Monthly Archives: September 2012

RCIA v. 1

Crucifix 6

August 2012

Fifty paces ahead on the sidewalk, an arrow pointing to my left…in less than a minute I would finally be walking through the door to the RCIA* class and into the Catholic Church.

A mixture of anticipation and apprehension stirred inside me. After years of watching Catholicism play out on EWTN, of wondering if I could really become Catholic and of considering what it would mean for the rest of my life…I was officially on the journey.

Marcus Grodi, on EWTN’s The Journey Home show, each week traced the personal journeys of people just like me who had each walked through the door into the Catholic Church. Never Catechumenmissing an episode, I had identified with each of his guests – their early lives, their prejudices against Catholicism, their faith questions, their loss of family and friends who could not deal with their new faith…and most definitely…with their peace and joy when at long last they walked toward the priest for their first reception of the Eucharist.

Emotionally embracing the Catholic faith, I had finally come to that place of peace…short of the final decision. And here I was walking up the sidewalk, the decision being sealed as I reached for the handle, pulled…and walked into the room.

The moment was transformational, a personal allegory, the first movement of the first petal on a rose opening to the world, a hint of the anticipated joy when I…not someone else on a television show…when I would be walking toward the priest in full communion with the Church.

Ahh…romantic notions don’t always play out so nicely.

I surveyed the large gym being used for our RCIA classroom. It seemed as if a sixth grade class complete with its desks and teacher podium had been carefully lowered through the roof, keeping the rows and aisles clearly defined in the middle of the big open space. I introduced myself to the woman who approached. She smiled, recognizing my name from her list, and handed me an enrollment page and class syllabus. “What sacraments do you want?” she asked.

I was caught up short. Could I really be so unprepared for becoming Catholic? What did she mean? Marriage? I was already married. Communion (I should remember to call it the Eucharist)? Well…doesn’t everyone want that? Anointing of the sick? What the heck does that have to do with entering the church? I did the only thing I could think of to avoid a long discussion at the door. “I don’t know. What sacraments are there?”

RCIA Form“That’s OK,” she said. “We will go over that in class.” I walked toward the desks and chose a seat in the middle of the room.

As people joined the group, we worked to fill out our enrollments. The leader had by this time discerned the need for her to help us out. “There are seven sacraments,” she explained. It took only two minutes for her to list and explain them.

If this was a precursor of things to come, I was in a lot of trouble. The form required the kind of details I have never been good at…and for that reason…details that I have never much cared to deal with. How old am I? Every time…I have to subtract 1951 from the current year. What anniversary are my husband and I celebrating? I have to go to the file cabinet, pull out our marriage certificate and do another subtraction problem. If not careful, we may pass by our golden wedding anniversary without even knowing it.

The enrollment form had it all…questions about things I did know…how Wedding Ringsmany times have I been married? One.  How long have we been married? (Well, fewer than 50 years but more than 30…I think.)

And questions I knew nothing about…date of my confirmation…sponsor of my confirmation…place of baptism…and date….

Calendar 2012 YearWell, this was September. The class ran weekly through next March.  Seven months.  I had time to figure it all out.

Things did not get easier.

The leader went to the podium, pulled out the syllabus and began running down all the requirements for the class. We would have to buy a copy of the Catholic Catechism. Her assistant held up a red book. I was ready to check that off my list. My green copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., published by the Vatican CCCPress was clearly legit…even if it was green instead of red…one of those unnecessary details I wouldn’t let concern me.

As people began asking questions about the book and its cost, the leader addressed the green/red issue. My book was the official Vatican Catechism. The class copy – required – was the revision made by the U.S. Council of Bishops…another $20 book on my shelf.

Bible RC IgnatiusThe assistant held up a copy of the wine colored Ignatius Catholic Bible required for the class. Wine? Check. My Bible matches this time. I just saved myself $20.

But things were adding up fast: $60 cost for the class, $40 for books and $80 for a required Cursillo retreat in November.

Bible OpenThe lady to my left on the other side of the aisle raised her hand. “I’ve got a King James Bible. [KJV]”  The leader was insistent…the KJV version wouldn’t work. “But what’s the difference. I have a Bible.” I waited for the leader to help the lady understand the distinctions between the two versions of the Bible.

“They’re not the same. They are different.” In frustration, a man in the front row turned around and said loudly he would pay for the her Bible. Tension was building in the room.

I wanted to lean over and reassure her of the validity of both her Bible and her question. I sat in the middle of a room clearly divided into two  groups representing the parish. On my left, tattooed men and women were dressed in work jeans and shirts. On my right, people were in button down shirts, dress slacks and dresses. While the man had offered to cover the $20, she still had $160 left to worry about, even if the leader had said people could break it down into payments. And, while he intended his offer out of kindness, for the person publicly identified as “too poor to afford a Bible,” kindness is not much better than condescension.

Maybe my failure to appreciate details was finally catching up with me. Did it mean I might not have what it takes to be Catholic? I just couldn’t figure out why her KJV was illegitimate in its totality. I kept waiting to see Christian charity modeled by the leader, “Sure. You can use your KJV, and we will help you with the other additions from the Catholic Bible. Just check with me after the class.”

Things did not improve. Marching down the syllabus, our leader picked upRCIA Form speed.

“You will need a sponsor.”

“What is that? I don’t know anyone. What do they do?” Looks of concern and confusion clouded faces as questions popped up randomly from around the room.

St. Francis IconDon’t worry about that. We’ll talk about it in another class. If you can’t find one, we will find one. Let’s move on. You will need to choose a saint.”

“What is that?” More clouded faces and popping questions. “How do we do that? I don’t know any saints. How do we know which saint to choose?”

“Don’t worry about that. We’ll talk about it in another class. We will help you. Let’s move on. I’m passing around a page. Make sure you get one. Each week you will need to write down one charitable deed you did for each day and turn this page in to me when you come to class.”

“What…what…what…?” The questions were moving quickly from lack of understanding about how to do the assignments to lack of understanding for why.

“Don’t worry. It’s not that hard. You don’t have to make it difficult…like mowing someone’s yard. It can be as simple as smiling at someone. That is a charitable act…and that is part of being Catholic. I won’t be grading them.”

My mind wandered away from the discussion of charitable deeds in order to deal with more pragmatic and personal questions.

This was the beginning of weekly classes from September through to March 31, Easter. Calendar 2013 MarWhile I now knew which of the seven sacraments I needed, that had become secondary to the question of whether or not it made sense to complete the class. After all, my husband was not at peace with the whole Catholic/Protestant division. Considering our marriage as a vocation, and validated by a woman on The Journey Home who had lived my situation, I knew I would not formally join the church until my husband reached personal peace about the change. He didn’t have to become Catholic himself, but it was important that he be at peace with my decision. There was no sign that this would come by Easter. Maybe RCIA could wait for another year…and another class.

I mentally re-entered the world. Time for the class being short, the leader took the last few minutes to go around the room, all of the students and leaders giving a brief statement of who we were and why we were in the class…did we want to become Catholic and why?

A prayer was offered. Cookies were on the back table.

I walked back to the leader and thanked her for the class, explaining that, now knowing what the RCIA process was like, it might be more appropriate for me to wait and take the class when I knew for certain that I would be able to enter the church at the end.

As I walked through the door, back into my former world, my mind was churning, Crucifix 6my heart was pumping, and my eyes were burning. “Wow.”  And I exhaled as slowly as possible.


*RCIA: Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults, the educational class, teaching the basic doctrines of Christianity and the Catholic Church, preparing adults (catechumens) to enter the Roman Catholic Church. In current practice, the class meets weekly beginning in the fall and culminates 7 to 8 months later at Easter Vigil Mass of the following spring with entrance for the catechumens into the Church.





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Cross FiligreeSo he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.    Luke 15:3-7 [RSVCE]



As a Lutheran, I have great reason to give pause in writing.

Martin Luther set out to change Catholic practices, and he put into motion the great St. Peters Basilica 1revolution that set Christians, including me, outside the Catholic Church.

I do not want a revolution…just a small change. I do not say this lightly. As a Lutheran who is on the path to becoming Catholic, can anything good come from setting out to change even the smallest part of the Catholic Church?

St. Peters Basilica 2First of all, I need to say that change was the furthest thing from my mind. I intended to attend RCIA. I was looking forward to it. I still do.

I knew I had a lot to learn about a Church with a 2,000 year history. I still do.

Years of following the news and commentary on the New Evangelization led me to believe the Catholic Church was ready to take even a poor sinner like me, Lord have mercy. They do…but it’s just not that easy.

…the New Evangelization…in recent years it’s become the buzzword par excellence in Catholic circles. Books are being published, lectures given, conferences organized, diocesan offices created, and whole courses of study put together, all devoted to the ways and means of the New Evangelization.

This is where the challenge begins. It is hard to create a case for change without being criticalJesus Sheep 3. It is especially difficult to nail the grievances onto the door of an Internet public forum. I have no desire to follow Luther’s path. But the stakes in this discussion are high. Even one lost sheep left in the wilderness should cause us to shudder.

In a nutshell, the “New Evangelization” is about salesmanship. The idea is to move the Catholic product in the crowded lifestyle marketplace of the post-modern world.

When cardinals say the next pope has to be committed to the New Evangelization, therefore, what they mean is that he should be a pitchman, someone who can attract people to the faith.

Just as in other markets, there are different ways of doing that – some salespeople are brash and in-your-face, some much kinder and gentler. Some work the street, others work the high-end markets. The key, however, is to be always be closing.

The odd thing about “selling” Catholicism is that just when a buyer turns up, the Church tells them that their money is no good. I am speaking from personal experience. I showed up at the door, and they told me to put my wallet away.

Jesus Sheep 1Now…this is not what you think. I am not trying to retaliate. I have no desire to hurt anyone. And, yes, I have tried to address my concerns in a personal and private setting…many times. To no avail.

And while this is about me…it is about way more than that. The New Evangelization is more than a sales campaign for the Church. It is about more than wooing ex-Catholics home again. It is about laying the lost sheep on her shoulders; it is about rejoicing.

Whether the New Evangelization will work remains to be seen, but at least it seems to have the church’s finger on a real problem.

In the United States, there are now 22 million ex-Catholics, big enough to be the largest religious denomination in the country. The church drops four members for every one member it gains, and if it were not for Hispanic immigration, it would have been declining for decades. Yet the Catholic church in America also holds on to almost 70 percent of its members into adulthood, a higher retention rate than any other Christian denomination.

Those statistics suggest the problem for Catholicism isn’t so much what happens once people are actually in the church, but getting them through the door in the first place. To return to the marketing metaphors, the problem isn’t customer service but new sales.

I was a “new sale” ready to check out. And, just as I reached the clerk at the register, she turned out the light at her station, locked the cash drawer and put a sign on the counter: This Lane Closed.Jesus Sheep 2

This is not what you might think…the story of a wounded sheep with a bruised ego. Certainly, if I am honest, some part of my ego is involved. But some kind of ego is necessary to stand before the Church and suggest that she is traveling down the wrong path.

What is one to do? If I love the Church, and if I care about the lost sheep, there seems to be no other course to take.


 What’s this ‘new evangelization’ thing, anyway?  John L. Allen Jr.  Mar. 7, 2013


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