A few years ago a friend of mine who was an atheist, and pretty much unchurched in her background, asked if she could go to Mass with me. Remaining cool, calm and collected on the outside, I answered in my best deadpan (which is pretty good, actually), “Why, sure. If you want to.” And didn’t say another word about it. Carefully didn’t say another word about it. I didn’t want to blow it. And all the while my stomach was turning backflips and my inner voice was screaming, “YES! Awright! Uh huh! That’s what I’m talking about!”
A couple of months later she said, “You know, I was going to go to the park [with a mutual friend and their dogs] this weekend but I think I’d rather go to Mass with you instead.”
I controlled my response this time, too, but I know on the inside I was turning backflips again. But I didn’t want to do anything to ruin this opportunity so I still deadpanned the words, “Ok. I’ll pick you up at 10:30.” And we didn’t say anything else about it.
When Sunday morning arrived, I went to pick her up and she was ready and waiting. Eager, even. I allowed myself to feel, only now at this moment, excited and happy. We were going to do this. It was happening. God is so good.
I gave her the Catechism I’d bought for her. “You may not need it this moment. But you will need it. All these questions you’ve asked me over the last few months—the answers are in here. Most of them.”
She took the book and off we went. I knew how important this first Mass would be and I wanted it to be the first Mass, not the last. I wanted it to be a good experience, a reverent, holy experience. So I did what any sensible person in the Birmingham area would do. I took her to EWTN for Mass at their tiny chapel.
As we pulled into the parking lot, a friar walked by and she positively beamed. “Look! A monk! I’ve never seen a monk before!”
“And you still haven’t. He’s a Franciscan friar. Not a monk.”
But I can still see the look of wonder and discovery on her face. Still gives me great joy every time I remember it. Which is often.
We wandered around the grounds for a while. Then it was time to go in. Her wonder and joy had only grown every moment we were there. But when we entered the chapel, that wonder and joy overflowed. I noticed how effected she was by it all. By the simple beauty of the chapel. By the Gregorian chant led by a couple who blessed us often in those days with their voices and their willingness to lead the music. By the congregation and their responses and reverence and obvious devotion. By the humble priest and the readings and the homily that always cut me to the heart and they cut her to the heart, too.
But most of all what effected her was something she had not expected, had not known to expect: the overwhelming sense of light where she had expected a darkness (too many bad movies). And a sense that she could not have known to expect, nor how to describe or express it: the Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle and on the Altar.
She fought back tears from the beginning of the Mass to the end. And I knew then that she was going to become Catholic. A few months later she made her decision. She wouldn’t even wait for the fall session of the RCIA to begin. Found a class beginning in April at a local parish (as Providence would have it, the only parish that offered RCIA at that time of year) and began reading everything she could get her hands on. Everything. I bought her books but quickly realized that she needed to follow her own path and follow it she did.
And then came the day of the RCIA. I was her sponsor and drove her to class and then we’d go to Mass together. Now when I went through the conversion process (as if it were over and not ongoing until the day I die), the little parish where I was to be received did not follow the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. (Thanks be to God! Some people have had wonderful times with it but I have not.) I attended classes from September leading up to Easter and there were only four of us and the Irish priest who taught us. This was a truly life-changing experience. And we were able to discuss things and ask questions and I was able to gain a deep understanding of Catholicism. I’d already been studying on my own and was able to make the most of my time with Fr. O. I will always treasure those evenings.
But my friend had the RCIA. Or, rather, she had what they tried to pass off as the RCIA. Only they did not follow the Rite, not at all. This was a sign of things to come only I didn’t realize it. Yet. I’ve written about some of it before. See Just an encyclical, Just an encyclical, oh yeah? and The Vatican does not accept Darwinian atheistic evolution. In that last post I mentioned that a class member almost left because of things the leader said at that session. I’d like to share more about that now.
By the second session of the “Not Really the RCIA” people had already established a habit of turning all the way around in their seats and looking at me whenever the leader made a pronouncement. On almost anything. The deacon leader, I’d like to add. I didn’t want it to be that way. And I tried to be as tactful as I could be. I mean, who was I? Do I have a certificate or a degree in theology? Am I a theologian? A catechist? No. But I had to speak up when I heard anyone, especially anyone responsible for handing on the faith, handing on a faith which did not resemble what I know as the faith. I didn’t argue about opinion. Indeed, I only spoke up when he tried to pass off his opinion as if it were the faith. There is no need to ever attempt to hand on your opinion instead of the faith. The faith is real, it exists, it’s been pondered and expounded upon, laid bare for all to see, expressed with eloquence and attention to detail, as a full expression of reason and reasoned reasoning and meditating upon the Word, by a Church founded and taught by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit for 2,000+ years! Why on earth would anyone in his right mind even consider trying to make up his own version and try to pass it off as the real thing? Why try to reinvent the wheel?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. At this particular session, well into the program, the deacon decided once again to pretend the Catechism did not exist and got things off to a rousing start by telling the class about some archaeological or anthropological find, I don’t even remember what it was now. And that would have been fine. But then he went further and started talking about what it meant and quickly exceeded his understanding of what it meant and I don’t think he ever did have any understanding of what the Church taught on the subject. And I say that because…the Church does not teach anything on the subject at all!
He told the class that the Church teaches evolution. But he never clarified what he meant or what the Church really teaches. He led the whole class to believe that the Church and Darwin are in agreement and he tossed out 2,000 years of Christianity and God the Creator of the universe when he did so.
Guess how many people turned to look at me as soon as the words came out of his mouth. Go on. Take a wild guess. Well, I don’t remember how many people turned to look at me but suffice it to say, ALL OF THEM. Usually there was one other sponsor there and often a seminarian who had joined us, and these would speak up, too. But I don’t think they were there that day and all eyes fell on little old me.
I sat there, knowing I had to say something. Praying to the Lord to show me what and how to say it. Not because I didn’t know what to say. But I had already over so many Sundays had to say so much already. Yet I knew I could not let this slide. I saw the way people were effected and I knew I had to do something about it. And, let me tell you, I got over being shy when I was in my early twenties. So I was not worrying about speaking up, I only wanted to do so in the right way, the best way. The way the Lord wanted me to speak up.
So I waited. It was time for break and I used that time to prepare myself. To pray. “Lord, tell me what You want me to say.”
Break ended and people wandered back into the room. Took their seats. And looked at me again. The deacon started to speak. I spoke, softly but firmly. “Before we get started, there’s something I want to say.” I know I saw him roll his eyes and his smile was tense but he let me go ahead. “There were some things said concerning evolution and an impression was given about what the Church teaches about it. And I’d like to be sure that everyone here understands exactly what the Church teaches about evolution and that is NOTHING. The Church does not teach evolution because she does not teach science, she teaches Christianity. Catholic Christianity.” The faith once handed to the apostles and then handed on by them to their successors and so down to our very day. That faith. The faith. The teachings of Christ, our Lord. Anything else and you are handing on another Gospel and as far as I know that there is frowned upon. I certainly frown upon it. And I frowned upon it in that classroom. Though I tried not to frown like St. Jerome or Moses hurling tablets of stone down the mountainside.
“The Church does speak about evolution because her children have asked her. And she has said that she sees no problem with evolution considered as change over time and sees that view as one that derives from observation using reason. How could she have a problem with that? Where she does have a problem, however, is with Darwin’s atheistic materialistic evolution which denies that there is a God or any need for a God. THAT is incompatible with the truth as known and taught by Catholicism and that she quite reasonably rejects. Just wanted to say that and get it out of the way before anyone got any wrong ideas.”
Now all this is important enough. But here is where it gets interesting. Here is where you see how important it is to speak up and defend the faith, though I do not mean pouncing on people. I just mean taking care to clear up misunderstandings and misrepresentations, especially in a setting like an RCIA class full of people who are actively, sometimes desperately, seeking TRUTH! Hoping that the Church has something to teach them on the subject and expecting a deacon leading the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults to have some sort of TRUTH TO OFFER those adults who have come seeking it!
During the break, and unknown to me, an entire family taking the class together (the boy a recent convert sponsoring both of his Protestant parents) had walked out of the classroom and out to the parking lot fully intending to leave. TO LEAVE and never come back. To never look to the Catholic Church again for any answers on any subject whatsoever because they had been told that the Church teaches evolution. They walked all the way to their car while I was praying back in the room for God to lead me to say what needed to be said because I knew, I KNEW it needed to be said and that I was going to have to be the one to say it.
But something (Someone?) stopped them. They decided to come back in and stay until this one last session was over and they would make their minds up then and there whether they would remain in the RCIA.
You see why it is important to know what you are doing? You see why you should USE THE CATECHISM and not for a doorstop in the living room or for a coaster on the end table? But USE THE CATECHISM AND TO TEACH FROM IT?
I know the deacon did not appreciate my speaking up. He spent most of his time telling these poor people lies about the Church and he spent an inordinate amount of time telling them that the Catholic Church was NO different from the Protestant church. What?! I could see on their faces: Why are we here then?!
After the class was over and my friend and I were going to Mass, that family stopped me. They told me about going out to the parking lot. About being upset. About feeling that they had been betrayed and had wasted their time. About feeling that the rug had been pulled out from under their feet. About deciding to leave and never return. About something making them stop. Deciding to come back in and finish that session and then they would make their decision. A decision that would effect the rest of their lives. And their eternity.
Can you imagine how I felt? I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach, that’s how I felt. The awesome responsibility. The knowledge that not speaking up would have meant these good people never knowing, or not knowing until who knows how much later, what the truth was about what the Church really teaches or doesn’t teach at all. The thankfulness to God that I was there that day. The thankfulness to God for leading me to say what He wanted me to. The hoping I didn’t mangle it too badly because I know how weak I am and how not up to the task I am. The anger that this deacon took his awesome responsibility so lightly that, though he had taught the “RCIA” for years, he had NEVER ONCE bothered to LEARN the least little bit about the beautiful faith of the Church he claimed to represent.
This still makes me angry. I have shared these stories with several people in that parish now and with others in the diocese because I want it to change. I want someone to teach the people who come there asking someone to teach them, and to teach them the TRUTH. This matters. This can change someone’s life and that can change who knows how many other lives. Or it can ruin lives because someone is too arrogant and lazy and dare I say ignorant to take the trouble to open a paperback book that costs less than nine dollars (even less in ebook form) and learn what it says or even just to quote from it when asked a question.
Please, I beg you, if you don’t know the faith, look up the answer in the extensive index and quote the book. Just read from the book. Don’t offer your opinion, don’t ad lib! For the love of God, JUST READ THE BOOK!
That family went on to be received into the Church and so did my friend. But many people took that class and did not decide to be received. Some had taken that class with that same deacon as many as three or four times and still had not decided to be received. I’m sure it’s because they still have not had the faith presented to them. I was not able to overcome for them the years of mangled garbage they had learned. I’m not God, after all. I’m not even a good disciple. I’m still learning that part, the living part. But I do know what the Church teaches and I understand, I think, a lot about why she teaches it. And best of all, I practice what I preach: When I teach, I teach from the book.
Thanks for reading. God bless you.