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10 Things I Wish Non-Catholic Christians Knew About Catholicism

10 Things I Wish all Non-Catholic Christians Knew About Catholicism via @ACatholicNewbie

Photo credit Nheyob, Wikimedia Commons

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I’ve had several interactions  with non-Catholic Christians since my conversion where I’ve realized they are not aware of some basic tenets of our faith that I think would go a long way in bridging any divides between us and provide them, at least, with some perspective of where we are coming from and a more accurate understanding of our beliefs.

We shouldn’t expect non-Catholics to know about the Catholic religion unless they’ve taken the time to explore it for themselves. I certainly did not know any of these things before seeking out the Church, but I definitely wish I had!

So, non-Catholics, here are 10 things I, a former non-Catholic :), want you to know about Catholicism:

  1. We believe that Jesus is physically present in the bread and wine we consume at every Mass. I think this one fact explains so much about the Catholic faith that is misunderstood by non-Catholics. This is why we have to go to mass every week, this is why our churches are ornate and our vessels are made of precious metals, this is why non-Catholics cannot receive communion unless they have professed their belief, this is why if a wafer falls on the floor it is treated with the utmost reverence. This is why we cannot be satisfied in any other church — we cannot leave Jesus behind. This belief in the physical presence of Jesus dates back to the first Christians. Read the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch (who knew the Apostle John and was born in 35 AD) in his Letter to the Romans about the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. A great, easy-to-read book on this topic is the “7 Secrets of the Eucharist” by Vinny Flynn. 
  2. We believe you can go to heaven, too! I think many non-Catholics may wrongly assume that Catholics think they are the only ones getting into heaven. We are not God; only God knows such things. We do believe that we have found the path that gives us the most assistance in entering heaven through the sacraments Jesus left behind (communion, marriage, reconciliation/confession, confirmation, etc.) but we certainly don’t think the doors are only open to us.
  3. We believe in the authority of the Pope and the Church of Rome, because that is what early Christians practiced. Again, see the Letters of St. Ignatius in his deference to the Church of Rome along with the example of many other early Christian leaders (email me for more). We are following the example of what the apostles taught the early Christians. Great article on this topic. I highly recommend doing this research and reading early Christian documents for yourself. Don’t take my word for it! Catholic Answers has a great book called “The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church” by Jimmy Akin that is a good overview of this topic.
  4. We follow what the early Christians practiced in our “Tradition,” because there was 300 years before the New Testament was compiled. The Catholic Church’s teachings are based on both Scripture and what the Church refers to as “Tradition.” Tradition is factored in, because there was a period of 300 years after Jesus’ death and before an official compilation of New Testament documents was compiled. We follow the tradition that was practiced during that time, because it was comprised of the beliefs, teachings and rituals handed down from Jesus himself to the apostles and on to their successors. This includes teachings like Mary’s Immaculate Conception (she was conceived without sin in order to give birth to God as man), her Perpetual Virginity (she never had any other children and remained a virgin) and her Assumption body and soul into heaven, beliefs that were held by early Christians and only made “official” by the Church after they were challenged over time. Many wrongly hold that these doctrines were created at the councils where they were affirmed, but rather the councils simply made official these doctrines long held and practiced by early Christians. Great books to read more about the Church’s teachings on Mary include “Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines” by Tim Staples and Meet Your Mother by Mark Miravalle.
  5. We hold many of the same beliefs! We are not so different. We belief in the sanctity of all life from conception to natural death. We believe in Jesus, the son of God who came to reconcile us with the Father. We believe that everyone needs to hear the Good News and that it’s our job to go out and tell the world! We believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. That’s just the beginning…
  6. Confession is not a place to get rid of all your wrongdoings without contrition only to go back and do them again. I remember watching a movie of a young man returning to the priest every week to report how often he masturbated, only to go back and do it all again. That’s not the goal and your sins are not forgiven that way. The idea is to go confess your sins with true repentance (not with plans to go right back and do them again), receive forgiveness and graces (heavenly assistance) to keep from doing those sins again from Jesus (Did you know that we believe that Jesus is present in the priest in the confessional?), and to try earnestly not to commit those sins in the future. An easy-to-read book on Confession is “7 Secrets of Confession” by Vinny Flynn.
  7. There is an unbroken line of succession from Jesus to Peter to all Popes and Bishops. This fact initially blew me away during my education on the Church. The Catholic Church can trace a laying on of hands (as was done in the Acts of the Apostles when they added deacons) all the way back from Jesus to Peter to all Popes and Bishops. That is powerful stuff!
  8. We read the Bible, too! Over a period of three years, if you attended daily mass, you would hear readings from nearly every book in the Bible. And, of course, we do plenty of Bible reading on our own, as well, though you may find us less likely to be able to tell you the chapter and verse, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t educated on God’s inspired word. In fact, Catholicism taught me a key fact about the Bible that makes it so much more interesting: it’s called typology and it means that the Old Testament foreshadows the events of the New Testament and the New Testament fulfills the Old. It’s fascinating to see the parallels, such as between Abraham and Jesus, Adam and Jesus, Mary and the Ark of the Covenant, Eve and Mary, and on and on and on. Here’s a fascinating read on that topic: New Testament Basics for Catholics by John Bergsma (hands down one of the best books I’ve ever read!).
  9. The Catholic Church is made up of sinners. Yes, we are a Church of sinners. That is why Jesus came to reconcile us, but despite his help and graces we still remain in the fallen state of sin inherited by Adam and Eve. Yes, we have child molesters. Yes, Catholics have done bad things in the name of religion. Yes, we have murdered, stolen, been greedy, disobeyed God and more. But so has the rest of the world; it’s part and parcel with being a part of fallen humanity. Such wrongdoers should justly be punished and will certainly be judged by their actions on the last day. Jesus, however, promised that nothing would prevail against the Church (not even sinners) and left us with the Holy Spirit (not humans) to guide it. That’s why we hold true to the teachings of the Church, no matter its sinners, and why even if a priest is a sinner, his sacramental actions are still valid. They are not his works, but those of the Holy Spirit and Jesus within him.
  10. Don’t let hypocritical Catholics mislead you. I’ve often been pointed to examples of Catholics who don’t follow the truth of the Church in the way they live their lives as reasons why the Catholic church is wrong or bad. As above, we are made up of sinners just like the rest of the world, and there will be these people. But don’t let them cloud your image of the Church left by Jesus. The priest who asked for a bribe for an annulment was wrong; the Catholics shouting obscenities at the Notre Dame football game are wrong; the politician promoting abortion rights receiving communion is wrong. But like all sinners, Jesus welcomes them to repent, stop their wrong actions and come back to the fold. Rather, I challenge you to seek devout Catholics who live their faith fully. You will find models of holiness and witnesses of Christian joy beyond your wildest imaginings.

Thanks for taking the time to read. What questions do you have about Catholicism?

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Getting to Know Jesus: 10 Ways to Grow Closer to our Lord and Savior

Getting to Know Jesus: 10 Ways to Grow Closer via @ACatholicNewbie

If you want to become holy, be a saint, remain steadfast in your Christian faith, you’ve got to get to know Jesus. I struggled with this early on in my conversion. I felt like I did not know Jesus, that He did not want to know me (why would He want to know lowly ol’ me?) and I was, in fact, intimated by him. I pictured Jesus overthrowing the money-changers’ tables and some of the harsher statements he made. So I was distant.

But soon I realized that if I was going to be a saint — or strive to be — I’d better get to know Jesus!

Here are 10 ways I found that helped me draw closer and truly develop a personal relationship with Jesus, something I believe is crucial to true Christian conversion:

  1. Receive Jesus – Tops on the list of ways to grow closer to Jesus has to be receiving him in the form of the Eucharist. This is a special gift enjoyed by Catholics, whose priests transform ordinary bread and wine into the living God by repeating Jesus’ words at the last supper. When we receive Jesus, we meet Him in the flesh and we literally carry Him with us out into the world. Receive Jesus as often as you can!
  2. Read the Gospels over and over – This tip I attribute to author Matthew Kelly, but it’s a key one. A wonderful way to get to know Jesus better is to read about him and the main place we can do that is through the Gospels. Read them over and over, a little each day, letting Jesus’ words and actions sink in. Kelly, in his book Rediscover Jesus, recommends imagining yourself as different people in the stories to place yourself in the context of what is happening.
  3. Spend time in adoration – In addition to receiving the Eucharist, we can also be in Jesus’ presence by simply being in the presence of the Eucharist. Try to visit your church’s Blessed Sacrament Chapel (where you can always find Jesus in the Eucharist identified by the red candle burning outside the door) or during Adoration where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed versus locked away. Read, pray, write or just sit in the quiet presence of Jesus. Many experience vocational callings and other insights during adoration.
  4. Encounter Him in Reconciliation – Did you know when you go to Reconciliation, you are in the presence of Jesus? Jesus is present in the priest, no matter which priest you see. In Reconciliation, he pours out his mercy upon us, forgiving our sins and giving us graces to help us from sinning again and to grow in holiness. Other than the Eucharist, it’s one of the few places you can encounter Jesus. Go and go often!
  5. Choose a stage of Jesus’ life you can relate to – If you’re like me and struggled feeling close to the Jesus in the Gospels, consider Jesus at a more vulnerable time of life. St. Therese of Liseiux developed a devotion to the infant Jesus. Can you picture Jesus as a tiny baby, cooing in his mother’s arms, nestled close to Mary’s heart? Start there. Talk to the Baby Jesus or Jesus as a youth, working with his father as a carpenter.
  6. Talk to Jesus – How can you really get to know anyone without talking to them regularly? You can read about them, but is that the same as really knowing them? Develop the HABIT of talking to Jesus all day long. Thank Him for the beautiful day, the blue skies and birds singing — for every good thing that happens during your day. Ask for help when you have a decision to make — big or small. Tell Him when you are frustrated, stressed, happy or joyful. He wants you to talk to Him!
  7. Read Jesus Calling – It can be hard, of course, when the person you’re trying to get to know doesn’t talk back to you — in words, at least. I’ve found Jesus Calling, and the version for kids, to be a great way for me and my kids to grow closer to Jesus. The book is a daily reflection where the author puts all of Jesus’ teachings into words, as if He were talking directly to you. It’s helps us, in all our humanness, to hear His words as if they were spoken directly to us.
  8. Read Rediscover Jesus – Author Matthew Kelly of Dynamic Catholic has written a new book with the aim of helping Christians — and all people — develop a personal relationship with Jesus. He does a wonderful job of considering Jesus’ teachings and the example He left us to help us understand how we can live as He desired in the context of our modern society.
  9. Pray the Rosary – Of course, we associate the rosary with Mary, because she’s the one who gave us the prayer, asked us to pray it and it’s filled with Hail Marys. But the Rosary is really about Jesus. If you pray the rosary daily — or as often as you can — you will be meditating day in and day out on the life of Jesus. Each day is a different set of “mysteries” or events in Jesus’ life to meditate upon as you say the prayers of the rosary. You’ll find new insights pour in as you contemplate these events over and over every time you pray the rosary.
  10. Read The Diary of St. Faustina and the Flame of Love (free copy here) – These two books, which are approved by the Catholic Church as communications of Jesus, present a more personal voice of Jesus and can help you relate better to Him. Two passages I bring to mind often while looking at the Cross are His request that Elizabeth Kindelmann call him “my most adorable Jesus” and his request that she imagine herself “nestled close to his merciful heart.” I can certainly picture myself there.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of how to get to know Jesus! Please share what has worked for you and what a difference it has made in your life to have a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior.

My Confirmation Experience Through RCIA

RCIA ConfirmationA week ago Saturday evening, I was confirmed, took first communion and officially joined the Catholic Church! I wanted to share my experience with you for those who have been following along my journey.

First of all, the Easter Vigil (where I was confirmed) is especially long at my church. We were told to expect 3 hours and that it had never gone later than Midnight! At first, I did not want to bring my kids, as I felt like it would be too much too late for them. They are young and usually go to bed between 8-9 p.m. and I feared my husband would not be able to enjoy the mass. However, I tried every resource I could come up with — and since it was Spring Break and I had other family members also joining the church at different parishes — no one was available! It seems God wanted them there to see me confirmed :). And what do you know? They did just fine.

I was not as nervous as I was for First Reconciliation, more just excited that my time had finally come! I wondered if I would feel different or changed after it was over and how I would react to receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. One exciting thing I learned the day  of the Vigil was that my chosen confirmation saint, Saint Therese of Liseiux, was the namesake of my father-in-law’s mother. So surprising and yet another wonderful affirmation of my choice.

I enjoyed the Mass, stood beside my sponsor who was moved to tears at different points during my fellow RCIA classmates’ baptisms, and anxiously awaited my turn. During the Confirmation, Father forgot to shake my hand, which another sponsor noticed and pointed out to me later, “no big deal; he just forgot :)” (thank you to that person for allaying any fears!). On the whole, I did not experience or feel any great “change”; the only thing I did notice was a bit of an electric tingling vibration through my body, if you will, not sure how else to describe it, afterward. That remained through the Eucharist. Perhaps that was the Holy Spirit more fully entering my soul? Or perhaps just nerves :).

I was surprised at the taste of the Eucharist! Not quite what I was expecting and had to ask my husband (thanks to him for the no heads up, by the way!) how to eat it properly so it did not get stuck in my mouth next time. That seemed disrespectful. I did not feel any great change here either. I anxiously await receiving the Eucharist at Daily Mass, as I find that a much more prayerful, intimate experience and I think that may be where I find the difference.

A friend asked me afterward if I felt any different. When I said not really, she commented “You will start noticing little differences in how you see things and how you “know” things! That’s all part of the “walk with God”. It amazes me how it’s a continual process.” Great feedback! It has been the “little things” for me all along and I have no doubt she’s spot on. I also feel like I was so invested and passionate before even becoming Catholic that I was about as Catholic as one could be without actually BEING Catholic :). So perhaps I gained some grace ahead of time that way!

I attended my first Mass as a Catholic last Sunday and also participated in my second Reconciliation in order to gain a plenary indulgence (to help purify those in purgatory) for my mother-in-law as part of Divine Mercy Sunday. After praying the rosary earlier, receiving Jesus and experiencing Reconciliation (SO much easier the second go around), I did feel a sense of complete and utter joy like I wanted to skip across the world!

So that is my RCIA confirmation experience. I now look forward to having increased strength and grace to help me do the work the Lord has called me to do and to build my relationship with Him. I will continue my blog as my first year as a Catholic. Keep reading!

I would love to hear any other new Catholics’ confirmation experiences or anyone’s past experiences in joining the church. Thanks for all your great comments and prayer support all along the way!


How Can I Participate as a Non-Catholic?

catholic eucharistAs someone looking to become Catholic, I wondered very early on in my journey about what I could and could not do. I wanted to participate as much as possible but, of course, follow the rules of the church. I thought I might not be the only one confused about what you can participate in as a non-Catholic going to Catholic Mass, so here’s what I’ve learned:

What You CAN Do:

  • Make the sign of the cross with holy water when you enter the chapel IF you have been baptized. Making the sign of the cross with the holy water is a remembrance of your baptism.
  • Genuflect or bow toward the altar as you enter the pew.
  • Do everything at Mass, including kneeling, responding and singing EXCEPT take communion/accept the Eucharist.
  • Instead, you CAN go up in line for communion, but simply cross your arms over your chest and the priest will give you a blessing instead of bread and wine (many people do this, including children too young to receive communion so you will be among many). I almost always go up for a blessing; I figure the more blessings the better! 🙂
  • Attend daily Mass.
  • Receive any form of blessing (including those for the sick).
  • Attend Holy Adoration
  • Visit the Blessed Sacrament
  • I believe you can go to confession/reconciliation, but you might want to wait on that until you become Catholic so you’ll have a better idea of what to do. Someone correct me if I’m wrong!
  • Pray, including the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours.


What You CAN’T Do (a short list!):

  • Take the Eucharist
  • Receive an anointing
  • Help with various aspects of Mass, such as serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

This is certainly not an official list, but only an observation of what I’ve learned and asked thus far.

It’s amazing how short the CAN’T list is. I always wrongly assumed that I’d be excluded from most things as a non-Catholic, but once I bothered to look into it, I found I was completely wrong. Catholicism can seem closed to outsiders because there is so much ritual involved that newcomers may not know, but the truth is it’s incredibly open and inviting to anyone who truly wants to participate. You just have to make the effort to learn the ritual so you can join along.

What did I miss on the list those of you much more knowledgeable than me?!