16 September 2015

7 Tips to Make the Most of RCIA

As a new school year begins, I am mindful of the fact that RCIA is starting up as well. I went through the RCIA program during the 2012-2013 academic year at University and it is simultaneously difficult to believe it was so short and so long ago. Here are my tips for how to make the most of RCIA.

(like, seriously, chill out)

If you're anything like me, you get nervous over the silliest things. I remember walking to RCIA with a faster than normal heartbeat thinking about being quizzed on things I didn't know or not getting on with anyone or it not being a very good experience overall. At some point on the walk, I just started saying Hail Marys...and my freak out went from a nine to a two. Our Lady has got our backs. Never be afraid to ask for her help. Also, just don't be afraid of RCIA. It was a great experience and I learned so much and became a better person by it.

(and just plain get involved)

It was great having a sponsor because that meant I got (1) a person to ask questions to (and a had a lot of them) and (2) a dear friend. We met for lunch, took walks and made dinner together, utilizing the time to talk about all sorts of things I didn't know as well as our hobbies and interests. It can be overwhelming to be thrown into a huge group and be told, "Hey, make friends." But my sponsor and I were, it seemed, perfectly matched, and it was so much easier to feel a part of everything.

You're not going to mesh with everyone. Certainly, I've found bonding with other Catholics easier in some ways than bonding in other groups. There is a common understanding there. And it's so nice to think: "That's Julie, my sister in Christ, my pal." There's an automatic camaraderie that, for introverted people like me, is so refreshing. 

(now I look like Father Z)

It isn't all making friends and talking about siblings, guys. If you're a convert, you'll make your first confession (here's my account of mine) and I know it can be kind of intimidating. Oh, recall all my sins from all my life? I'm a monster! But the confessors I've had have been so patient and kind and if you let the priest know that it's your first confession (DO make sure to do this), he'll help you out. If you have a priest who has been hearing confessions for a couple of years or so, don't worry: you won't frighten him away by your grievous faults. AND, because of the Seal of Confession, he won't tell anyone what you say to him in the confessional. One night, our group at RCIA talked about how to go to confession. If you have questions, just ask.

Remember that book series "Chicken Soup for the [insert demographic here] Soul?" Confession is like chicken soup on sanctifying steroids. It is so good for your soul. I really ought to make a good post about confession, so look out for that in the future.

(holla at ya savior)

I was absent only one RCIA class and that was when we were to talk about adoration. Major fail, right? Make that class! Then find out when your parish holds adoration and if they don't (yes, apparently this is sometimes a thing)...ask Father to start that awesome hour up. I know what must be a common perspective: "I'm going to kneel for an hour looking a a host? What's the big deal?"

First of all, that is JESUS up there, kid. He's just hanging out with you all in the monstrance. Am I the only one boggled by that sometimes? If that isn't enough to convince you, the whole liturgy is beautiful. I know it isn't at all applicable, but I so want Tantum Ergo sung at my funeral, it's so beautiful. I know: there should be adoration at my funeral. I mean, pray for me and everything, I appreciate that in advance. But if you're going to be at church anyway...I'm just saying. A little adoration time never hurt anything.

"But what do I do at adoration?" Well, pray, quite simply. You could pray the Rosary or the Liturgy of Hours, read scripture, or, like me, just kneel in awe for half an hour before managing to string together any coherent sentence. We are given such an incomparable, amazing gift in the Blessed Sacrament. It's okay to just be in that moment (though, finding something good to do with your mind ensures that your focus doesn't get terribly sidetracked).

(and you thought class was over)

RCIA was a great way for me to learn more about the Catholic faith and grow alongside other catechumens and Catholics. We covered a wide range of topics, had some good discussion sessions, talked about practical applications of the faith and I made some of the best friends I feel like I can talk to at any time about living the Catholic faith. However, for most people (because if you feel hesitant, you are not forced to continue to Confirmation; some people need more time to figure everything out), RCIA is just one year--just a fraction of a year, really--and one year is not enough time to learn all one may about the Catholic faith. I wish you the best of luck in that endeavor if it is your intention.

While my RCIA group covered the basics and explained things pretty well, I am naturally an inquisitive and knowledge-thirsty person. I had been thinking about converting for some months before I joined RCIA. In those months I checked out books on Mary (because she is such a point of mystery and confusion for many Protestants, including myself at the time), Church history, the Mass, the Magisterium, Catholic practices, cloistered religious... There was nothing I didn't want to know. Reading gave me more knowledge and also helped me formulate questions. If this was to be the biggest decision of my life, I wanted to be sure of it. I wanted to understand as much as I could. I did all of this on top of an overload of coursework and a job, so if I can do it, you totally can. Do recognize the importance of this moment in your life and give it the time and energy it deserves.

A few writers and saints I've enjoyed: Scott Hahn (Rome Sweet Home was my first read; Hail, Holy Queen, Reasons to Believe, The Lamb's Supper and Signs of Life are also good ones), St Therese, Thomas Merton, St Thomas Aquinas, and early Church fathers. I also like to "quiz" myself and learn more about topics I need brushing up on from sites like this.

(the best friends you've never met)

If you asked me five years ago what significance Mary or any of the saints had in my life, I would have fixed you with a confused look. For real. The saints still aren't quite as big a role in my life as I would like to make them, but I've certainly come a ways. I am so thankful for the saints who stand as role models to us. These are the ones who have succeeded, who have run the race of life well. You'll probably experience a time or two when you lament a particular woe and a fellow Catholic says, "There's a saint for that." It is so true.

I think I appreciate the saints so much because of their real life versatility. The saints have been mothers, fathers, cloistered nuns, royals, musicians, virgins, martyrs, warriors, and--get this--sinners. It reminds me of Harry's line in Order of the Phoenix: "Think of it this way: Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than we are now. Students. If they can do it, why not us?" Modify wizards to saints, and you've got it right there. The saints lived very human lives with human concerns and became saints. We get to ask their help! If they can do it, why not us?

(and the Catholic year)

How better to show your faith than by your actions? The best way, I've found, to get to living out the Catholic life is to just jump in. Carry a Rosary in your pocket or bag, download Catholic apps, pray the Angelus and the Liturgy of Hours, pray Novenas, go to Mass multiple times per week, get to know other Catholics... There is much to do.

Did you know the year is divided into different seasons, speckled with fasting and feasting? No Creasters (people who only show up to church on Christmas and Easter) up in here. Almost every day has a saint to study and familiarize oneself with. Also take the time to understand why we fast or abstain. This is the rhythm of life.

Haley (particularly for food: she and her husband Daniel have two cookbooks out on following the Catholic year) and Kendra (particularly for activities: she recently had her eight child, so she has many little ones to teach and the ideas she has are perfect whether you have eight children or zero) are my go-to bloggers when I want to figure out how to celebrate a particular day or season. If they don't have what you're looking for, a google search will do you fine.

If you are interested in knowing what my experience with RCIA was like, you can click on the RCIA label link on the sidebar. Here are some of my favorites:
Not Alone: One of the things I felt when I started RCIA was that I was the only one. How foolish! Especially when there were a good thirty people in the meeting room with me, when I knew logically there had to be other people in the other RCIA groups in other dioceses. When I met my sponsor, we hit it off so well, that then it finally hit me: I wasn't alone. I was preparing to be welcomed into the best group ever.

Rites and More Than Alright: Less than two months out, we went to Peoria for the Rite of Election and met with Bishop Jenky. It felt super fancy and special and the cathedral was gorgeous.

And of course, Easter Vigil Scene IScene II and Scene III: Because one post wouldn't be enough, I needed three posts to capture the evening I was confirmed. I was beyond excited and it was in so many ways a perfect night.


  1. Great tips! I totally agree with all of this. Haha, I was a nervous wreck too! Although I didn't pray any Hail Mary's until a few sessions in, what I really believe drew me to the Catholic Faith to the tipping point (the point where I approached the priest about RCIA) was listening (secretly) to my husband praying the Rosary! And as former protestant, it confused the heck out of me. The mystical pull that tugged on my heart where Mary was concerned has never left either, and I am continuously trying to learn about her. I sadly don't know as much as I should, but I've just started praying a daily Rosary and even that is helping!
    My sponsor was my husband so I got to cheat through putting myself out there (introvert too). I love the Harry Potter quote! It works quite well in that context. Converts unite!

    1. [I just signed out instead of publishing my comment. Aaaah!]
      Thanks, Hannah! Mary is great, and she has been a good role model in my life during RCIA and since. St Louis de Montfort's The Secret of the Rosary is a good read for Lent or Advent (because it's divided into fifty "roses," or couple-page chapters) or any time. Really, I should crack it open more often because it is quite enlightening.

      Haha. Yeah, a husband sponsor would totally make socialization easier. I was happy with my sponsor, as the match was perfectly made, so it was a win. Yay converts! :)

  2. I always suffer the joys of trying to comment via my phone. It's just so impossible. (So much simpler to comment on a computer. Do people even open laptops daily anymore?)
    I've always wanted to read The Secret of the Rosary! Maybe I could do that this Advent (or Lent at the latest). I really need to see if my parish has a library. I feel like sharing a book with people keeps you reading whereas it's easy to put the book on the shelf and forget when you own it.

    1. I usually am on a laptop when it comes to dealing with my blog, just because it's much easier than using my phone. But even I mess up things on my laptop sometimes. As a mother of a little one, you using a smart phone more frequently totally makes sense, though. :)
      That's a good point. I have only a few books with me (there's only so much space to pack things in a car, so books end up near the bottom of the list of necessities), but I have trouble putting them on the shelf and forgetting about them, too. I have about a week to finish the eight books I checked out from the library (insert "oh no, I have so many pages to read" face here). Borrowing is good incentive to finish!

    2. Haha, you are so ambitious! 8 books would stress me out and probably cause me to shut down and not even start. I'm a slow reader. I'm still reading the Liturgical Year one I started before Eliot was born and I'm about halfway through it! It's not that I'm too busy, it's just that I process things slowly so if I go too fast, I won't remember a thing. I love going to the bookstore though and usually do come home with a few religious or craft books!

    3. Admittedly, I almost never finish all the books when I check out a huge stack. But I like to have options, because I can sometimes get bored with a book. I usually get different types of books: British fiction, romance/mystery, a saint reference book and a Latin textbook make up my recent visit. There's no furniture in our apartment, but there's no shortage of books!