April 8, 2020

The Long and Winding Road

Humor alert. I said HUMOR ALERT. Yes…YOU…that means YOU. It’s HUMOR.

OK. For those of you that don’t know or don’t remember, my wife is entering the Roman Catholic Church. It’s been rough and I don’t really have anything to say about that. Communication on the relevant subjects hasn’t been easy, and laughter- formerly a big part of our marriage- has been rare.

Well, we finally had a big mutual laugh about the situation. A good one.

First, a bit of background. Denise is in the RCIA process. Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. This is a special course of study that covers all things necessary to a basic understanding of the Catholic faith and preparation for first communion. There are various stages, and it appears that if you do the whole thing on schedule it could take about a year.

It can see why most of the courses are taught by professional clergy. In Protestantism, most of our lay teachers quit after 8-12 weeks. This needs some major skills in long term perseverance. I think you might be able to teach this course 2-3 times in a lifetime.

As I understand it, however, the time of actual reception into the church is a matter for the local priest to decide, and those coming in with strong and well catechized Christian backgrounds often are able to get through RCIA and into full communion in a matter of months. Or at least that’s what the coupon said.

My wife is well catechized, to say the least. She’s actually read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and looked up all the scripture references. She’s now doing that for a second time. (She has surpassed a lot of bishops with that one.) She knows her stuff. Back when she was a Presbyterian, she taught the Westminister Shorter Catechism to our kids, and she’s a very capable Bible teacher. She’s been up to her ears in Catholic books since she started this journey. She takes voluminous notes and constantly is asking questions (just not to me. I know the answers 🙂 She prays the hours every day and she’s completely motivated to be a well-catechized catholic.

Really, she should be able to cover the RCIA material at maximum speed if she can get in a class that’s on track.

But….she’s at a very, very small mission in her parish, and the pastoral associate, a nun, has been on the last months of her time here and is leaving next month, as is the parish priest. There’s RCIA at the largest church in the parish, but Denise suspects she’ll basically be starting over with a new instructor and a new priest.

So who knows. Next Easter? Next decade? Next Pope? Next cycle of expansion and collapse of the universe?

Now this is in contrast to our background as Southern Baptists. Even though we were Founder’s ministries types who didn’t go in for the public invitation and understood what Spurgeon’s catechism was for, we still were familiar with the way our churches handle receiving new members. We’ve seen it a few hundred times.

Which is the following:

a. Preacher preaches.
b. Person walks aisle.
c. Person tells preacher they want to join the church.
d. Conversation of less than 3 minutes ensues, covering all the important stuff.
e. Person is voted in on the spot as a full member of the church.
f. Everyone shakes the new convert’s hand.
g. Church treasurer gives new convert tithing envelopes.
h. New convert is asked to teach Sunday School or, if male, to be a deacon.
i. New Convert is baptized
j. New convert goes to revival, walks aisle and is baptized again.
k Go to “e” and repeat. Or become a minister.

This is the process if you are four or one hundred and four, as long as you were ambulatory and could say something about Jesus. (This explains a lot about Southern Baptists by the way.)

So Denise has gone from a church where she could have joined another congregation in about 5 minutes to a church where, even though she’s probably the convert of the century in this parish, she has no prospects for actually being received as a member anytime in the next year or while English is still the official language of the United States.

My favorite part of this is that she’s already been asked to be the church pianist, and though she wants with all her heart to be a member, no one’s in a hurry. And she’s picked up some offering envelopes. Some things never change.

The other night she finally admitted some frustration at the likely extended length of the process. (Hey Alan….sound familiar 🙂 But she’s got a great attitude and understands things will go as they go. But it got us a great laugh together for once. I mean, it is funny if you think about it.

There’s lots of talk about evangelism in every church, but with this system, I’m pretty sure the ratio of people interested to people who make it to first communion is fairly wide. If this were a Southern Baptist church, it would be like saying that before you become a member you have to teach Sunday school for a year, be the director of Vacation Bible School and do ten Beth Moore courses.

I mean, if you want your church to grow, I’m not for shaking water off the trees on anyone who walks in the door and proclaiming them a Christian, but a detour into a seemingly never ending process is just about guaranteed to discourage anyone living a typical busy family life from coming on board. If you’re going to do this….just do it for crying out loud.

By the time my wife becomes a full member of her church….

Protestants and Catholics may have worked this whole thing out.

I may have expired and not be around to cry at her first communion.

Our grandchildren may be asking why grandma never comes to church with the rest of us.

The anticipated shock to the older members of our families will be a moot point.

I may be so old that I’m sitting on the porch drooling, and explaining to our ministry’s leadership why the campus minister’s wife is a Catholic will be unnecessary.

Denise may be able to tell me why she did this and in my senile condition, I actually may be able to understand it.

I may be so medicated I actually like the idea.

Or a comet may have hit the earth.

Vatican 3.0 may have revamped Vatican II and she’ll have to start over completely.

Anyway…we got a good laugh out of it. Which was a mercy.

[Now please please please don’t write me a bunch of serious comments. I won’t post them anyway.]

Comments

  1. I’m out of any church that requires Beth Moore courses. Bring on the root canals instead! (Yes, I remember that this is humor and good humor, too).

  2. Got the humor and you raise serious questions that people who actually think about evangelization in the RC Church do think about. (TEmptation to do a brief history of RCIA w/complexities and how the thing is misuses…resist…resist…well, in short, RCIA is really intended for UNBAPTIZED CATECHUMENS not already baptized Christians. Okay.)

    Anyway, I don’t know why should would have to start over. I mean, she hasn’t really started yet, has she in terms of the rites – she hasn’t gone through Rite of Election, the Scrutinies and so on. I presume they do all of that, even in a small mission parish. Or maybe not.

    My point is that if the parish is trying to follow the normal course that RCIA takes in most parishes start informally in the fall, kicks into high formal gear with a rite in December usually, then culminating at Easter. So if she hasn’t started that stage, she wouldn’t have to “start over.”

    The other possibility is that the new pastor understands that RCIA is for catechumens and that candidates (the already baptized and well-catechized) can be handled a different way, talks to Denise for a couple of months with individual instruction/counseling, and then receives her into the Church by Christmas..

    Ya never know….

  3. I know very little; but studied and observed Catholicism through EWTN and books, etc. for about 3 years before beginning RCIA. Could not make it through the “stuff” and also quit going to the church, because if I am only going to receive “spiritually”, will remain with TV..So I am a Catholic school drop-out and I wish you and your wife well. Wish I had the fortitude!
    Peace be with you.

  4. If you want to join a typical Protestant church, say a prayer, and you’re there. If you want to find someone to disciple you, though, good luck!

  5. Dear Michael,
    I can appreciate the humor in this post. I love it! Your courageous wife will have a very well rounded appreciation of your ministry in the years ahead in my opinion.

    My Catholic conversion and family reaction, as a light read — at your request (I reserve my deeper perspective for another post maybe)

    I went through the RCIA process 7 years ago as a former PK from a nondenominational background. At first I read through the catechism. Whew! what a hard read that was. So naturally I had to go through the class so I could ask “Catholic teachers” what this book was saying….. I had lots of questions and was rewarded with thoughtful, meaningful responses.

    Family reaction — Funny, my Dad was fine with it for the most part — what surprised me is that my mother and younger siblings were the ones shaking their heads in disbelief. Growing up I was taught all of the apologetics differences (from the protestant point of view of course). So naturally my curious mind wandered over to the other side….. right?

    My confirmation process only lasted 3 months. Since I was already baptized. I liked that 🙂 Still on the journey….

  6. “…the Scrutinies…”

    I have no idea what this is but my overactive imagination has conjured up a picture of intense interrogation, during which every minute detail of Denise’s life comes under exacting scrutiny. And then, since it’s “the Scrutinies” — plural — I’m imagining that the whole ordeal will be duplicated numerous times, by various and sundry nuns, monks, priests, bishops, etc.

    “Next cycle of expansion and collapse of the universe?”

    The Scrutinies might be over by then. But, the longer they last, the more there is to scrutinize. Sigh…

  7. Keri: 3 months! There’s hope.

  8. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Michael the Poet, that’s if you WANT to find someone to disciple you. It’s almost a given that someone who decides you should be discipled will try discipling you on something where you DON’T want their input into your life. Unmarried people get this from time to time. 🙂 As do smokers, drinkers, and Democracts though that varies from church to church in Protestantism, of course.

  9. Most talk of evangelism on most RC blogs I’ve come across is of converting people who are already Christians, but not RC. That attitude (that you aren’t really a Christian if you aren’t RC) is one of the many reasons I would never cross the Tiber.

  10. On the bright side, by the time she’s officially One Of Us, it’ll be just in time for the new, revised English translation of the Mass to be up and running in the parishes, so she won’t be tripping over the words and getting confused between the ones she learned and the ones she’s supposed to say now.

    Of course, by the time the new etc. is up and running, the Second Coming may have taken place already 🙂

  11. My family and I had been going to the Catholic Church since September, and I had no intention of joining the Church. By the time Ash Wednesday and Lent came around, I felt the call to join the Church.

    I told the priest that I was willing to go through RCIA, and take as much time as necessary. He said, “No, you can come in this Easter.” So, I met with him once a month for the rest of Lent, and was received in the Church at Easter Vigil. I never went through any formal RCIA.

    [MODERATOR edited.]

  12. My RCIA experience was definately more relational than instructional. Kinda “squishy”. It was a baptisim into Catholic culture, dunkin’ an occational donut while immersed in four-inches of 70’s BAD shag carpeting in our parish’s Rosary Room.

    Ditto to Amy’s comments. Laugh as often as able ;).

    Best,
    Jenny

  13. O dear Lord in heaven. I think I think that’s funny. I’m not sure, a cold, black chill just ran up my back and made my hair stand on end for a second. Brbbbrbrbrbrbrrr!

    Amy was/is right though – RCIA is supposed to be for non-baptized, OK, for heathens only. Or so it was designed. I definitely prefer this way of entry to a prayer and boom, but seriously, when it comes to already committed, knowledgeable Christians, there really does need to be another way altogether.

    I was certainly more frustrated by it than my wife or even my kids, but that’s my make-up I guess. It should have turned me into a raving activist for a new system but I’m too tiiired. And even thought they were not as frustrated as I was, don’t let that mean they weren’t at all – oh, it’s funny alright. I think we were all traumatized. That word should never be used when talking about something like this. OK, that’s as un-serious as I could get, and my name was mentioned in the post, so do I still get under the censorship wire?? huh? Pleeaasse?

  14. well, Michael, you know Catholic parishes are near as rare as hen’s teeth in these Appalachian hills..RCIA has to be quite a pain to keep from getting overrun by all the Baptists. And the length isn’t necessarily the worse part. and it took me two years.

    if you’re a cradle Catholic, they let you slide out real easy but adult converts have to really want “in” and a sense of humor helps

  15. Amy: Rite of Election- I thought we did that in Calvinism?

    Scrutinies? – Sounds like some kind of Board Game.

    peace

    MS

  16. Scrutinies!

    My favorite RCIA rite. I really do find them very moving.

    Won’t bog down the comments box. Here they are, with an explanation.

    Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent.

    For some reason, my husband and I were talking about RCIA this morning, I can’t remember why. He said that in graduate school, when Acts 8 came up, with the Ethipian eunuch asking, “What is to prevent my being baptized?” He and his friends’ response was always, in unison, “RCIA!”

    (Yah, yah, there needs to be deep, ongoing formation, even of the already catechized Christian seeking to become RC, and community involvement in that, etc., but the problem has been the inflexibility of many RCIA purveyors in regard to say, the 63 year old guy who’s been going to Mass with his wife for 40 years and decides he’s finally ready to cross the Tiber. Etc.)

  17. It really is funny, I agree. The system could use reform, but it’s still less of a trial than ancient Christian rites of initiation, which could last years as a matter of form.

  18. OK, nothing about evangelism in this comment. Just thanx! Thanx for giving a good laugh to someone who might just understand the emotions underlying all this with your wife! The tears literally rolled, gave we a laugh about my own story as well.

  19. Think of it as overcompensation for the times when countries were conquered and everyone stood in line for baptism.

  20. LOL, followed by a heart felt sigh.

    Brings back memories, including me coming close to arguing with a priest about eschatology.

    If you want to have some fun over at some Catholic blogs, just throw out some questions about RCIA quality. The resulting melee will both be amusing, and a bit sad. 😉

  21. HA HA HA HA HA! When I joined our church, no one asked to see a certificate of Baptism, a formal confession of faith or anything, just a “this is how we do things here” and a giving envelope. Like, your wife, I was the best convert they’ve had in years. I read selected writings of Martin Luther, the Augsburg Confession, and several books on church history. I was the best Lutheran ever and it turns out I am still the only on in the church, besides the pastors, who is as well-catechized.

  22. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    That attitude (that you aren’t really a Christian if you aren’t RC) is one of the many reasons I would never cross the Tiber. — Kate

    That attitude cuts both ways, Kate (as IMonk could probably attest). There’s Protestants out there who teach you’re not really a Christian if you ARE RC.

    When one of the YahooGroups I’m on gets to the “what church are you from?” icebreaker, I just describe myself as “Romish Papist with Satanic Death Cookies!” and then go off into Lovecraftian babblings.

  23. My Catholic friends believe I am a Christian. I’m not much else, but I am a Christian.

    My Baptist friends are about 80% on voting that Catholics are not really Christians.

  24. I might consider converting, but only if I get one of those big pope hats and a cool bulletproof car. Imagine how jealous my poor baptist brothers would be.

    Peace

  25. Most talk of evangelism on most RC blogs I’ve come across is of converting people who are already Christians, but not RC. – Kate

    Kate, I read a lot of RC blogs, and I think you misinterpret. I think you’d be correct if you change “but not RC” to “especially RC”. (The ones in the pews on Christmas, or even every week, who have no idea what’s going on).

    Kevin