Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Journey as a Catholic So Far, Pt. 4: RCIA and Arrogance

My first classes in the Veritas introductory courses to Catholicism were quite amazing - here I was, finally doing it, finally embarking on the journey (a journey I had begun long before, technically); I could finally dip my toe in the water, so to speak.

In my class were all manner of potential catechumens from all walks of life - lapsed Catholics Anglicans, Protestants, non-Christians, ad nauseum.  The priest who conducted the proceedings was the same one I had first spoken with; a charismatic convert from Anglicanism, one of those rare specimens of married Roman priests, he began his first talk in the sanctuary by referencing one of my favorite beers' slogans.  On the bottle of Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale, he spoke of how it had "veritas" on the sticker, and explained the meaning of the word as "truth".  This may all sound trite now, but for me, it was a neat little transition into the huge topics we would be confronting.

The standard convert questions arose - "Why do Catholics pray to saints/Mary?", "Purgatory?", and the like.  But despite the fact that I had gone ahead and begun reading past the basics, it was a good experience, full of dinners and snacks throughout.  We were all invited to become catechumens at the end of the course, and move on from the simple stage of inquiry.  Many of those classmates that I knew dropped out - one Anglican girl thought it all a bit much and was not able to get past the issue of praying to saints, some simply drifted away again, some stayed and entered RCIA.  I was one of them.  After meeting with the chief parish priest at the cathedral who later became my guide and confessor, filling out some paperwork, and getting through my "interview" with a nervous reply of "I want to come home now," I began the RCIA experience.

Now, I have no idea what RCIA is like for anybody else out there, but for me, it was an intense struggle.  For a period, I began to succumb to a fearsome intellectual pride that was subtle enough in its beginnings to slip past all the romantic exuberance I had about learning about the faith.  Instead of wide-eyed wonder at the faith and all its history, I fell into intellectualizing and information-gathering. 

Suddenly, in my arrogance, I fell into a kind of boredom and wandering state of mind.  I was surprised that no one seemed to want to go "deeper" when it came to learning about the Catholic faith.  I assumed that all the others in the class were reading St. John of the Cross and St. Thomas Aquinas too.  I say this not to boast, but to expose the horrible arrogance that had begun to dig itself into my soul.  Here, I wish to expose it once and for all.

Annoyed at the elementary nature of learning the Catholic ABC's (which, after all, is what RCIA is all about), I would skip out of the coffee break where everyone would mingle with each other, and instead slip away to the parish library to scan over the Summa Theologica, or read the mystical accounts of St. Catherine of Genoa. 

In doing all of this, in slipping away into a world where philosophy and knowledge saved, I went further and further off the path.  True, I learned a lot - but I had forgotten about the heart of Christianity.  I also forgot about the importance of the communal nature of the Church - as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware puts it, "The Christian is the one who has brothers and sisters.  He belongs to a family - the family of the Church."1

1 - The Orthodox Way, ch. 6


  1. You are lucky then, because there IS no community to speak of at the parish I live in. Aside from the typical once-a-year bingo fundraiser, or the occassional pot lucks (there has been perhaps 3 in the year I've been a member of the church.)

    Pretty much all I see around me here is a dying church. And those who are supposed to be its leaders more concerned about following the outward forms of piety than actually embracing and welcoming those who are new, hurting, lonely, etc. Lots of 'talk is cheap' going on. Not much outreach.

    1. Anon.,
      That's a sad thing - and not a story I have often heard. There have been many times in my past where I have gone to a church that is super welcoming in the beginning, only to fade very quickly once one is "in".


    2. I was, (perhaps fortunately, definitely sadly), the only person in my RCIA class. We used some stock pre-printed rcia materials, which were formatted in a juvenile presentation. But, I did glean a couple of priceless nuggets from them (particularly, that the Catholic church has no inherent conflict with science. Too large a subject to even summarize here, so I only mention it in passing.)

      I try to not even look at other peoples faults (or maybe these are just my expectations) because if I do, they will wreck whatever thin strands of faith I have by their bad examples. Or maybe I need to look much harder to see the mustard seed of good in people. Still working this out. I'm not finding a lot in the way of mentors, anyway.

      We had several encounters with churches and individuals who are super-welcoming then turn the other way when you're not falling in line with their expectations. Sorry folks, I'm not faking it for anyone. Take me as I am and, as my favorite drummer/lyricist says, 'leave room for us to grow' :)

  2. Thank you for your humble confession of our common human condition.

  3. RCIA was... horrific. "The church doesn't do confirmation names any more" and, from the priest giving theological direction, "I'm not convinced that, barring deliberate homicide, there is an such thing as mortal sin," were typical remarks.

    1. It seems that everyone else's rcia experiences were far worse than mine!

  4. I would like to say that you should be glad at you sneaking away. You learned more about the Catholic faith from your personal desire to seek knowledge of God than would have ever learned in the RCIA classes. It was developed on a childs level of thinking and has completely been dumbed down. Thing of some of the greatest saints around and how they became that way; constantly seeking the knowledge of God. Most of whom did so by doing exactly what you did, going off by themselves and reading and contemplating God and His sacrificial act: dying on the cross for us. Don't worry about socializing with others now, cause later in life you will socialize with some of the greatest saints our Lord had.

  5. Understand your experience with RCIA, much like mine, but at least the volunteer leaders were. Putting heart & soul into it. Since then I have been blessed to participate in some sessions with wonderful adult format presented by passionate, informed people willing to discuss the hard issues that come up in the conversion process. I found the best meetings were the ones where everyone put their all into it on both sides of the table. Here's to all those who keep trying to make it a successful journey that keeps going & doesn't end at Easter Vigil on either side. It takes effort on everyone's side. But isn't that true of everything in life? To the inquiring, don't give up, to the leaders, don't get discouraged, to the parishioners - reach out.