beginning he babies us because we need that kind of treatment, then as we grow he allows us to grow and that means letting us go sometimes. Not “let us go” as in He leaves us, He never leaves us, but He does let go of our bike. You know how when you learn to ride a bike and an adult or someone holds onto your seat while you are learning and then suddenly you realize that they have let the seat go and you are riding it? Yeah, when you realize that is usually right before you fall and cut your forehead on the pavement. That’s the same thing with God, he lets go of our seat and we usually fall and crack our head on the pavement. And it hurts like hell. But we learned how to ride that bike! (I think that I’m still holding a grudge against someone for letting go of my bike when I was 5.)
4. People will hate you
You know the saying “Haters gonna hate”? Yeah, being Catholic will really bring that one to life. People will say the most offensive things to you, to your face. Don’t even get me started on online conversations. It seems that it is okay to say the vilest things as long as it’s against Catholics. And everyone is doing it. Protestant, Progressives, Pro-choicers, Atheists, Protestant progressive pro-choice atheists (don’t think they exist? Just read a few comment boxes, and you’ll see that they do), and any other group of people that you can imagine. (The progressive and uber Catholics will hate you too, but that falls under #2.) Jesus told us Himself that following Him would not be popular, the part that I think maybe He could have elaborated on is how many of those people who hate us will claim to be on our side at one point or another. I think that God allows it to teach us that the only person that we should be relying on is Him. Everyone else will let us down at some point or another. It’s devastating when it happens, but I always have to keep my eyes on the Cross and realize that He knows better than anyone that friends will betray us. Judas sold Him out, Peter denied him, all the rest of them ran like cowards except John. John stayed, but what did he have that the others didn’t seem to have? He had a love for the Blessed Mother. So take that example and love her as much as John did. Hold on to *her* and keep your eyes on Jesus when people hate on you.
5. No matter what, be who God made you
And sometimes that means listening to Justin Timberlake on Pandora and dancing like its 1999. I love music. I love Hip Hop music to be exact. All of it: from Lil Wayne, R. Kelly to Justin Timberlake and TPain. It is part of who I am. I love the soul in music like Keisha Cole and Mary J. Blige and the love in music by Usher, Tank and Marques Houston. I have changed the fact that I listen to the edited version of most of these artists’ albums now, but other than that I still listen to music that moves me. My point is that we are all different, with different tastes and different gifts. We are not all going to like the same music, books or have the same interests. I may be wrong in my taste of music, and maybe one day God will call me to leave it behind and listen to some Georgian Chant, I don’t know, but for now, it is what I listen to when I want to feel my heart beat with the love I have being alive. Just be who you are and let God tell you what to work on and which way to go. Don’t base your decisions on what others think of you. This is very hard for me and usually ends up with me being at the point of #4 where many people dislike me. It is not easy for me to feel like people don’t like me. I want people to like me, to get me, and to understand me, but that is not always possible. The fact is that no matter where you are most of the people around you don’t like you. It keeps me humble. I don’t like it, but it does keep me humble. One thing that does make me feel better is that the best saints were outcasts who were disliked by a lot of people. But I will tell you this: the only thing worse than having people not like you is being someone you aren’t and not liking yourself because of it. I’ve done that; it’s not worth it.
6. I don’t like this number and don’t want to end on it, soooo yeah.
7. No matter what, God loves you
It will be hard. It will be a fight and there will be times when you feel like you don’t belong in this Church. That is a given. Don’t give up though. Seek God’s Will in everything, because behind everything is His will for you. He allows everything to teach us something. Our job is to figure it out. A priest just told me to remember that this is a marathon not a 10 yard dash. I need to remember that because I often burn myself out by wanting to do everything at once. I exhaust myself and that is the perfect opening for Sparky to attack me. I am not Catholic because everyone is so sweet and nice here. I’m not Catholic because it’s a cool club to belong to. I’m Catholic because Jesus is here. This is His Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and who am I to turn from that because it’s a little hard sometimes? When I feel like doing that I just go and read John Chapter 6 and hear the Apostle’s words “Where shall we go Lord? You have the words of everlasting life.” The greatest advice I can give anyone is that when it seems too hard to stay and easy to leave is to read that line over and over.
There is so much that I can add to this list. The ups and downs of the last four years since I began RCIA have been the highest high and the lowest low. I have stared at my wall and wondered why people are so cruel and then I remember what they did to Jesus. Nothing that I endure compares to the Passion of my Lord. He is all that I love. He is all that matters to me, so out of love for Him, I will love others, even when they fail. He loves me when I fail.
I saw a Facebook group called “The Catholic Church Sucks”, and I can honestly say that “yeah, we do.” Because we are human and fallen, but none of that changes what the Truth is. The Truth is that Jesus knew that. He ordained Judas knowing what Judas was going to do. He made Peter our first Pope, knowing that Peter was going to deny Him. And He knew that we would fail Him and each other. He died for us anyway. He calls us anyway. He holds out His hand to us to walk with us and to help us be better than ourselves. Thank God for that.