I’m 17 years old and grew up in a Baptist home, how do I start the journey to becoming Catholic?

Today at Ask Catholic Girl–behold a teenager! I happen to be nuts about teenagers.

Dear Catholic Girl,

I’m 17 years old and I was raised in a home where we are I guess what you could say was a Christian Baptist home. We never really go to church. But, my mother was raised up going to church. I want to experience going to church but I don’t feel a connection with Baptist Christianity. I always felt more closer to Catholicism for some reason. I have a boyfriend who was raised up to believe in the Catholic faith. His family also doesn’t attend church very often. We both want to know how can we become catholic (fully) and experience going to church and really having true faith. We also want to get our families involved as much as possible can you give me some advice on how we start this journey? Please 🙂

-S

Dear S,

Let me start off by saying that as someone who has spent the last year of her life hanging with teenagers in public schools I think the fact you are being proactive about the things you want out of life is just plain beautiful.

Pray your guts out along this journey. Learn good ol’ fashioned Catholic prayers (the Anima Christi and the Hail Holy Queen are my favorites) and learn to pray in your own words too. Figure out what you love about Catholicism. Get to know God better through the community, by attending Mass, and reading everything you can (I can never recommend Why Do Catholics Do That? enough),

Don’t stress about becoming “fully” Catholic. Being fully Catholic is as easy as a sprinkle of baptismal water done in the name of the Trinity. Work on feeling Catholic first. Work at your own pace, pray and learn at your own pace. The Church is suppose to be more of a blessing than a burden, more uplifting than a giant list of rules.

See what Catholicism is all about right there in the trenches and get your butt in a pew on Sunday. If your boyfriend was raised Catholic he and his family probably have a parish, even if they aren’t there most Sundays. I would start there because it’s the parish you’re probably most familiar with. Then head to other local parishes to see if other places work for you too.

The Catholic Church is broken up into geographical parishes, so we attend with those that live near us. Some parishes are a lot looser about these types of things. For example, when I moved to New York City I went to the parish affiliated with NYU but a friend of mine “parish hopped” until she found a parish she really liked. Each parish you visit will be different. Sure, we all pray the same things and sit, stand and kneel at the same times but each parish has its own flavor. Some have contemporary music, some only sing at the beginning and end, some have young (and attractive!) priests who give dynamite homilies, some have priests who are super old dudes who are the best and most loving priests you’ll ever meet, and I know of a handful of parishes where nuns get to give the homilies on a regular basis. Most parishes have a special Mass just for young people (teenagers and young adults) on Sunday evenings. To find a parish near you go to your city’s archdiocese website, for example The Archdiocese of San Antonio. (Each site is different and sometimes kind of poorly made so if you’re having trouble email us!)

Once (or if) you feel comfortable hanging in the pews try a parish activity. Many parishes have breakfast after Mass, weeknight Bingo (yep, and it’s awesome), and youth groups that meet during the week for fun activities or service projects. This is a great way to meet other young people.

Then if you’re still loving the whole Catholic thing look into religious education. Some parishes have youth Bible study classes or other high school programs. Each parish has their own way of doing things but I think because you’re already at the tail end of high school (if not already done) that you could head into a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program. These classes tend to begin in the fall and culminate at the Easter Vigil the Saturday before Easter Sunday. In RCIA adults who are converting to Catholicism or never made their First Communion learn about the Catholic faith and prepare to become Catholic. I don’t know the ins and outs of the program but if you have more questions ask and I’ll find the answers.

Your boyfriend is more than likely already Catholic. Even if his parents never really attended Mass I’d bet all the money in my pockets that he was baptized because us Catholics, even those of us who only go to church at Christmas and Easter, we baptize our babies no matter what. I’ll even take a guess that he received his First Communion too because it’s what we do. I knew kids whose parents would drop them off a Sunday School week after week and then head to breakfast or go back home to watch football. They never took their kids to church or went themselves but it was important to them that their kids made First Communion. If your boyfriend is looking to get back into the world of Catholicism then he might just have to take a Confirmation (when when we receive the Holy Spirit and become adult members in the church) class and then get anointed with holy oil at a special service.

At any point in this journey when you feel ready invite your family to an activity at your parish. Let them meet the awesome youth and young adult leaders, friends and community you’ve found for yourself. Invite them to attend Mass with you. I think it’s great you want them involved and I don’t want to deter you from that but prepare yourself for them to be resistant. They have their reasons for not attending church on a regular basis and let them have those reasons. You never know your parents could all the sudden become very active Baptists after seeing you working hard at becoming Catholic. Involve them with what you can, the parish picnic, the children’s concert, midnight Mass at Christmastime.

Ultimately, this choice is yours alone to make, independent of your boyfriend or your family, and I think you’re savvy enough to figure it all out.

We’d love to hear how everything works out!

Much love,

Nadia

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How do Catholics simply disregard/ignore/make peace with huge issues I cannot get past? Part III

This is my response to the lovely note from Gray. Just a heads up, we each wrote a long explanation for her. I don’t think we’ll be doing this for every question. But I felt that this way we could each kind of explain ourselves and our faith. I thought that each letter acted as a really good faith based bio for each Catholic Girl. Now, here is my response.

Hey Grey,

It’s complicated.

That’s how I’ve taken to explaining my faith to people. It depends on what day of the week it is. Some days I wake up and love being Catholic, other days I wake up a fervent Atheist. But on the days in between I try something like this.

I realize that the Church is fallible. I know, they say it’s not, but we all know it is. The Church is a 2,000 year old institution that has lots of baggage and has made plenty of mistakes. Mistakes that it has acknowledged. God (Or Allah or YHWH or Kali-Ma or freakin’ Thor) is an infinite being. He/She is all of time and space rolled up into a powerful ball. I don’t presume to know what He’s got in store, I don’t think any human can understand God. I think that the Church is a human reflection of divinity, I think it exists more for people than it does for God. I think the official church teachings on contraception, abortion, women’s rights, priest’s marrying, gay marriage and women priests are bullshit. I think the sex abuse scandal is a blight on our faith, and will be for centuries. It’s despicable and shameful how that was handled and gives ALL Catholics a bad name. (I don’t think they could be more embarrassed by a feminist in their flock than I am in knowing that my 7 year old cousin’s church has a donation fund to help an accused priest’s legal fees) I recognize that the church is a big group of human grown-ups, and they are not perfect. Because of this I don’t feel that I need to fall in line with all of it’s concepts. I believe that faith and spirituality are intensely personal things and that a person takes what they need from them. I don’t think religion is an encyclopedia of answers, I believe that you have to find the answers in yourself. I believe that you have to find what resonates for you. I don’t believe that everyone should have to wear the same ugly outfit, so why would we all have to worship the same way?

If I believe all that then why do I even stick with the Catholic church? Why not find a better religion? Once I was talking to a very good friend of mine and I asked her how she reconciled her faith with her convictions. She told me that she believed that the church was “in a dark period.” At first I thought she was idiotic for trying to make sense of this 2000 year old disaster. I was angry and the offenses of the church were piling on to me. I believed that we should do away with it entirely. That nothing was salvageable; it was rotten to the core. That was probably about 3-4 years ago. I still make it to mass once in a while, but I took a long break from the Church. You know what? I still cross myself when I’m nervous or scared. I hang a rosary in my car and sometimes I recite the Hail Mary over and over again to calm myself. I might have been done with Catholicism, but I guess it wasn’t done with me. There is something inside of me that still wants to be part of the church.

So what parts of Catholicism do I still cling to? A very important part of my faith is the Virgin Mary and the Saints. I lost my mother when I was young and the idea of a beautiful woman with my name really struck me. I love hearing the Saint’s stories. If you check the right places there are totally badass interesting women. I love the ritual and prayers. I like going to Christmas and Easter mass because they are full “smells and bells” masses. It’s comforting to know that billions of people for 2,000 years have listened to those words and been comforted. Also I’m a religious scholar so I think the rituals are just cool. When I was in high school my church was across the street and I used to get my community service hours by making sandwiches for the poor. That is the church I love. Those are the things I want them spending time on and the things I want to do.

I guess if I’m still Catholic (and I think I am) what it’s come to, for me, is that they don’t get to talk for me. With all of the contraception scandal in the news, with this guy, with all of it I don’t like where the Church is headed. I don’t like my tithed dollars to go sex abuse lawyers or for my sister’s High School to be debt collateral, or to have to hear “right to life” nonsense in the pews on Sunday. You know what else? I also don’t think it’s fair that the Church is determined to scare away strong, smart men and women with their outdated notions. I don’t want to be disenfranchised. Just like you gotta vote to make sure your voice is heard. I feel like I gotta take back my faith, and part of that is exercising it my way.

When I was in college I wrote a very long paper on the subject of women priests. I actually went to a mass officiated by a real life female catholic priest! You know what? It was the best sermon I’ve ever heard. Thinking back on those ladies, I was really inspired. Even though they’ve all been excommunicated they say nope, we don’t want to be part of different church. We don’t want to form our own separate entity, we want to be Catholic and we want to be part of the tradition. The Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community says as part of it’s mission “Making Catholicism relevant.” I think that goes for the vast majority of Catholic Americans. I think the church in the US has lost touch with us and needs to come back in line with what the community needs, not the hierarchy.

Evolution is a natural part of life, and it’s part of religion. Nothing is set in stone. Every religion, across the board, has different sects, beliefs, practices. They disagree about something, then agree again 200 years later. New ones rise up, and old ones die out. I think anything is possible, I don’t think being a Catholic has to preclude me from being pro-choice or a feminist or from supporting gays, I think there is a way to make it all work; to make the Church relevant to me. The only way to make it work is to do it. So here I am a pro-choice, feminist Catholic conundrum. I like doing yoga, I read the Quran sometimes, I have a rosary in my car and a Buddha statue on my desk. Yeah, it’s confusing, but what would we do with our time if life was easy?

But does any of this make it easier on Sunday mornings? No it doesn’t. On a practical note, I’ve been looking for a good open, liberal congregation in LA for years, and I haven’t found one. I’ll go months without going to church. I haven’t been to confession in about 10 years. It’d be a lot easier if I could just toe the line. But that’s just not me. In the holy words of Tim Gunn I’m just trying “to make it work.”

❤ Mary

I’m a 66 year old “ex” Catholic. I’m not a conventional believer, but I miss my Catholic home. Help?

A couple of Friday evenings ago, Ask Mormon Girl Joanna Brooks asked me, “What are the problems in your church?” In between tears, I told her. Joanna told me that there are Catholic girls who need to hear that. They need the validation. My first thought was “Joanna Brooks is crazy.” My second thought was, “Where are all the lost Catholics?”

Early Monday morning, I opened a forwarded email from Joanna. “here you go, honey. your first question. you ready?” I propped myself up in bed and glanced over at the map of the world that hangs on my dorm room wall. One billion Catholics fit into that world map. I don’t have to fanaticize about wayward Catholics. They are out there and in my inbox.

Mark wants to know how to reconcile his disbelief with his longing for a community. He asks Joanna:

I’m a 66 year-old “Ex” Catholic. I decided to distance myself from the Church. I believe in married priests, women priests, and family planning beyond the abstinence pushed by the Catholic hierarchy. I’m not at all certain that the Catholic Church is the “one, true church” and that all others, Mormon included, are somewhat defective since they were not established by Jesus. I believe that other gospels are relevant and good. And I’m not into the belief that the host in Mass is truly Jesus’ body.

For years I sat in Mass and listened to preaching of the above and more. One day, a couple of years ago, I finally realized that my quietly listening to such talk was being read by others as agreement, submission. I told my wife that I could no longer allow my presence to be misread by priests and others as support for their beliefs.

I feel bad about the disconnectedness from the community that I was involved in for more than 60 years. I feel like a bad person sometimes. But the Church response is that if I choose to be Catholic, I must believe the tenets of the faith.

How would you answer this dilemma?

With that I began typing. Ask Catholic Girl was born and I made a mental note to tell Joanna she was right.

Mark,

I’d like to let you in on a little secret. I am a 21-year-old progressive Catholic feminist. I long for the day when a woman can raise her right hand to bless the congregation with the Sign of the Cross. I worry that The Church forgets how important the sacredness of human agency is. I’ve read the Book of Mormon and the Quran and they were beautiful. Some days I know that those wafers and the Body of Christ and other days that idea sounds crazy. You and me Mark, we’re the same.

I suspect that when I sit in the very first pew, smack dab in front of my priest in my New York City parish that he thinks I have it all figured out. I don’t. I go to Mass on Sundays to say “And I ask you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to Lord our God” and to share in a community meal.

Some Sundays I lay in bed reading Why do Catholics Do That? because the thought of going through the motions feels disingenuous. Other Sundays, when I am back home in Texas, I sit in my car in the parish parking lot and listen to Mormon Stories Podcasts while sipping a slushy from Sonic.

Let me let you in on a little secret. St. Paul tells us “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

Mark, you and me were baptized into this beautiful, confusing, mess of a Church and the priests on Sunday, uber-devout fellow Catholics, the Pope himself or our own misgivings can’t change that.

What would happen if you went to church this coming Sunday? I vote you come home. Maybe it won’t be this Sunday. Maybe this year you’ll go on Easter and Christmas. Maybe, as per wayward Catholic tradition, your first Sunday back you’ll slip out after Communion. You have every right to come home. To sit, stand and kneel. And even though Church doctrine tells us that people like you and me shouldn’t receive the Body of Christ come up to the altar and say “Amen.” It isn’t just saying “I agree” or “I believe” but “I’m here to belong.”

The craziness we carry around with us during Mass is for us to ponder and pray about and for God to iron out.

-Nadia, a Catholic Girl

Dear readers, what lesson have you learned along your journey that you can share with Mark and the Catholic Girls who run this blog? How do you get your butt in a pew on Sundays?