It gave me time to think as I waited to hear back from Fr. Ron. Jason had pointed out to me the camaraderie of sharing RCIA with other class members. But realistically, their parish was too far from my home, and any friendships I might develop would be short-lived when I eventually returned to and settled into regular life in my home parish.
To be fair, I had never fully pursued my quest for baptism with my home parish priest. I had accepted a quick answer from the church secretary over the telephone. Maybe, in fact, they would actually consider my request. It wouldn’t hurt to ask. Deacon Dave, in charge of RCIA for the coming year at my home parish, made room for me on his schedule in short order.
A few nights later, walking to the church door for our appointment, a slight breeze carried dried pink bougainvillea flowers under my feet. Looking to the sky, I noted a dusty pink hue low on the southern horizon. Across the parking lot a miniature twister of dust played over the ground under a mesquite tree. I pulled open the door and left the breeze and dust behind me.
Deacon Dave was expecting me. Relaxed and cheerful, he guided me to his small office. I sat in a chair facing his desk and waited from him to get situated. He invited me to share the purpose of my visit, and as I began, he grabbed a yellow pad and pen.
Not knowing how involved to get into my story, I started with two minutes about my attendance at mass over the past year and half. I had even attended mass at the school where the new parish church was forming and saw Deacon serving with the priest. He smiled. Then he asked about my husband.
I gave a two-minute explanation of my husband’s family background and its impact on prejudicing him against Catholicism. He asked how long we had been married and wrote a note on the yellow page. Our conversation proceeded in this pattern for the next ten minutes. I spoke for a minute or two…Deacon asked a question…and wrote a note.
He seemed to be satisfied that he knew the key points for us to cover. Firstly, he asked me if I was certain I had never been baptized. “We absolutely cannot baptize a person twice. But we have a way of handling this. We would baptize you conditionally.” And Deacon Dave showed me exactly how that looked…and sounded. “I baptize you,” and then he lowered his head and voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “conditionally,” raising his head and finishing with an audible, “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You would be the only one to know.”
Second, he wanted to know more about my husband’s history. Was he baptized? “Yes,” I answered. “His parents baptized him as a baby. Where? In the Catholic Church. But he’s never practiced the Catholic faith. He’s not Catholic. His dad was a very adamant atheist, and they never attended church. Vic doesn’t have any interest in ever joining the Catholic Church.” During the minute to explain this, Deacon Dave extended his short list of notes on the yellow tablet.
“You will have to be married in the church…yes…the Catholic Church. Your husband is Catholic. Are you sleeping together? If you were younger…I tell young couples…you’re living in sin. I tell them they need to sleep separately until their marriage is legitimized.”
I was clearly taking the Deacon into unexpected and unfamiliar territory. Vic and I had been happily married to each other for forty years. Even a law-abiding deacon recognized the awkward insanity of telling us we needed to use separate bedrooms.
“We can handle this situation,” he explained, “in a couple of ways. You can get married in the Catholic Church.” I was already shaking my head. “You can have a very small, private renewal of your vows.”
“I can’t speak for him, but I seriously doubt that he…” I began.
“Well we do have another option where you alone…without your husband…”
“I could never do anything without telling my husband.”
“Oh, no…certainly….” And whatever that option was, it was abandoned with no further explanation.
“No. We can’t baptize you with your irregular marriage. You’re really living in sin.”
I pressed forward, one more time, “Is there any way for me to proceed prior to the RCIA class and next Easter?” He shook his head. My face must have registered every emotion raging inside of me. A minute passed. I could think of lots of things to say. I couldn’t think of anything worth saying.
He leaned forward and laughed. “I’ve dealt with grown men who wanted to punch me out.” And he laughed again.
I opened my mouth to speak. And I thought better of it. Another minute passed as I contemplated how to conclude our time together. He waited for me, exuding that clear confidence that he could face anything I threw at him…yelling, screaming, complaining…and even punching.
I couldn’t remove myself from his office fast enough. “I have no desire to denigrate your process. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me.”
Outside, I let my emotions have their way. My stomach was in knots…as if Deacon Dave had punched me. Hot tears formed, and I walked slowly to the car.
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