Tag Archives: Catholics

Deacon Dave – RCIA v.3

Desert Sunset 5

Saguaro CactusAfter sending off my e-mail to Fr. Ron, a deep quiet descended.  More than quiet…a settling of the air around me, a deep atmospheric calm.

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.

Desert Sunset 4A 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.  Notepad

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.

ChecklistHe 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 Baptism Infantpracticed 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.

Baptismal Font“What about being baptized?” I asked.  “I am willing to study, to read, to attend RCIA.  But I want to be baptized.  I don’t want to spend the next eight months without being baptized.”

“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.”

We walked to the lobby door, and for the sake of ending civilly, I shook his hand and said thank you.Praying Madonna Child

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.




Copyright, 2014.  All Rights Reserved.



  22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? [Luke 12:22-26]

The One who I soughtCrucifix 4 was the One who gave comfort.  I would not worry.

I could not control the content or duration of the RCIA class last year.  Nor could I control who in the Catholic world cared or didn’t care about my “insights.”  The Church as the Body of Christ is built of imperfect people, I being chief among them.  Time was on my side.  My husband and I would eventually come to peace on this change in our lives; the years would see to that.

Transmission ShiftI had made it this far moving toward the Catholic Church.  I could make it to the end.  Calmly, in control, I navigated the days ahead of me, laying my years in the hands of God.

Years…what did that mean for baptism?  Could I wait years to finally be baptized?

Driving down life’s highway, my hand on the gearshift, I felt an odd movement under my feet…a mysterious car feeling…new and unexpected.  It passed.  And I returned to my thoughts.

Baptism?  Never being able to cite chapter and verse, I knew full well the significance of baptism in the life of a Christian.  Repent and get baptized.  Even Jesus, the Source of Faith, consented…no, he didn’t simply consent…he sought out and determined that He would be baptized.  And He was.

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. [Mat 3:16]

In all the many years when I thought I had been baptized, I knew my fellowship with Christ was secure.   But what about today?  Sure…I won’t be condemned.  But then what?

The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who doeHighways not believe will be condemned.  [Mk  16:16]

On life’s highway, the movement under the floorboard  under my feet in the car returned…with a sound.  It was not a good sound.  Looking ahead to next year, I decided to ignore it…the sound.

RCIA?  I could wait.  Catholic Church?  I would wait.  Eucharist?  I would have to wait.  But baptism?

My thoughts were jolted.  Another huge bad car noise.  Not again!  We had serviced the car before Easter…and here I was on a long journey…hearing strange sounds and feeling strange movements under the floorboard under Telephonemy feet in the car.

Grabbing my cell phone, I called our mechanic.  “The car.  It’s making these new awful sounds under my feet.  The car jerks.  I’m going fast, and then the car slows down.  I put the car into drive, but it doesn’t want to go into drive.  It’s like it’s trying to make up its mind.”

“Slippage,” he said.  “The gears in the transmission are slipping.”  When you get home, bring the car in.

Two days later, a lesson from my mechanic on transmissions, and twenty minutes on Google, I Transmission Sealedlearned a lot about the speed of a car.  It can go fast.  And it can go slow.  Changes in speed are handled in the transmission with its gears and fluids and solenoids.

A car can change speeds, but there’s a lot involved in making it happen.  Kind of like people when we change speeds.  Especially like me.

I had programmed my spiritual future for years.  But baptism required a speed adjustment.  Baptismal FontJust like my car…I was having problems of my own…slippage in the transmission.

Baptism?  Was yesterday soon enough?  Yesterday?  Tomorrow?  My transmission was grinding.

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized…[John 3:22-24]

That night, my head on the pillow, I kept thinking about the day in the future when I would eventually be baptized.  I did not worry.  But I could not rest.




Copyright, 2014.  All Rights Reserved.


When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices,
    and put your trust in the Lord[Psalm 4:4-5]

Ten was never far enough for me.  My impulse to anger being what it is.

So I counted to twenty…and twenty times I counted…until perspective set in, and clarity Twentyarrived.

Firstly, I wasn’t prepared to enter the Catholic Church, even if I had chosen to stay in the RCIA class.  Given that reality, it certainly was inappropriate for me to meddle in the structure of the program, disrupting the class for those in attendance.  Next year, after Easter, would be soon enough to approach the priest.

Secondly, the Church had her protocol.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.Vatican City Drawing  And now that it had been built, Rome wouldn’t be changed in two days.

Thirdly, a few good things came out of attending the first class.  I could be thankful.  And I could pray for the leaders and catechumens.

Fourthly, I could take time to get my house in order.  I could get my baptism information and be ready for next year.

Time passed, and with emotions finally under control, I picked up the phone, calling the Presbyterian church of my youth.  A woman answered, and I set about asking her how to get Church Countrya certificate of my baptism.  She took my information and promised to look into it.

A few days later, she called back.  She took pains to confirm with me the details of my family, my relatives and the years of our attendance.  Yes, she had found the membership and baptism records for my aunt and uncle and their five sons.  Apologetically, she said she had no information on my family or myself.  None.  Thus, there was no record of my baptism and no chance of a certificate.

It took a few minutes for this to sink in.  I did my best to ask her multiple times, “Are you File Drawersure?”  She was, indeed, having gone over records for more than twenty years.  “Thank you,” I said and put the phone back in the charger.

I sat in silence.  Puzzled.  Either the church forgot to record my baptism…or I had never been baptized.  How could I have been so certain I had been baptized?

Then slowly, a new realization began to develop.  I had never been certain of my baptism.  I had taken it for granted that I had been baptized because I had attended the church for a few Baptismal Fontyears and had attended their confirmation classes for students.

What did I really remember?  Candlelight midnight Christmas services.  Sitting in confirmation class, second row back.  Sitting in the forest under a pine tree on a high school church retreat.  Driving to teen group events in the family Olds.

But I had not one iota of a memory about baptism.  I remembered clearly being “not baptized,” explaining our family Presbyterian/Baptist beliefs to my junior high friends.  “My parents want me to be baptized when I know what it means, and I can make the decision for myself.”  If we had gone the way of the Baptist church in Tennessee, I certainly would have remembered being plunged into the water.

But we were Scottish Presbyterians.  I remembered parents holding their babies over the font for a few sprinkles.  But adults?  I could not picture any adult ever going to the front of the church to be sprinkled.  Never.  Not any adult…including myself.

Had the memory grown dim?  My participation in the teen youth group was short-lived.  Eventually, our whole family quit attending church.  A few years later, arriving on the college campus, I dispensed with faith altogether…for twenty years…God was unprovable, unbelievable and irrelevant.  I had no desire or reason to remember any aspect of my former church life.

Reflecting on the faith of my parents, it started to make sense.  My mother took my sister and me to church as an effort to expose us to church, a duty to educate us about what Jesus Sheep 3other people believed.  On Sundays, my Dad stayed home.  Several years of church and Christmas services had assured my Mom that she had done her duty, and we settled back into our loving secular home, respectful of believers and visiting church on occasion.  But there had never been a pressing desire for my parents to seal us as children of God, followers of Christ.

I had no memory at all, ever, of being baptized.  And it all made sense.  Encountering God and Christ as an adult, I had simply plugged that mental hole with the assumption that I had been sprinkled many, many years ago.

First the realization dawned.

Jesus Sheep 1Then…the realization sank in.

Thoughts of RCIA faded, receded and disappeared.

Only one thing mattered.

I believed.  I loved Jesus.  He loves me.

I didn’t just want to be baptized.  I thirsted for baptism.  The longing for baptism took over every cell in my body.

 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?  [Psa 42:1-2]




Copyright, 2014.  All Rights Reserved.


Dinner Table

My poor Dad.

I sat down for dinner, and he turned to me.  “My last column in the magazine…you got me into so much trouble.”  I looked at him quizzically.  “You know that joke you told me.”  No, I didn’t.  “You remember,” he said, attempting to jog my memory.

Those who can…do.
Those who can’t…teach.
Those who can’t teach…teach teachers.

“Oh, Daddy.  You can’t print that joke!”  I cried out.  “I’m a teacher.  I get it.  But you can’t expect other teachers to laugh.”  And I broke out in laughter.Teacher

Teachers are a tough crowd.

At a meeting long ago, I waited for the teacher up front to get rolling.  He was digging for pencils and trying to find his notes.  The person next to me, rolled into her rant.  “I can’t believe he didn’t come with pencils…sharpened pencils!  What a waste of time…blah, blah, blah.”  I asked, but I didn’t have to.  Yes, she was a classroom teacher.

Teaching teachers is not for sissies.  For more than ten years, I flew around the country teaching other teachers the principals of elementary math instruction.  Teaching teachers…it kept me humble…or as humble as I am capable of being.

Thus…with all the humility I can possibly muster…It’s NOT that hard!  Teaching RCIA is not that hard.  Really!



The BASICS are basic:

  • Welcome everyone.  Remember to tell them how freakin’ excited you are that they are here tonight.
  • Pray.  Start the evening in prayer, showing how important Jesus is in the class and in your Jesus Sheep 2individual lives.
  • Get their names.  Of course, this means that you are so freakin’ excited that they are here that you are going to get in touch with them over the next week to get to know who they are, where they are, and what they care about.  Learn their names!
  • Ask them.  Why are they here?  Are they freakin’ excited about Jesus or are they just trying to make their spouse happy by joining the church?  Either answer is great!  It just helps to know.
  • Tell them upfront what the seven sacraments are and that next week you will help them fill out the enrollment form…because…now…
  • The most important thing for the first class is to share questions about Jesus and the Catholic Church that they hope to answer in the weeks (not years) ahead.

After that…it’s still not that hard.  For one thing…you have a fully outlined curriculum, the CCCCatechism of the Catholic Church.  And, after the first week, you will know the individuals in your class.  Just pick the 10 essential topics of the Catechism, refer to student/participant questions and go from there.

It was absolutely inconceivable to me, after trying for months, reaching out to RCIA authorities in order to find the fountain of inspiration for RCIA, to learn that there was no fountain.  In the most important job of the Church, evangelizing new believers, lambs of the flock of Christ…the manner of reaching and shepherding these lambs home was left up to chance.  A compass with no needle.  A sign with no arrow.

Most disconcerting was the fact that the Catholic Church, as evidenced by its Catechism of the Catholic Church leaves very little up to chance concerning the Catholic faith.  It’s all spelled out.  Every scintilla.  Except when it comes to RCIA.

In the case of RCIA, it’s all up for grabs.  Whoever shows up to teach the class, given their best effort, is left to pick and choose the goals and materials.  It’s not that they are doomed to failure.  It’s just that they are not guaranteed success, either.

Again, needing humility, I beg to put forward my own life experience in teaching as a vision of what is possible for RCIA.

For more than ten years, during summer breaks, I traveled around the United States to teach Globe USAclasses on mathematics.  I was one of a cadre of over one hundred teachers from all parts of the U.S….all of us leaving our home states during the summer on a mission to change math instruction.  Our parent instructor (our “Vatican pope” of math) resided in California.  The math “Vatican” gave all instructors a set of lesson plans in a three-ring binder which included a list of materials required for the lessons.

We instructors learned from each other.  In our first years, we traveled to observe and work with experienced leaders from California.  In succeeding years, we broke off to teach in teams.  And finally, secure in our abilities, we went solo.  Every year, all the instructors came together at a national meeting where we discussed our individual challenges and confirmed the essentials of and improvements to the workshop.

For better or for worse, a workshop in Oregon could be expected to mirror another in Florida, each  taught by two different people.  If an instructor in Virginia had devised a more effective way of demonstrating a lesson on fractions, you could know with certainty that in less than a year this would be shared to all of our instructors across the U.S.

We were all on the same track, bound by our shared mission, but we were not mindless robots.  Quite the converse.  We devised a way of building and maintaining an effective curriculum across fifty states that was fluid, yet held in place by a core curriculum and the very real experiences of workshop leaders and our students.

To think that the Pope or his representative from the Vatican, would Dollar Signbe unable to nix charging RCIA participants $60 just to learn about Christ and the Church…well…to think that…was unthinkable.

Of course…I am a teacher…a tough nut to crack.

Still…if a little ol’ California company founded in a basement can lead a national revolution in math Vatican Frontinstruction, it boggles the mind to think of what the Vatican could do in the wisdom of its leadership and those who love and serve the Church around the world.

Teachers teaching teachers…challenging, yes…but not impossible.





Copyright, 2014.  All Rights Reserved.


Praying Hands Color




Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I have never been shy to speak my mind.  This “talent” however, requires great humility…a quality I am still waiting for Jesus to install in me.  (Yes, install!  If He does not put it into me by His own force, I fear I will never live to see it instilled in me.)

I had walked into my first RCIA class with great anticipation.  I left the class gasping for air.

Two months later, the only thing left for me to do was pray.  And pray I did.  I am still praying.

This is not to say that I did not think of extreme measures – buying a ticket to Rome and showing Vatican Frontup at the Vatican, pounding on the door.

But all dramatic impulses set aside, I knew I would only stand at the Vatican door, knock politely and speak with the receptionist in the front foyer (if there is a foyer).  And the Pope would either be out of town or unavailable.  After all, I’m not even one of his flock – a Catholic inside the fold.  And that would leave me several thousand dollars short and standing there at the desk without a ticket to enter, right where I am today…on the outside of the church.

There was only one thing worse than not being able to speak with the Pope.  I had to remember that echos don’t always come back to you.

What if I managed to present my case to the Pope…

What if the Pope listened with complete attention…

What if the Pope was as kind and loving as he always is…

…and what if the Pope told me to go back to the parish and talk with my priest?

Vatican CardinalsWhat if this really is the best that the Catholic Church can do…or that the Catholic Church is willing to do?

What if the full wisdom of the Catholic Church says that it is OK to charge a person $60 to learn about Christ and His Church?  That it takes ten months to be smart enough to follow Christ?

What if the full wisdom of the Catholic Church says that for the right amount of money, for enough charitable acts of mercy, for enough months…or years waiting to enter the Church…a person can learn enough…and prove enough…to merit coming into the fold of the Great Shepherd?

What if there really is a bottom to the well at the Vatican…and…

What if the echo were to come back and knock me to my knees?

Lord, let me catch my breath…

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.






Copyright, 2014.  All Rights Reserved.