Back just before Holy Week I read an interesting and provocative essay by Jennifer Fulwiler at the National Catholic Register. It is about the need to more clearly instruct Catechumens and those being received into the Church about spiritual attack. Plain and simple, the devil wants to destroy the faith of those who have newly entered the Church. And we need to be sober about this. Being sober does not mean we are in a panic. It merely means we are alert and have a mind that is clear as to the possibility, even the likelihood that the Devil will seek to snatch them from our hands. I want to quote from Ms Fulwiler’s article article and then give some personal experiences and concerns:
It’s a subject nobody wants to talk about. Even among fellow Catholics, you risk being seen as superstitious or ignorant if you acknowledge that there is a dark force whose sole purpose is to keep people away from the light of Christ. And, to be sure, some hesitation about the subject is warranted: We’ve all heard stories of people who became overly fixated on the subject of evil, renouncing personal responsibility with “The devil made me do it!” arguments or seeing demons around every corner. So it’s good not to place too much emphasis on the forces of evil. But this is a subject where we want to be very, very careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I think that modern Catholic culture has done just that.
In my own journey, an understanding of the reality of demonic activity has been critical to my spiritual life. I’ve been fortunate to have a spiritual director who has helped me learn to recognize when these kind of forces may be at work, and to act accordingly. …it was helpful for me to learn to recognize and reject those thought patterns that are not of Christ.
This advice has been particularly critical in times of doubt. Twenty-five years of atheistic thinking patterns don’t go away overnight, and since my conversion I’ve had plenty of periods where I experienced doubt or spiritual dryness. In these moments, it’s been extremely important to understand how to parse through my thoughts carefully, separating reasonable points from lines of thinking that seem to stem from spiritual attack, bad moods or other distracting forces (I once summarized what I learned about that here). Thanks to this understanding, each period of exploring my doubts has only led me to a deeper knowledge of God and greater faith in the Church.
And so, as a new group of converts (and “reverts”) prepares to come into full communion with the Church this Easter, I hope that our RCIA directors talk to them about this issue. I hope they make Dr. Peter Kreeft’s recent article about the reality of spiritual warfare required reading, and emphasize the benefits of finding a trusted priest or trained spiritual director to help navigate the ups and downs of the ongoing conversion process. Because while the path to sainthood is a beautiful road where we find peace and fulfillment as we grow closer to the Lord, we must never forget that it is also a battle.
The Full Article is Here: On Spiritual Attack
I must say, this article caused me to pause and repent. For I, who know better, have not made it a practice to speak to my Neophytes and Newly Received about this. That has to change. And I also need to extend longer care to those who have newly entered the Church.
It is sobering for me to consider how many of the people I have baptized quietly slipped away from the Church in the years that followed. A couple of years ago I was looking at my notes from past Easter Vigils and gradually my mouth came open. For as I looked back over those notes going back fifteen years, I saw the names of many I had prepared for baptism and reception. But more than half were gone now. And of only a very few could I say, “Ah, they have moved and I know that they are in a parish there.”
I was, frankly, stunned. Some of them had been intense, joyful and excited to be baptized and received. I remember the joy of those congregations gathered at the vigil as, one by one the catechumens went down into the water. “Alleluia!” went forth the song, as each of them emerged from the font. And joy too was expressed for those received into full communion. And now half of them gone, quite certainly lapsed.
I cannot find any hard data on line, but, I have talked to RCIA “experts” who do work at a national level and they quietly affirm that, within five years, 50% of those who came through RCIA are no longer practicing the faith in any real way. I cannot show you the hard numbers, but I have personally found this to be true.
I have tried to be better about following up with those who have come through my classes who later go “off the radar.” I call them in, or speak with them on the phone: “You know what I taught you about Mass attendance, I’m worried about you….Jesus wants to feed you!” “Adam where are you….Eve, why do hide your face?” I get their sponsors on the job too. But it’s strange, a kind of lethargy seems to come upon some of them. They make promises to return, but often don’t. Or they come once, but then disappear again. Maybe I’ll see them in the store later on and josh with them, or be very serious, depending on the situation. But something has come over them. Most didn’t have some terrible experience, they just drifted away, they just lost the joy, or things just got routine.
But Jennifer Fulwiler, above, is on to something very important: they are likely under some level of spiritual attack. Demon, thy name is lethargy, thy name is boredom, thy name is sorrow and sloth, distraction and forgetfulness. Jesus warned:
Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Mk 4:15-19)
Yes, spiritual attack is real. So is the world and the flesh.
I think, in the early days of RCIA we figured that those who entered in this way had a great advantage over “cradle Catholics,” for they had come to the faith as adults, and made a mature decision to follow Christ. Yes, they would remain firm. But we are waking up from that notion. We need to be more vigorous and sober in our assessment of what new and returning Catholics face. Satan is sure make some moves on them and, as Ms Fulwiler says, Twenty-five years of….thinking patterns don’t go away overnight.
In my own parish, thanks to the generous offer of a skilled parishioner, we’re looking to strongly enhance our mystagogia (post baptismal catechesis) and extend it for as long as two years. We’re also going to give more vigorous formation to sponsors and insist that they see their role as more than ceremonial and one that does not end with the Easter Vigil.
And I am going to begin to be more frank with my newly received and baptized as to the nature of spiritual attack, and the likely moves the devil will try. Further, they must be taught a deeper understanding of the drives of the flesh and influence of the world. Peter Kreeft’s article, hot-linked above in the quote from Ms Fulwiler, is a good place to start. CS Lewis also has some good material in the Screwtape Letters about how Satan seeks to knock out new converts like “low-hanging fruit.” I am grateful if you, dear reader, can add to the list of suitable material to help in this matter. Clearly the goal here is not to frighten them, but to instill sobriety and an ability to discern spirits and resist demons, all by God’s manifold grace.
Yet another thing we must do better is to draw new members deeper in to the life of the Church. While Mass attendance and regular confession are primary goals, it is also most critical that new members feel welcome and be encouraged to get involved in the wider life the parish. This will usually root them more deeply in the faith and ensure a greater fraternity that will help them in their walk: Woe to the solitary man, for if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up (Eccles 4:10).
And we need to teach them to pray. The danger of RCIA is that it can be top heavy on intellectual formation but almost bereft of spiritual formation rooted in prayer and the spiritual and liturgical practices of the Church. Here too, I need to do a better job of finding the right balance.
As always, I am interested in your thoughts and experiences in this matter. Perhaps your own parish is addressing this? Perhaps too, you are a recent addition to our numbers in the Church and would be willing to share the good things, and the short-comings of your formation and mystagogia.
We have to do better. My recent trip down memory lane was real wake-up call. In the early Church, we went from the rather sudden and quick baptisms of Scripture (e.g. Acts 2:39; 8:36) to a three year catechumenate. This was likely due to a bad experience the Church had with those baptized too soon. I am not sure I want to make people wait three years, but I AM more sure I want their mystagogia to extend two years beyond their baptism and reception. We need to walk with our new brothers and sisters a little further down the road than just a few weeks or months out of the font. Lord, have mercy on me for taking so long to know better.
91 Replies to “On The Spiritual Attack of our Converts and What to Do About It”
We need more Maronites. They’re pretty good with Saint Michael.
This… this is… well, I’m almost speechless.
I was received into the Church four years ago this Easter. Baptized, confirmed, First Eucharist– the whole deal. And in the year following my baptism, I suffered from extreme moments of doubt… What I mean is that, a few times a month, I’d have an experience where I’d be overcome by darkness (of spirit, not physical darkness). A coldness. And terrible, terrible doubts. I can’t even express it in words. They were horrible experiences and the temptation against faith…
I remember exactly when these experiences stopped. I finally told my spiritual director about them (yes, I know– why not earlier, right?! Don’t ask me, I still didn’t know WHAT spiritual direction was at the time, except that I was in it)… and that was the first time I ever heard about spiritual warfare. He told me to rebuke Satan/evil spirit next time it happens. To use the name of Jesus, to call on the name of Jesus. And I tell you, after I did this, I no longer experienced these dark moments.
Honestly, I haven’t thought about all of that since they stopped. And I never connected that year with my neophyte year. It was my freshman year of college. Now I’m working with an RCIA program at the parish where I work… We have a mystagogy that goes through the summer and I hope to give some guidance on this issue. Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for bringing it to our attention. Spiritual warfare can be difficult to talk about (even just writing about my experience makes me feel a little sheepish… was all of that just my imagination… etc), but it’s super important.
Thanks for this powerful testimony of your experience. Praise the Lord that you experienced the scripture which says, rebuke the Devil and he will flee.
I am one of the newly baptized, having received the three Sacraments of initiation one year ago.
There have been a few things that helped ‘sustain’ me in my spiritual journey, most having to do with the community and parish of which I am a part.
(1) Strong reverence to the Sacraments, expressed in the way we celebrate the Liturgy and Holy Hour of Adoration, with what is often considered more traditional liturgical music.
(2) A tight-knit community that together has a strong fervor for our Faith, that prays together and spends time together.
There is a lot to be said about the ‘physical’ aspect of our relationship to the Church. Celebrating the Eucharist in a way that draws the congregation into the deep richness of the Paschal Mystery is perhaps the surest way to ‘keep’ those who are newly received, since to cultivate a love and passion for the Eucharist is to cultivate a love and passion for the very Source of Life.
Thanks for this, what you have said is very true. I guess it is a little harder to experience this in larger parishes, but all the more reason that larger parishes should work with recently received to be sure they don’t drift away without some one noticing.
Thank you for bringing this subject up, Msgr. It is a subject that MUST be discussed and taken seriously. We need to equip all Catholics with the knowledge of the works of darkness. Otherwise, they will not have the benefit of knowing they are engaged in a battle, will give up and move on, possibly losing their salvation. Again, thank you so much for bringing this up.
Thanks for reading and spreading the word!
If you wanna teach about Satan with extrabiblical text, there’s no better place to start or finish than Saint Cyril’s catechumical lectures.
Yes, I have used St Cyril in mystagogia for years. Great stuff.
Have you ever heard of The Association for Catechumenal Ministry? It’s a program for RCIA which covers the pastoral, catechetical, and liturgical aspects of initiating people into the Church. Here is the website.
Thanks for this. Someone had mentioned this to me and I couldn’t remember the name.
Father I,am the most pitiable of men,every time I try to advance in the spiritiual life,read scripture,study the faith, read the catechism,Fathers of the church,or advance in my prayer life I,am assaulted by being scrupulous.I suffer from great mental anguish,horriable thoughts of the flesh,murder,revenge.(ME-MYSELF-AN I). The BODY is the trinity of addiction at war with the SOUL.My SOUL has made me blind an my body hates me for it.Every day god gives me a sermon, I must preach it or live it,,since i have not bin called to preach so then I must live it.Spiritual attacks are real, every time we turn down GOD,S grace, satan gives us a piece of silver.”GOD speakes to us in a whisper and only for a second” we either consent-do GOD,S will or resist-do our own will.PRAY,PRAY,PRAY,there is a reason to go into the desert,a reason to go up the mountain,study and prayer faith and reason.we leave the daily diary of the world behind,we put on the armour of GOD,our basic training is just starting.Without a GOOD SHEPHERD like you Father I would be lost.GOD BLESS YOU.
Joseph, I am a “cradle Catholic” and for years I struggled doing the “spiritual push-ups” as Mosignor Pope calls them. I am fortunate enough to be a parishioner in Msgr. Pope’s Parish; through his sermons, bible study, the blog and spiritual reading I am learning to let God work in my life and to trust in his grace. when we get to hung up on all the things we are not we sometimes lose a sense of all that God has done in our life. Another trick of Satan. Stay close to the sacraments and abandon yourself to God.
Did you grow up in Pembroke? I have found your messages very compelling, my brother, also called Joseph, left the Church for a number of years and has reccently come back. I am humbled by his faith, knowledge, and enthusiam. I prayed for his return for years! I still pray for him and I will pray for you too.
It sounds to me like there may be need for you to have spiritual direction. I hope anyway that some one is walking with you in your journey…God bless you. Check in with your parish priests, if they can’t help, sometimes a nearby monastery or religious community has resources and spiritual directors who can help us.
Joseph, do not feel you are alone, I too, though am a “cradle Catholic”, have had and still do, my struggles with my own faith. After what turned out to be a difficult Lent this year, mid-way through this past Lent, and on Holy Thursday, I decided to begin the proces of making peace with God. Joseph, I am still struggling, but at least it is a new fresh start.
Wow, a difficult subject. I think the first thing is prayer, prayer, 24/7, the sacraments, spritual reading – especially the Bible ( I recommend the Fr. Haydock Douay Rheims because of its invaluable commentary), the documents of the Church, avoid all occassions of sin, avoid popular entertainments especially on Sundays and Holy days, throw out the T,V., devote free time to good works, never be overly trusting of yourself especially where your weakenesses reside for this is where you will be attacked, be generous even when it hurts, curb the tongue ( perhaps then God will help you curb your thoughts), never give up, pray, pray, pray!!
Thanks for the recommendations. I will check out the Haydock Douay Rheims .
Father,I would like to add that i,am not a convert but have returned to the Church after 25 years of my neglect,converts will experience the same assualts against there faith,doubt,falling away,little support.I belive a strong adult formation experience can only be cemented as you suggested by 2 or 3 years of catechism that is the answer period.Corral the lambs an feed them before we turn them into the world.GOD BLESS YOU.
I think these insights on spiritual warfare by various authors have been brilliant and certainly I cannot improve upon them. As a convert of 10 years, all I can add is my personal experience. I too found the first 5-7 years I was truly energized and very involved in my parish and growing my spiritual life. My husband (a revert) and I are finding we are stagnating and becoming “lethargic” and rote in our faith. This has been due in part to outside changes (forces?) – the priest who recieved me into the church is now a Bishop (fabulous man and orthodox), we have since gone through 2 pastors (one left due to an anxiety disorder and needed a smaller parish; the current one’s homily style does not work for our family), and we find the parish’s adult and child ed staff’s approach to matters arrogant and off putting. We find all of these “externals” are really getting in the way. We are blessed to live in a large metropolitan area with an amazing diversity of options, so rather than give up, we are going to other parishes for mass to refresh ourselves and refocus on just the mass, away from the externals at our current parish which are distracting us from our faith. I personally think weekly adoration (our parish has perpetual adoration set up by our former pastor now bishop), which we do, is essential to keeping the “eye on the prize.” You think nothing is happening, but everything is happening in that hour. Also, perhaps by “looking around” we will find a parish that works better for where our faith life is at and avoid falling away.
Thank you for taking time to do your blog. We find it invaluable.
Thanks for reading . I do pray you will find a good parish setting which will confirm, strengthen, your faith. God Bless you.
Only the Holy Spirit can draw a person toward faith in Jesus. The hunger for God and for righteousness in a new believer should be as natural as the hunger and thirst of a new born. If the new Christian has no desire then something is wrong. No amount of human persuasion or follow-up will help. The person is either not a christian or he is ‘sick’. Concerning the later, perhaps he came to faith in Christ for the wrong reasons. He believed in Christ because someone told him that Jesus will enhance his life on earth. A sermon by Ray Comfort explains in detail what i am trying to say.
Please go to: http://www.livingwaters.com/helps/HellsBestKeptSecret.pdf
Thanks for this is link. I understand your point, though I also think we can do better in our process to help avoid some of the falling away.
I look at this critical issue from two perspectives. First, having been received into the Church just three years ago, I was struck by how, after one mystagogy “session”, we were essentially done. It’s as if, quite unwittingly, our RCIA staff was saying, “You’re in, now you’re on your own.”
On the other hand, I just completed teaching my first RCIC class, and after having worked for six months to teach the kids as much as I could, I (and those catechists with whom I worked, who are all “cradle” Catholics, I might add) find myself a bit perplexed at what to do next.
Part of the problem, I think, stems not so much from the Church but from the general culture. No longer do we live within a few blocks of the church we attend, nor are neighborhoods or lifestyles as structured or tightly knit as they used to be. As a catechist, then, you’ve got at best a couple hours a week to teach as much as you can. Moreover, with the Easter Vigil now behind us, the “hook” we could use to get kids and adults to come to class is now not quite as effective.
You mention the development of the catechumen’s prayer life, and I couldn’t agree more. Indeed, it was only when I was tasked with the structured delivery of information, so to speak, that I realized how important prayer is to putting that “information” to “work” on a regular basis. Without prayer, it’s largely a head game.
But another angle, I think (and here I’m only pondering some still fresh observations), involves recognizing that initiating catechumens involves not only instructing them in the tenets and practices of the Faith, but also in helping them join a community. So what does that community look like? Where can they plug in on a regular basis –besides Mass, of course – and make their faith more than just simply they think about? How can they not just “believe” Catholic but “be” Catholic”?
Once upon a time, I think that was the role of the fabled “Catholic culture”, but those days are over. As a middle-aged man, I will never have that as part of my DNA, but neither will countless other new Catholics, who will invariably come (as did my class, in which I had kids from four distinct ethnic and national backgrounds) from all walks of life.
If I may, you might say catechumens are the new wine. The question is, how can the Church, while retaining and teaching all that she must, become a perpetually new wineskin so that the new wine doesn’t simply drain away?
Yes, these are all good points. With the hook gone it IS harder to get people to come. Further, culture etc works against us. I think the main thing to overcome is “now you’re on your own” experience.
Excellent as usual Msgr. On thought – It has been my experience that RCIA programs are WEAK on the intellectual stuff. For me personally, a cradle Catholic – it has been the intellectual grasp of the Faith that has often seen me through the times of dryness or temptation. I’m not saying that we do not need to teach prayer – we do – but I also think we need a stronger apologetic approach as well.
“it has been the intellectual grasp of the Faith that has often seen me through the times of dryness or temptation. I’m not saying that we do not need to teach prayer – we do – but I also think we need a stronger apologetic approach as well.”
Matthew, I agree. My experience is similar: that what allowed my heart to open up was grasping it intellectually– perhaps one way to think of how “the Lord doth magnify my soul”? We do need to teach prayer, and to teach apologetics, because we do need to give a resonable account, both to ourselves and to others, as to why we believe what we believe.
Yes, to you both, I DO think we need the intellectual, but I also think we need to help people get better connected humanly to the parish.
I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church six years ago, having previously been a charismatic evangelical Protestant. I remember that spiritual attack was quite heavy during RCIA, especially once Lent began, for me and for most of my class. I’ve noticed a similar pattern ever since. All of sudden, many of us were having car accidents and police pullovers on the way to Mass, many of us had horrible nightmares and awoke to sense an evil presence in the room. My car was actually chased down by a street walker who propositioned me (frankly I found that one ridiculous, it was not a temptation to lustful sin that ever would’ve worked). Less tangibly, it was an emotional roller coaster.
I was lucky, or rather, blessed, as I had stumbled my way into a great support system. I was still in college, and I made a ton of new, devout Catholic friends who supported and prayed for me. Less than a year later I began a relationship with a devout Catholic woman who will be my wife this August.
This is not to say that despite my fervent Catholic faith, that I have not been tempted, periodically, to return to Protestantism, primarily due to the difficulties of Catholic parish life. The lack of harmony and common vision, the strife and struggle over what it meant to be Catholic, sometimes i just wanted to run away to somewhere where all the members of the congregation actually believed in the statement of faith. At other times I struggled with missing the close-knit fellowship I had previously had.
What’s held me to the true Church, is my desire to stay in the Truth (even when it seems it is not proclaimed or believed at the local level) and the community of faith I have in those friends I made, and my fiancee, who have been there to support me during the times when it has been hard to practice Catholicism, and the grass seemed so much greener on the other side.
As for my fellow converts, I’d like to point out that many, many converts lack what almost all cradle Catholics have: a Catholic family. How many cradle Catholics have remained with the Church primarily because of their family. For me, what I seem to have struggled with most was the fact that I had neither family in the Church, and that so often my parish did not feel like a family when my previous Protestant community had.
Remember, that after when the 3000 converted on the day of Pentecost, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Shared daily meals? Sounds like a family to me.
This is a very powerful testimony and also very good points. You are also very right that large parishes are sometimes unruly and Catholics are at many different stages. Some are struggling to accept the faith, others are gung ho, and everything in between. I guess the best thing is, as you have done, to find the right folks to walk with you. Thanks for your experience.
This a much needed reflection. I have noted such attacks upon converts. I have noted it in myself. We must do a better job along the lines you have suggested.
Yes, please spread the word.
I also read Ms. Fulwiler’s essay. I am grateful that she wrote it, and grateful that you’ve seized upon it. As for myself, I am a revert. I don’t know what things are like in your parish, but I do think that homilies and sermons that go back to simple catechesis would be helpful. You were more than good enough to be frank about why the Church teaches that homosexuality and gay marriage are wrong, and why abortion is wrong. That sort of frankness is not only appreciated, but much needed.
But at the same time, one of the reasons why so many Catholics don’t understand the Church’s teachings on these issues is because they don’t know what love and freedom are, and how the sacraments better dispose us to both. Furthermore, I would add that the sacraments can’t be taught as things that are separate unto themselves. While they may be understood more deeply on a separate basis, they all fit together, and relate to each other. I have not had any experience with RCIA, but as a parishioner, I would love to see any priest giving us homilies that remind us of this reality. And speaking of love and freedom, perhaps especially the latter in an American climate, we need to all better dispose ourselves to thinking more curiously and broadly about both, and why the Catholic faith helps us to do just that. Catholicism, after all, involves the whole person– body, mind, heart, and soul.
How many Catholics, after all, know what the priesthood even is? Especially if they see nothing wrong with “women priests,” and often disregard celibacy as “antiquated” and “unreasonable”? How many know that without a priest who is validly ordained, we wouldn’t even have a valid Eucharist? We wouldn’t even have valid Confessions. Now, enough would say, “less Confession? Yay!” but the problem there is that worthy reception of the Eucharist is highly contingent on Confession, and Confession is highly integral and instrumental in combatting spiritual attack. Given how so many people associate going to Confession with “priests making you feel bad about yourself” in our culture of “self-esteem,” how many know that frequent Confession will actually help you and strengthen you?
After all, why is it okay if, say, some celebrity or new-aged spiritual guru tell you that narcissism is bad, but God forbid that Catholics have a means to combat it very effectively in the Confessional? How many know what the Eucharist truly is as a spiritual reality (in other words, that none of the sacraments are just “symbols”), and how with more frequent and sincere Confession, this is how God helps us combat spiritual attack? How many people know that our sacraments are grounded in Scripture, especially given that so many insist that homilies have to “make the gospel relevant for people’s everyday lives”? I’ve read so many complaints about how we “don’t need yet another homily telling us to be nice to people!” and I have to agree: whatever the homily, it should always go back to the spiritual heart of what it means to be Catholic. How are the sacraments not relevant to those very lives?
This stuff doesn’t always come up in homilies, so it may be that the folks who receive RCIA formation don’t always see what they’ve learned working in the larger life of the parish and in the Church. And I think the “cradle Catholics” in the pews are poorer for it, too. So many of us don’t pray, because we don’t know how: and at least speaking from experience, it is indeed painful when you realize that you’ve forgotten how to pray, and that you need to learn to pray more intelligently. We never, ever stop growing in the faith, cradle Catholic, convert, revert, or what have you, and I think this has to be emphasized. It is not my intention to knock our Protestant brothers and sisters, but differences matter: Catholicism is about far more than just the gospel. It’s not just a “Sunday thing,” and the sacraments aren’t just something or some “ritual” that we “do.” They help us to be, because this larger spiritual reality incorporates us within it– and because of sin and our limited nature, our knowledge of it is far from perfect, and we therefore keep learning. If we don’t believe that “once saved, always saved,” then we should also not believe that once received into the faith, that people are necessarily here to stay. I think so much of this is about knowing how to connect the dots.
Again, I don’t know the ins and outs of RCIA, but might the work of Scott Hahn be of use? I can especially recommend The Lamb’s Supper: The Holy Mass as Heaven on Earth and Lord Have Mercy!, the latter of which is about the healing power of Confession. Perhaps you already use them?
To make a long exposition short: how many people know that when we are to combat spiritual attack, we’re not expected to do this all by ourselves? That through the sacraments, God gives us the means to help us, because he knows that given our fallen nature, we will mess up the game plan, or get burnt out if we think we can do it all on our own?
Thanks for these reminders and information. I agree that Hahns books are great. He also wrote one recently on the Priesthood.
Msgr. Pope, I loved Many Are Called. Sorry I forgot to mention that one, too!
Whenver I see adults baptized at the Easter Vigil I worry about them. It doesn’t take Satan to cause spiritual problems for people who after a year or more of regular meetings, instruction, discussion, retreats, etc, suddenly are left on their own, to be just another member of the congregation. How can that fail to be a let down. They really need ( and frankly most of us cradle Catholics could use) more adult catechesis, prayer groups, bible study groups, retreats etc. to be available to them.
Yes, that is what parishes need to do more of.
Thank you for a great and much needed article. Can you tell me if you have reinstituted the Prayer to St. Michael in your parish? As you know this is the action that Pope Leo XIII took after her experienced the vision of Satan, etc. If you haven’t will you consider doing this?
Sounds like a good idea.
As an adult convert (confirmed, Easter 2008) I have found that one of the greatest spiritual attacks comes from other Christians who are steadfast and long suffering in attempting to win you back to “Biblical Christianity.” New converts have a difficult time understanding the deep spiritual truth of Catholicism and can hardly be expected to battle these zealots (and know from memory exactly WHAT the church teaches and how to defend it Biblically.)
Then add to that the battle within the Catholic bosom of the liberals and traditionalists, priests who do not correctly and clearly pass on the faith when asked questions (or RCIA directors), the Catholic bashing in the media AND the added personal attacks of the Devil and it can overwhelm a new convert. This is a strange new world for a former Fundamentalist. I don’t know how to deal with it and I am almost 50 years old. (Pray for my two sons who just came into this marvelous faith Easter! I worry for them.)
Teresa, God bbless you and your two sons! I can honestly say that I hear you on this one. But know two things about “Bible Christians,” the Bible, and the Catholic Church: the Catechism does not contradict the Bible, and the Bible does not contradict the Catechism. Also, conversion is a lifelong endeavor, so have faith: take these worthwhile conerns to the Lord in prayer, and let the sacraments help you. As for knowing what the Church teaches and how to defend it, this will come with time.
You might also like to read Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s blog on apologetics in this regard. Longenecker is himself a convert, going from Fundamentalist Protestantism, to Anglicanism (and becoming a priest in the Anglican Communion), before being ordained as a Catholic priest. He describes Catholicism as “more,” and has written a book to that effect called More Christianity. Also, read some Scott Hahn, a Presbyterian convert. All of his stuff is delightful.
Yes, Teresa, you are right, Catholics face a lot of opposition that can wear them down. Even more why we must provide for more and longer mystgogia.
Spiritual attack on neophytes is a top priority for discussion. Most see the RCIA as a kind of catch-up program to get “up to speed” on being Catholic as though at the end of the process everything is fulfilled. They have little to no idea that they are not simply entering a pool when they enter the faith but a storm tossed ocean.
I would say that the issue isn’t only limited to RCIA. The whole catechetical process tends to be treated like schooling, where one is seeking to get out into the world to do good as soon as possible, thus a lot of Catholic will stop learning after being confirmed, the last “required” catechesis and, according to a number of people, the fulfillment of one’s Christian initiation.
It needs to be made clear that the faith must always be explored. The spiritual realities, both the evil and sanctifying forces, can never be fully understood, accepted, or prepared for and so we must live daily to forming ourselves. Catechesis is a never ending process and we need to begin building the infrastructure to help our faithful find what they need to be in life-long formation.
Heaven is for eternity but we only have a limited time to prepare for entering it.
All of this is a good reminder that parishes need to provide ample opportunities for the faithful to grow. No parish should lack adult catechetical opportunities and Bible studies. I likes your analogy between the pool and a storm tossed sea.
Writing as someone who came into the Church Easter 2010, yes there have been spiritual attacks. I think the biggest issue with them is recognizing them for what they are. They should be expected. RICA should point that out. If one can recognize them for what they are, it changes everything.
The other issue easy to miss is that RICA is a group / social activity as well as a teaching one, and when it is over there may be nothing to take its place, and that could leave a void right when the converts need support the most. Most protestant churches are strong on social groups and activities–mainly because no one would show up at all if they were not available. In the Catholic church we’re there for the Eucharist; the reason to go to mass is not to be able to mingle afterwards. But, it is something that would be nice. Sometimes it is hard to think of the people of God being the ones who set a new world’s record at vacating a building every Sunday after Mass and who really don’t see much point in having anything to do with each other.
Yes, these are all good points.
I would highly, highly, highly recommend this practical book that has changed my life http://www.amazon.com/Discernment-Spirits-Ignatian-Everyday-Living/dp/0824522915 Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher. Do a series at your church on Ignatian spiritual discernment. I used to love St. Theresa of Avila and thought that in the nitty gritty day to day spiritual things the best there was out there was Imitation of Christ and Intro to the Devout Life. This beats them far and away because it has given me the tools to discern God’s will from my imagination, from Satan. I cannot highly recommend it enough. Ignatian’s methods have proven effective for me. It has taught me when to keep silent with family and something great came of it, it taught me to be open to life one more time for my family and we have been greatly blessed by it, and it has taught me when I am praying for something that I should not pray for and let the desire go and desire what God wanted instead.
Thanks for this, I have put it on my Amazon list.
For the first time this year I did give my RCIA participants a frank talk about the reality of spiritual warfare targeting them. It was enlightening for me as well, as I heard accounts from all of them about trials they had suffered that threatened to derail their spiritual formation and entry into the Church.
I think it’s well to recall that a similar talk might be delivered to all persons approaching the sacraments of Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders.
We have no formal program of mystagogy at our parish, but this year for the first time I did invite all of the male RCIA participants to consider our altar server program (we use only men and a few mature youths), as it’s designed not just as a way to serve the parish but as a way of spiritual formation and a path to holiness in its own right.
It goes without saying that I continue to pray for my RCIA participants, past present, and future.
A wonderful idea your parish has there.
Yes, get them involved in some way.
As a “revert” who was called back to the Church during my own crash against the rocky depths, I suffered intense spiritual attacks during the first few years after my conversion. These took the forms of intense spasms of those obsessions I had been most steeped in during my years away from Christ, pornography and drunkeness. I experienced tormenting doubts, every sort of intellectual temptation (after the Lord called me home, He sustained me with an endless supply of spiritual reading, but I do not think it incorrect to assert that there is no single intellectual proposition that absolutely confirms one in the Faith!), and nightmares I can only describe as demonic night attacks.
Like other commentors, I usually feel a little embarassed to admit these things, they smack of the absurd to our modern ears, but there are indeed more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies! My suffering was real, and it was by the singular grace of God that He drew me into a close-knit community of faithful, joyful, utterly realistic Catholics at my college, Northeastern University.
It was in that community, perhaps even more than at the parish I attended (whose rector was a great friend and inspiration to me as well), that I received the most succor against these attacks and temptations. With the religious brothers there, we read “Wild at Heart,” by an evangelical Protestant, I believe, but which nonetheless contained a forthright account of spiritual warfare. Sometimes just hearing these things affirmed by men and women I loved and respected made all the difference for me: I wasn’t on my own!
One fellow student, an ardently faithful convert, taught me to pray the Rosary, and I’ve relied on it ever since—Msgr Pope, your recent post about Pope Leo XIII and the Rosary confirmed something I’ve learned in bits and pieces over the intervening years, and which has manifest itself in my own life, in prayer and in the confessional: Our Lady is a sure source of comfort and protection against the devil and demonic temptations.
I would say that, more than any book, or even any particular activity done in common with my brothers and sisters in Christ, praying the Rosary, alone or together, has been the greatest protection and guide. As a catechist at my parish now, I not only teach the Rosary, but pray a decade with my students, teach them about Our Lady of Fatima (with the superb film The 13th Day), and give them their own set of Rosary beads and a CD to help pray with (free from the Mary Foundation!). This is something that I strongly urge DREs, RCIA directors, and catechists incorporate into their teaching: how and why to pray the Rosary, and the Lord will take care of the rest!
Yes, the Rosary! Great weapon. There were times, some years ago when I was under attack as well and just hold the beads was reassuring and protective. Also, Wild At Heart is a great book.
I nearly left three times in my first year as a Catholic. Why? Acute loneliness in the midst of a Catholic crowd.
Why didn’t I leave? Sheer obedience. I had entered the Church to follow Jesus. The irony is that the spiritual disciplines that I learned as an evangelical are the only reason I’m still a Catholic today.
The number who leave after Easter are at least 50%. Cardinal Stafford once told me it was closer to 70%. I’m sure your mileage varies from community to community. But it is exciting that you, as pastor, are serious looking at this and planning to do something about it. A few suggestions:
1) Make sure that those going through RCIA are entering as disciples of Jesus Christ, not simply changing their “religious identity”. RCIA is young adult territory and the majority enter for marriage or family reasons. For them, the brass ring is “becoming Catholic” and pleasing their fiancee or future parents-in-law or having a wedding in a pretty church. For the majority, it isn’t about following Christ in the midst of his Church and it makes sense, that once they’ve gotten what they entered for, they leave. Very few RCIA’s are truly evangelizing – although RICA is one of the most brilliant structures ever created for evangelization. It has turned into another “rite of passage/education” thing in most parishes but it doesn’t have to be that way at all.
2) Make inquiry to be a time or real spiritual inquiry and wrestling, not mini catechesis. Serious catechesis is pre-mature in inquiry. Inquiry is the time for pre-evangelization and initial proclamation of the kerygma.
Our failure to evangelize in RCIA as a whole, is not primarily a failure of the catechetical-formal catechumanate portion but of what happens before and after: inquiry and mystagogia, initial evangelization and rooting and establishing people in the community.
3) Evangelize the cradle Catholics in your parish. (There are a number of very powerful, life-changing parish evangelization processes out there.) When the disciples coming out of your RCIA program meet the disciples already in the parish, the resulting explosion of grace will rock the world. But we don’t need more lone disciples finding themselves adrift in a sea of luke-warm at best cradle Catholics who find these new Catholics irritating and can hardly wait until they “tone down” their spiritual excitement. The single most fruitful thing we can do is foster an overall culture of discipleship in the whole parish. Then when new disciples enter, they will feel welcomes, understood, and supported by a community who understand their experience and their excitement and can help them grow and mature.
4) Form Ananiases. Ananias, of course, was the Christian man who first mentored St. Paul, after he had gotten knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus. Ananias prayed that Paul’s blindness be healed, cared for him, and helped him understand what had happened and it’s significant. We need specially trained mystagogia sponsors who can help establish a new disciple and walk with them in those early days, helping them understand what they are experiencing, answering their questions, etc. We also need small Ananias communities into which the newly baptized and received “graduate” after Easter. A small community of disciples who understands their journey from the inside, a small community where real Mystagogia can happen.
5) Find your intercessors. Gather them together in front of the Blessed Sacrament and have them begin praying in systematic way for the spiritual renewal of your parish. It would be especially fantastic if the pastor got this going and took part from time to time to show them how critical this is. The rest – including an increase of overall spiritual openness, a greater manifestation of the charisms, and protection from spiritual attack – will follow.
Actually, these are the Institute’s “to-do” list for the next five years. You are asking great questions, Msgr Pope!
Excellent ideas there.
Wonderful suggestions here!
Msgr. Pope, you are to be commended for sensing a problem and seeking to do something about it. But, you’ve not dug deep enough. You also have to become a kind of ‘fly on the wall’ to get at what I’m talking about. If indeed the Evil One attacks converts (I have no doubt), he will use a subtle cudgel. As a convert I can tell you there is a large pool of contempt lurking in cradle Catholics who hold an almost tribal view of the Faith. ‘This is Our Club, not yours’. The first people the convert turns to upon becoming a Catholic are his/her brothers and sisters in the pews. A convert will always be a second-class Catholic to many fellow laypersons. And, because the catechesis offered to the cradle Catholic is and has often been faulty, jealousies and bigotries will assail the convert coming from the last persons from whom they should come. From the pulpit, you must speak to your congregation about the complacency of the cradle Catholic, the need to imitate the effort of converts to know and cultivate the faith. No Catholic can rest on his/her laurels. Now, as the monsignor, no one will tell you this to your face. You have to tease it out. But the bigotry is real. You also have to give permission to the converts to speak honestly about their disappointments and travails. Would you do anything less for a cradle Catholic?
I hope you are imagining these sentiments of bigotry. I have never run across it. My own mother was a convert and she did experience what you are speaking about. But I thought that was something that died with Catholic ” triumphilism.” And I attributed it to especially tightly knit ethnic groups who resented the outsider no matter what the faith. Perhaps you are stuck in such a localized parish. Look for a new one if it is a problem. My own experience is that today’s typical parish is peopled by people who have few shared interests, far different from days past where most worked at the same occupations, grew up together, went to school together and were generally from the same ethnic/economic background. Perhaps the bigotry you feel is due more to one of these factors than anything else. It may also be due to human shyness. You know most of us have experienced so many put downs in our lives that we lack social confidence which may make us seem cold to others when we are really scared to death of being rejected. I have experienced this rejection in my parish and have learned to ignore it. I just quietly volunteer wherever I can and ignore the slights.
No, you can still find cradle Catholics who look down on converts, who think that you aren’t *really* Catholic or you don’t reall *get* Catholicism if you weren’t raise Catholic. If a convert suggests there’s something more or something else to Catholicism than the cradle Catholic thinks, then the convert hasn’t fully converted.The attitude applies regardless of how many years the convert has been in the Church.
(Then too, enthusiasm isn’t always trusted. “No joy, please, we’re Catholic.”)
You are right, the “incumbents” can discourage new converts. The priest and other leaders have to moderate the integration of new members better.
How and in which way we approach faith is highly individual. What resonates within one person doesn’t do anything for another. Maybe one way of countering newly baptized to fall away is to evaluate this aspect (Myers-Briggs?). Armed with this knowledge instruction and continued pastoral care could be sufficiently taylored in such a way that faith keeps resonating within the individual and that the specific perils to which one is inclined to succumb are identified and addressed.
In my case, It took me many, many years to overcome the deep-seated doubts to believe in God that were planted in my childhood. I always believed, but I couldn’t articulate why. For a long time I searched for answers and didn’t know where to look. I needed answers presented in a way that resonated within me. I had no clue apologetics existed. I have a tendency to “think things to death”. To understand the philosophy and how it is rational and just is “my key.”
With the election of Pope Benedict XVI I became aware of his vast writings, and they were crucial in my understanding of the completeness of Christian philosophy – how the different aspects of the Christian faith fit together making one comprehensive, rational whole. In hindsight it is not surprising he made me a Catholic.
Here are some books I found very helpful:
Pope Benedict/Cardinal Ratzinger: ‘Introduction to Christianity’ (I don’t even pretend I understand all of it, but I got enough out of it to make an impact); various collections of meditations.(These are far more accessible – I don’t know the English titles, I read him mostly in my native German)
R.C. Sproul: ‘Defending your Faith’ and ‘Reason to Believe’
Dinesh D’Souza: What’s So Great About Christianity
Thanks for these suggestions.
May God bless you, Monsignor!
During RCIA I had moments or periods of great pressure and even actual sharp fear bearing down on me. I won’t describe them because they are very intimately private between me and those who stepped in very quickly and liberated me from the demons: the Blessed Mother first and foremost, her Son as the Lamb (literally), St. Michael the Archangel, patron saints I was only beginning to fuzzily recognize, souls in the Church militant and suffering, souls in heaven.
satan, his legion, and even the concept of spiritual battle were not discussed in over a year of RCIA.
I knew of and believed in the unseen reality because of God’s grace to make me amenable to knowing and believing. The rosary was and is my guide and shield par excellence, including the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.
To anyone who reads my words, I want you to comprehend that souls making their way to the font are under extreme, shall we say tectonic, pressures. Their faces are a bit starstruck throughout RCIA and they keep their smiles painted on, but they are constantly shedding bitter tears. The Lenten series of scrutinies help, because they are exorcisms, if anyone comprehends that nowadays. But the catechumens are traveling the via dolorosa and it is sometimes agony and completely lonely, even when surrounded by supporters both interested and lukewarm. We travel alone with a horrible demon walking beside us and behind us, taunting us, no — more than that — tearing us — and with only Christ before us. There is no way to describe it unless you have had to do it, with God’s help, as an adult coming from nothing.
Thanks for a powerful description of the problem.
I am a soon to be convert who will be Confirmed on Pentecost Sunday and I am a former Evangelical Protestant/Charismatic and the closer I get to Pentecost Sunday the more “attacks” are occurring. I live in a small, rural community about 95 miles NW of Washington, DC and I have been shunned by all friends in the community (all Evangelicals) and I am finding myself under spiritual duress and attack when I spend time in Daily Prayer….
It is real. Satan does not want the Church Militant to grow and prevail…
Pray for us.
I give thanks to my God always concerning you for the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus,
that in every thing ye were enriched in him, in all discourse and all knowledge,
according as the testimony of the Christ was confirmed in you,
so that ye are not behind in any gift, waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who also shall confirm you unto the end — unblamable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ;
faithful [is] God, through whom ye were called to the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Niles, He started your conversion and will see it through. Don’t fear — or I should say, fear, but don’t let it drown you. Just put up with the extreme pressure until then as best you can. Just trust in Him.
Yes, we will pray for you. But keep your eye on the prize!!! The ostracization you are experiencing may not be a demonic attack, satan doesn’t need to do that in most cases. His tactic is to employ the evil in those around us, perhaps from our own families and friends as in your case. You are experiencing the typical reaction of small minded, well meaning people, to one who has rejected something they hold dear. Most converts will experience this especially if they come from a strong alternative faith background. But it can be cruel indeed when applied in a small town. Go to your priest and open yourself up to him and explain what is happening, perhaps he can find something for you to do in the parish to keep you physically close to others in the parish. Just sitting in the office answering the phone may be a help. Volunteer to mow the yard, he should like that!!.
Read through all the comments offered by the folks on this page. There are some excellent ideas.
Be strong in faith. Thank you engaging the battle. Thanks too Brad for your encouragement.
One tactic that seems to work is pairing them up with someone with whom they can continue to study the faith. It is an ongoing process, even for Popes. There is a limitless amount to explore and learn. If they continue on that path, they will never cease to be engaged. Visiting monasteries and shrines helps also. I think people need to understand that embracing the faith means handing over EVERYTHING to God, even one’s vacations.
When I was going through RCIA, I became friends on a writing forum with a wonderful lay Carmelite. She would often ask for prayers for sick friends and I didn’t understand why she did this. She gave me a very lengthy answer and helped me to pray. She began praying for me and my family and I have gained so much strength. She told me that I need to be aware of the attacks from the evil one.
I recognized it later and now am aware of my feelings — anger, despair — and see them for what they are. The devil knows my weaknesses and uses them. It is prayer that has saved me. I cannot emphasize this enough. That, and surrendering to God and His will.
Others have mentioned all the things I’ve thought of: involvement in the parish, with Bible study, music, RCIA, but I think it’s very important that neophytes are followed up by their sponsors and other friends they make in the parish. Although we threw ourselves into parish life, so few people knew that I was sick because I was embarrassed to tell or ask for help (oh, yes, the sin of pride). I told people I was too busy to take classes (not true). But how I longed for someone to ask me and listen to me and offer help so that I wouldn’t have to beg. What is sad is that my sponsor’s husband became very ill at the same time, so we couldn’t help each other. But we prayed for one another. And that is enough.
There is a beautiful song by Jim Reeves called: Daddy, teach me how to pray. I think it’s the greatest gift we can give our children, both young and old. So those of you who are worried about a neophyte, call them up, and pray with them if you can. Teach them how to pray.
I also think a link to this blog would be an excellent idea. Thank you and God bless you, Msgr. Pope for all you do. Please know that you are also in my prayers.
It’s too easy to laugh at the unseen. I go to bed every night with a rosary in my hand, and I’ve learned the correct way to pray it. Also, I wear a crucifix, say grace before every meal, and say a Hail Mary every time I hear a siren. I volunteer at St Vincent De Paul and other ministries at my Church. I’m not trying to be ‘holier than thou’, I’m just trying to keep it together. It’s very easy (for me) to step off the path. The more we keep the spiritual world uppermost in our thoughts, the better off we will be in ways too numerous to count. I’m a cradle Catholic who left the Faith, but I’m back now to stay! It’s by far the most important thing in my life. For my head I read Catholic authors like GK Chesterton, Hillaire Belloc, and William Thomas Walsh. For my heart I pray the rosary. For my Church I volunteer. For my soul, I confess and celebrate Eucharist. The Faith is all anyone needs, we just need to live it.
I don’t have too much to comment on this… Only that I was confirmed at the Easter Vigil a few weeks ago and have not been harbored any doubts since I began my RCIA process in October of last year. I must say that I consider myself lucky. These two articles, however, have provided basic knowledge for me to draw from if ever the need arises. I have to agree that drawing people into the parish community and helping them to create friendships is very important; I felt like a stranger when I arrived, but I am now an active member of the choir and have helped decorate the worship space. I am 20 years old and plan to spend the rest of my life exploring the wonders of our faith. 🙂
I converted six years ago and I can say that this issue is the number one problem with new converts. Sometimes it is a demonic attack, there is no doubt of this. However I feel that the inner workings of the Church have the unintended consequence of setting this in motion. For example, often we are told to find a spiritual director, but the pastor cannot do this because he doesn’t have time. When asked if he knows another priest who can the answer in no because all the fellow priests he knows also do not have time. When I was a member of an independent Protestant church I could and did have the pastor’s ear whenever I needed it. This has never been the case in the Catholic Church. I’m told to schedule time with the church secretary but it is inevitably several days or even weeks away.
Please understand, I love the Church and her teachings but I do think many converts feel almost abandoned after the Easter Vigil. This of course leads to prime conditions for spiritual attacks which cause even more feelings of alienation from the Church.
Something I seldom hear mentioned any longer regarding protection from spiritual attack and growth in the spiritual life is Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Preparation for Consecration fosters ongoing spiritual reading and daily recitation of the Rosary. I can’t think of any better mystagogia than the work of the Legion of Mary and St. Louis Marie de Monfort’s ‘Total Consecration.’
Something else just occurred to me, Msgr. Pope: I don’t know if this’ll work, but how about getting some of the newer converts involved in RCIA as well? In other words, keep the dialogue about the faith open between the cradle Catholics and the newer converts. Might this help somewhat in better integrating the parish?
Father – I’ve seen the same thing with the high school confirmation candidates. I’ve been a sponsor for 3 young people and have watched countless others – many who have drifted away from their faith. I’ve never heard any discussion of spiritual attack, warfare, etc. in the classes or information the parents and sponsors receive. It certainly seems to be a possibility.
I would encourage you to look at the people receiving the sacrament of confirmation – maybe we can help these kids avoid some of the heartbreak that occurs so frequently.
Thank you and God bless you.
Msgr., thank you so much for this advice. I have been so encouraged by reading the articles and these comments, because I see that it’s not just me who felt spiritually oppressed during Lent before my conversion and who has struggled since then.
Your catechumens are fortunate that you will be speaking with them frankly – when I went to a priest in Lent right before I entered the Church, and he talked frankly about spiritual attack and then prayed with me, it was such a relief. Plus, after being tormented by thoughts of deserting, leaving the program and returning to my old life on a minute-by-minute basis, those thoughts were just – gone – which was bizarre and unnerving but obviously a huge blessing.
You’re also hitting the nail on the head with the need to get into the life of the church – while I’ve had my share of struggles, I am now so involved in parish activities that it would be much harder to go off the deep end. Thomas mentioned the lack of family support – as converts, we must make our parish our family.
It’s not just volunteering – it’s being in close relationships with other solid Catholics. I’ve been really involved with the Institute of Catholic Culture (instituteofcatholicculture.org) here in the D.C. area, and it has given me both solid ongoing catechesis in the faith and also the opportunity to get to know other Catholics who love the Lord and the Church.
And prayer – you’re right, so, so, so important. St. Michael’s prayer has been such a boon to me on many occasions, as have been the use of sacramentals, especially holy water. A priest told me to just go ahead and sprinkle it all over my house or in places where I may be tempted to sin. And of course, the sacraments – I don’t know where I’d be without confession.
So, again, thank you for writing this!
The prayer to St. Michael the Archangel is an awesome prayer. For both barrels blazing, try backing it up with the Prayer of St. Francis: “lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” The part that goes “O, Divine Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand . . .” gets me every time.
As long as you know, despite its beauty and merit, that is was written hundreds of years after St. Francis went to his reward. 🙂
*Laughs!* I didn’t know that, Brad! Thank you. 😀
It is not so easy to encourage the laity to develop an interest in their faith. There are about 6 of us at our church who have really tried to get things going but have met with little success. We started a St. Vincent De Paul Society group .This lasted for a couple of years till members drifted off and we were left with 2 members who don’t drive. The Legion of Mary met with a similar fate. Cursio Ultreyas are still ongoing but there are only 4 of us who regularly attend.(There were 11) One of our priests tried holding weekly Question and Answer sessions but only 4 – 6 showed up. Now we are showing movies about the lives of the Saints on a weekly basis. These have been attended by 3 from the parish and 3-4 from another parish although they are well advertised in various church bulletins. The only things that meet with some success are the social functions e.g. Penny sales and Turkey Rolls. I have had thoughts of starting a lending library of Books about the faith but I’m afraid this will be no different. We have no new converts in our church and attendance is dwindling. It’s not a matter of keeping Neophytes from losing their faith. It’s an all out attack on the already lukewarm cradle Catholics that we have. We have been saying the prayer to St. Michael after every Mass for about 2 years now. Although our priest for some reason will not participate in this, he does not prevent it.
I came into the Church in ’08. I personally would not have stepped foot into an RCIA class unless I were already convinced of the Catholic Church’s claims and intended to convert. I had to learn a lot before I was willing to convert. So coming in to the Church, I already knew more than the average cradle Catholic about the faith. I know more about apologetics than many priests. That’s what I needed for my conversion, so that’s what I got. God is gracious.
The RCIA program I attended was a good program, though I already knew much of what was taught. I did gain new insights, just not many new facts. There were people in the class who seemed to learn a lot, especially people whose interest in conversion was for more personal reasons (like their spouse was Catholic). The program was much better than many I’ve heard of, in which the director might directly contradict Catholic moral teaching, or even the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. I think that’s the first thing to make sure of – that what’s being taught in RCIA actually matches Church teaching.
After Easter vigil we had only one meeting, with a potluck, and many of the directors of various programs spoke about the opportunities available to us to volunteer. Someone spoke about helping with music (choir, canting, playing the organ), someone spoke about the various ladies’ guild circles, someone spoke about religious education, etc. That was it.
Much of the spiritual attack I’ve experienced leading up to my conversion, and afterward, has been in the form of opposition from my family. I’ve been told that any time leading up to a major sacramental event is a time the devil will try his hardest because he hates the sacraments. This has proven true in my life. Before Easter vigil, before a first communion, etc. are times of difficulty.
It helped me to make connections with the priests especially, but also with new friends in the Church. I know priests are extremely busy and as a mom of 5 kids I understand the exhaustion of dealing with needy people all the time. But the priest acts in persona cristi in more ways than just in saying the mass. As our physical fathers model God to us when we are children, so our spiritual fathers model Christ to us as we grow up, and finding oneself accepted and loved in a godly way by the priest is powerful. Also, making friends among fellow-parishioners has helped me. My best friends are at daily mass most days. (I find it easier to make friends at daily mass than at Sunday mass.)
When I experience doubts, I always come back to the fact that this makes more sense than anything else. Yes, it can be frustrating that I can’t see God, that I don’t get visited by angels, that I’m left to exercise faith rather than gifted with explicit visions. But in spite of that, I can intellectually see no reason to be Christian unless I’m a Catholic Christian, and I cannot make sense of Jesus’ physical life, death, and resurrection from any but a Christian perspective.
So: I do think apologetics are a very important part of helping people to remain faithful, even when they don’t feel like it (which happens to all of us). Also find ways to involve people with other people. Encourage parishioners to welcome newcomers. Tell converts to expect attack and what forms it might take, and also tell them things to help them plug in. Some might even need some hand-holding while they get their footing.
Thank you for drawing attention to this serious problem, Monsignor. I think it is hard to offer just one thought for dealing with it, as spiritual warfare can be very complex. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Begin addressing this issue before the Rite of Acceptance/Call to Continuing Conversion. There is no need to scare people, just state the facts plainly. The devil doesn’t like people of faith and he will use every opening to keep them off balance.
2. Make full use of the Rite by using the blessings, minor exorcisms, and anointings which are proscribed during the catechumenate and use these tools we have to strengthen people long before the Easter Vigil.
3. Make full use of the Rite by lengthening the catechumenate – at least one liturgical year unless there are special circumstances (illness for example). Use this time to teach the faith and also to equip catechumens and candidates with the skills necessary for a robust spiritual life – how to pray the Bible (lectio divina), really understand the mass, really understand the sacrament of penance, really live out the moral and social dimensions of the Gospel.
4. Ensure that candidates and catechumens are knit into the fabric of the parish long before Easter. Make them visible to parishioners. At one time, our parish gave every catechumen a wooden cross to wear at every mass, every parish activity, every RCIA session, etc. That sign encouraged parishioners to reach out and make them feel welcome. The same was done for the candidates. They received a crucifix to wear in the same way at the Rite of Welcoming.
5. Give the same attention to the Neophyte Year as one does to the catechumenate.
Let’s all pray for one another and for our parishes, especially are priests of whom so much is expected!!
As a cradle Catholic, I find this article and responses revealing. Converts bring richness to our faith and to our Bible studies. As humans we are all frail and the forces of evil will try to lead us away from God every chance they can. Thanks to all who open their hearts and faith to others.
I’m relieved to have found this place, and don’t see intruders harassing people here. I’m 42 and was confirmed in the Catholic Church in 2010. This spiritual attack thing sounded quite medieval to me and it was never mentioned during RCIA. However, I am coming to believe the reality in these attacks. I left a very high paying job two weeks prior to my confirmation because I knew the corruption that existed there would not be conducive to my conversion to Christ. My life has been in a complete whirlwind since becoming Catholic. I would have not mentioned anything intensifying around Lent, but I saw someone mention that here, and there does seem to be some sort of apex of these attacks for me around that time. There is too much going on to explain everything. I’m just relieved I’m not going crazy here. I have lost every friend I had along with some family members, and my entire life savings is gone. I have gone to Mass virtually every day along with Eucharistic adoration, even a 1:00am commitment for Eucharistic adoration a few Saturdays each month. Just me and The Lord, one on one. I read some of St. John of The Cross “dark night of the soul” assuming that may be what’s happening to me. As difficult as it is to admit, I’m leaning more toward some sort of intense spiritual attack. Any advice/prayers would be deeply appreciated.
Some of it is just plain old “bait & switch” anger. Here I am going along doing my best, and slowly realizing that most of the people around me not only aren’t behaving like Christians, but don’t have any kind of relationship with God. Years and years of trying to figure out Catholics, and now I get it, and it’s worse than I ever could have imagined.
They’re acting out of a hodgepodge of other motivations. That’s it. This is the proof. That’s not what I thought I was being presented with when I became Catholic. I struggle with that. I don’t know who to trust now because most of the people I know wouldn’t know good spiritual advice from directions on how to make fudge. I might as well ask strangers on the street. I’d probably get the same exact answers, it turns out.
I’m still Catholic because I think that there is truth in the Church. I just didn’t realize that I would always have to search so hard for it or work so hard to keep from getting dragged down by it. Appearances can be deceiving. Indeed.
I believe modern technology can be of great help here: for example, there is a beautiful online series from the Augustine Institute called “Symbolon: the Catholic Faith Explained,” which can be especially useful in bringing back those who are in danger of falling away (or those who already have), because of its breathtaking videos and intelligent but easy-to-understand explanations, which can help “rekindle the passion” of those who have “forgotten their first love.” Because it is available online, it is able to reach them wherever they are, even when they don’t go to church. Also, because it features many popular Catholic speakers & scholars, it opens the door to other informal sources of Catechesis & formation – the speakers’ books, radio shows, TV shows, podcasts, talks, etc. – that they can easily search for & look into, & that will hopefully lead them further to all the great Catholic resources available today (many of which are free).
Also, informing people about what’s out there through mass announcements or parish bulletins – e.g. announcing the airing date of an especially interesting program on EWTN this week; or the latest topics on podcasts from Catholic Answers Live, Open Line, Patrick Madrid, etc.; or making them aware of apps like Laudate, Divine Mercy, the Mass Explained, the Catholic Study Bible App, the Pope App, etc.
Also, making the media physically available at church – such as those kiosks provided by Lighthouse Catholic Media with CD recordings of talks that cover all sorts of topics, even sensitive ones that people wouldn’t normally open up about at church meetings.
I believe all these measures are gentle ways to re-attract people & eventually get them immersed in Catholic culture (& therefore fortified against the attacks of the enemy) until it becomes a way of life for them & they voluntarily return to the fold.
I do apologize for replying to such an old post, but the topic deeply resonates with me. I’m one of those people who came in at Easter Vigil in 2010 after RCIA. In retrospect, our RCIA program was not very good. We were left with a strong understanding of the rules we must follow, but not much understanding of why. Our RCIA director specifically advised us NOT to get involved with any parish ministries for at least a couple years, claiming that our faith might be hurt by the blasé and casual attitudes of the cradle Catholics. Needless to say, I never made any friends and never felt like he church was a spiritual home. The diocese transferred my priest within a year, brought in a very unfriendly old priest to replace him, and I just drifted away. I went to parish events to try to make friends and introduced myself, but overall it felt like a clique that wasn’t open to new members.
I do believe that I was likely under spiritual attack at the time. Unfortunately, I had no resources to help me whatsoever at a time when I really needed a mentor. (I only saw my RCIA sponsor once after Easter vigil.) Now I have a relationship with God in a more evangelical setting but once again am struggling with what I know now to be spiritual attack. Who knows how my faith journey could have been different if I had been more integrated into the community and had a spiritual mentor?
My husband came into the Church two years ago, we had a child already and were going to get married in the Church. He had been only baptized, so he did the RCIA program.
Shortly after our wedding, I discovered he had cheated on me months after we got married and perhaps before… A few months later he confessed to be addicted to cocaine. He also has a sex addiction.
We now have another child. I LOVE my husband and I WILL NOT give up on him. He goes to mass with us every Sunday, but I don’t see a full conversion yet.
I see how he gets attacked constantly with thoughts of unworthiness, he is insecure about my love, about his work, he is in a constant battle.
I really wish I could take way some of that pain he carries…
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