Thinking about joining the Catholic Church, and feeling a little lost? Here's some detailed, Christ-centered guidance on faith development during the RCIA inquiry stage.
The RCIA inquiry stage is the starting place for adults who are thinking about entering the Catholic Church.
In the inquiry stage, you're just finding out about Jesus, Christianity, and the Catholic Church. Talk to people, walk around in our shoes for a bit and get a feel for the place. As an inquirer, you're not yet sure exactly what you think about the Catholic Church, so you're still keeping it at arm's length. (I know, I've been there!)
Your main task here is to develop your faith a little bit. Get to know Christ, prayer, the Catholic Church, and how Christians live. That's the only way you can make an informed decision about entering the Catholic Church.
Let me put it more simply: you need to fall in love with Jesus.
At the center: A Person, with a name
At the core of the Catholic faith stands Christ, God who became man. He became man so that we could know God, could feel the power of his presence, and could learn to make him the center of our lives.
You need to get to know him, to learn to feel the power of his presence, and to begin to put him at the center of your life. Again: you need to fall in love with Jesus.
Catholics believe that Christ is the answer to all of our questions and problems—particularly the deepest questions of human existence. Your job as an inquirer is to ask those fundamental questions, understand how Catholics believe that Christ is the answer to them, and see if you agree.
There's a beautiful phrase in Scripture that we love to use. In the Gospel of Luke, the shepherds tell Mary and Joseph about how they saw angels proclaiming the birth of Christ. And then St. Luke tells us, "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19).
So as you ask questions and learn the Catholic answers to them, that's what you need to do—"ponder them in your heart."
Your task as an inquirer is simple:
- Ask the fundamental questions (What is life? Who is God? Who am I?)
- Hear the Catholic faith's answers
- Ponder them in your heart
Ask the questions. Pursue the truth, relentlessly. Don't settle for less than 100% satisfaction; don't settle for half-hearted answers or simple formulas. Don't stop until you find overwhelming, mind-blowing love that knocks you to the ground.
Then you'll know that you've fallen in love with Christ.
Don't settle for anything less!
Major questions to consider
Some typical questions you'll consider in this period include:
- Does God exist?
- If God is real, how will I respond?
- Why do I exist? Does life have meaning? If so, what is it?
- Who is Jesus? What do I think of him?
- Can I really have a personal relationship with Jesus?
- Is Christ the only way?
- Why call God "Father"?
- What is the Catholic Church, and why should I enter it?
- Why do I keep doing things I know to be wrong?
- How should I live?
Explore these questions and see how the Catholic Church answers them.
But I'll repeat: don't settle for a brief outline of answers! Push. Question. Don't be satisfied with less than 100%. "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:32)
Use these questions to begin to know Christ. See what he has to say. Ask him some questions, and wait for the answers. (Hint: he's already said a lot about them for you in Scripture!) Ponder them in your heart.
For the past 2,000 years, many, many people have started along this same path. They end up falling in love with Christ. Madly in love.
And they change their lives forever.
Why not you?
You'll find good guidance to be extremely helpful right now. In fact, it's essential.
You're starting on a journey. A good map or a reliable guidebook is essential, and a living, personal guide is even better.
Before talking about specific guides, it's important to know that there are both good and bad ones available. You have to pick a good one!
It's so important to understand this that I've written a separate page for it:
- The importance of orthodoxy (the word "orthodox" on this site means faithful & accurate teaching)
This is a critical point, so please read that page now if you haven't already!
(The short version is: if you're considering Christ and the Catholic Church, you owe it to yourself to get a clear & accurate picture of Christ, what the Church is and what it teaches. Even if you don't agree with it, you want to know what "it" is. You don't want to make a decision based on inaccurate information!)
One of the best guidebooks for the inquirer is Amy Welborn's Here. Now. Her approach is precisely to show how asking the big questions can lead you to a deep and committed Catholic faith. Amy is a popular, orthodox Catholic author, and her writing is very clear and readable.
Here. Now. is outstanding, and even active & practicing Catholics will profit from reading it. It's not about doctrine at all, it's about setting you on fire with the love of Christ. If you want to know what Christianity is all about, what the Catholic Church is and why you should care, or what faith is really about and what difference it will make in your life and in the world—read this book. It's short & a quick read. You can read it in one evening. In the morning, your life will be different.
Here. Now. assumes that you believe in God, and you'll probably find it more satisfying if you already have at least a basic (if barely-holding-on) belief in the divinity of Christ.
So, what to do if you're not at that point yet? If you're struggling with basic faith in God, the divinity of Jesus, or the distinctive beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church, Amy Welborn also has a short series of books that do a great job in these areas. Don't be put off by the fact that they're written and marketed for teens—the information in them is solid, to-the-point, and very useful. I strongly encourage adults to check out these books if these are the main questions you're grappling with right now:
- Prove it! God—if you find that you're stuck on the question of God's existence.
- Prove it! Jesus—if you're not sure what's real about Jesus, or want to know how reliable the Scriptural testimony is.
- Prove it! Church—if you think the Catholic Church has made up a lot of oddball things that have nothing to do with the core Gospel values of Jesus.
- Prove it! Prayer—if you're not sure where to start with prayer, or you're comfortable keeping Christ at arm's length (instead, you should be pursuing a personal relationship with him!).
For some, the Prove it! series will be too basic. If you feel pretty comfortable with the existence of God and Christ, then they may not be for you.
If you also want something more challenging than Here. Now. that will help you to go even deeper, next try The Narrow Gate by Federico Suarez. This is a collection of talks Father Suarez gave to university students to explain some of the basic challenges that Christ presents to us in the Gospels. His goal was to help them to see the core of Jesus's message and, more than that, to challenge them to live deeply the call to discipleship. It's quite readable, but a little higher level than Here. Now. is.
The Narrow Gate may not be the best choice if you're just coming to a basic faith for the first time. Suarez intended these talks more for believing-but-questioning Catholics who want to know if their faith is relevant in today's world, and he uses Scripture to show how Jesus's radical call to discipleship is alive and meaningful for us today. But if you've already gotten past the starting point of faith and you're looking to deepen your faith, or if you want a good idea of how seriously Catholics take Scripture and Jesus's call to discipleship, then this book is great.
Ready for Scripture?
Of course, Scripture itself is the premier place to develop your faith and find the answers to life's fundamental questions.
To know Christ, you must read Scripture!
Some people find it hard to start reading the Bible. They pick it up, unsure of where to begin, and then they run across something that just doesn't make sense to them.
So they stop.
I did that several times before it "clicked" for me. The key is knowing where to begin. Once you've read just a small bit, once you've had a small success ("hey, I understood that passage! This isn't so hard!"), it's not so intimidating anymore. Then you'll be hooked.
In our modern era, our cultural viewpoint makes the Bible seem like an alien world. Many people pick up the Bible with good intentions and just get lost—we're not sure what to take literally, what to read symbolically, and what to see as just a nice story. Frankly, most contemporary commentaries make it even worse.
To get started, pick one of the Gospels and start reading. Commit to finishing it, at least one of Gospels. Even just 15 or 20 minutes a day, but keep going.
- Most people in our culture tend to find the Gospel of Matthew to be the most accessible, followed by Luke or Mark.
- I wouldn't recommend reading John until you've read one or two of those others first—John's Gospel is profoundly beautiful and poetic, but not the easiest place to start.
The Bible is essential. It's a gift from God, it's miraculous, stunning, and beautiful, and it contains more than you'll ever be able to exhaust. Your life depends on reading it, especially the New Testament, and within that, especially the Gospels.
You'll never know Christ until you read Scripture.
But don't take just my word for it. St. Jerome: "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."
You can't move forward without knowing Christ. And you can't really know Christ until you spend time with him.
We call that "prayer".
Prayer is conversation with God, listening to God, and just being with God. Prayer is essential to the Christian life. Your soul cannot grow close to Christ if you never spend time with him in prayer.
Two suggestions to get you started. First, just take some small steps into prayer by having a few quick "chats" with God throughout the day. Tell him what's on your mind, what you're concerned about, ask him things, thank him for things that go well, ask for help for things that don't go well.
Second, since you're reading one of the Gospels now (right?), you'll find that certain passages grab you. Maybe it's a word or a phrase, or a few verses together, or even a whole scene.
When that happens, just pause for a minute and reflect on it. Why does that grab you? What does it mean for you? Pretend God has just told that to you directly right now: what could he be trying to say? What does it tell you about yourself, about God?
Let it settle in for a few minutes, and then thank God for that little chat you just had. Hey! You're praying! Now, repeat. For the rest of your life.
Prayer will help you grow in unimaginable ways. Just start!
When it's time to move forward
The goal of the inquiry stage is to develop the initial stirrings of faith into a clear, if young, desire for the Christian faith and life. You should see that you've begun to develop a spiritual life in prayer, and you understand and accept the very basic fundamentals of Christianity.
Specifically, you should see evidence of:
- A "living faith," meaning a belief in God, knowledge of his call to you, and the desire to respond to him with love.
- A desire to change your life. You should want God to be the center of your life, and desire to do his will.
- A desire to enter into a relationship with God "in Christ", meaning that you see union with Christ as the way to union with God.
- A growing awareness of sin, and the stirrings of repentance.
- The beginnings of a prayer life.
- An initial understanding of the Church as the vehicle of Christ's saving work on earth, and a desire for membership in it.
- An awakening understanding of the spirit of the Christian life. You should have some contact with members of the Church (either priests or laity), and be learning from their example.
More simply: you've begun to fall in love with Jesus. You should have a hunger for his presence, you should actively seek him, and you should start to see that answering his call will mean some changes in your life.
Now you'll want to know more about the Beloved. Move on to the next stage: the catechumenate.
Click here to go back to the main article on Starting in the Faith: Catholic RCIA Stages.