Maybe you’ve attended a course, a retreat, or a workshop; maybe you’ve had an awakening experience through prayer, or a dialogue that stirred in you a profound desire for conversion and to follow Christ in the Church He founded (the Catholic Church). Maybe you are excited and hopeful to build a new and better world, or realize that you need the Sacraments for your own sake. Whatever has brought you this far, reaching out for God’s merciful embrace for the first time is an awesome experience! Nonetheless, there are some things you must know so you don’t get frustrated or feel discouraged in moments when your initial enthusiasm wanes.
The journey of faith is a long one, after all.
For this reason, I want to share with you some advice from my own experience, so that you can realistically face this beautiful process of getting closer to God and letting Christ convert your heart. Do you dare to find out what this is all about?
Maybe you have decided to start changing many things in your life. Nevertheless, remember that your family, friends, acquaintances, and the world around you are still basically the same. While it can be lonely, the advantage here, though, is that you now have the certainty of being accompanied by God. Now you see the entire world with new eyes, so don’t get discouraged.
Precisely because you are the one who’s changed, sometimes it is imperative to change friends when our old ones aren’t helping us become a better person or to fulfill our dreams. It’s not always a matter of cutting off your friendship relationships, but of putting distance between yourself and those who keep you from reaching the goal you now pursue.
In fact, it’s almost impossible (I say “almost” because indeed God can do anything, but only a few receive a grace of that magnitude). But it is mandatory that we work every day to try to live our faith as coherently as possible. Finding God moves us to seek conversion and that’s very good, but remember that it doesn’t happen overnight, it is a lifelong process. So don’t get discouraged when the “old you” reappears with all the defects, manias, and attitude problems you are trying to leave behind. Don’t worry, stand up, and keep on working to be better.
Sure, you are changing your lifestyle; now you know that many of the things you used to do gravely offend God. When this happens, some back out and leave the Church in order to “silence their conscience,” resuming their previous lifestyle. We also encounter people in the Church people who don’t live their faith coherently: don’t let that discourage you. Christ never promised his Church would be perfect and irreproachable, on the contrary, He promised that the wheat and the weeds would be mixed until the end of time (Mt. 13: 24-52).
There will be moments when you’ll feel very well and everything will be nice; enjoy them! But also consider that there will be moments when you won’t feel anything, or even worse, you’ll feel desolated. Remember that the love of God can’t be measured according to the intensity of your feelings. Don’t let laziness and discouragement prevent you from going to church, receiving the Sacraments, praying, or reading the Bible. You’ll know that your faith has grown mature when feelings are no longer your motivation, but the conviction of loving God simply for His own sake, even if and when you aren’t getting a spiritual high.
In retreats, we are taught how to pray in a simple way, but don’t get stuck there: learn new forms of prayer, grow spiritually. And do it little by little. As in everything, don’t set yourself unreachable goals, risking boredom and frustration. I remember that at the beginning of my conversion process, I resolved to meditate the Rosary and pray for 30 minutes everyday, which ended up being too lofty an expectation. We must “train” our spirit first. Start with 10 or 15 minutes of daily prayer, in the morning, during the night, or meditating a mystery of the Rosary. After a reasonable period of time you can gradually extend your time of prayer.
As you may know, the Church opposes certain polemic issues. If you don’t like something, research, ask. The Church does not make arbitrary decisions nor does She want to brainwash you or suspend your reason. One of my favorite authors, G.K. Chesterton once said that “To enter a Church one must remove one’s hat, not one’s head.” Nevertheless, always take into consideration that the Church safeguards Man in his totality, not only his sentiments.
If you haven’t joined a ministry yet, consider doing so since it is easier to live one’s faith in a community. Remember, though, that a ministry is not a social group one frequents only to make new friends, or to go to dinner afterwards, go out, or find your significant other. Let your ministry or parish community be a place where you can encounter God, and where your faith can grow and mature. Find friends there who really lead you to Christ.
The first commandment is to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart…” but also with all your intelligence! Start to read the Bible (little by little), read the Catechism of the Catholic Church (in it you’ll find everything we believe), watch online videos of Catholic speakers or take an Apologetics course. Do whatever is good and helps you grow in the knowledge of your faith. Many people will question you during your conversion process, so it’s good to always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you about what you believe. As I said above, set yourself simple and realistic goals.
Don’t get discouraged: the conversion process is slow. Fall as many times as you like, but always get up. Living the Sacraments is essential for the journey you have just started, especially the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Pray a lot, and gradually make Christ the center of your life.
Let your example say more than what you preach. That whatever you do, say, share on social media, and even what you buy, show that you follow Jesus of Nazareth. There’s an excellent quote attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” I challenge you to live this phrase.
Faith impacts your whole life (or at least it should). Thus, I invite you, I beg you, I implore you…don’t be Catholic only at your parish on Sundays. The world needs you and your testimony to know that God loves it.
I hope you don’t find these points discouraging. If you have just started your conversion process and you don’t know what to do, it would be a good idea to find a spiritual director, a priest for example.
Written for Catholic-Link Spanish by Bernardo Dueñas Moreno and translated into English by Lorena E. Tabares.
Photos from Pixabay and stocksnap.io.
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