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.
10 thoughts on “Handing on the faith”
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‘Nope, no point in the devil bothering the Anglicans. They certainly aren’t bothering him! ;)’
That did make me chuckle!
I can empathise with the atheist hostility you are experiencing – in many ways Britain has been a deeply secular country for a long time now, but previously this was just a matter of indifference to religion. Nowadays one can definitely feel more antagonism – particularly against the Church, as a lot of the vitriol is against traditional teachings on marriage, abortion, etc. In a way this is comforting, as it is a reminder that the true Church will always be a sign of contradition – you certainly don’t see many Anglicans getting maligned for their views on sexual ethics and life issues, let me put it that way!
Again, I am sorry to hear about your illness – it must be especially hard for someone who likes to get about and travel the country. But I will say this, the time you have had to spend doing more things like writing has definitely born fruit – I for one very much enjoy reading what you have written.
As for the Roku, I had not heard of it, but just looked it up and they look great! I have just gotten rid of my tv licence (an annual fee we have to pay in the UK to be able to watch TV, and which pays for the BBC, an organisation who I still have a lot of affection for, but whose official position of impartiality is becoming harder and harder to believe) so the Roku would be a great way to watch stuff on the television screen without using my aerial. Thanks for the tip! And God bless you too :-)
Nope, no point in the devil bothering the Anglicans. They certainly aren’t bothering him! ;) Thank you for encouraging the writing. :) As my energy slowly increases, I hope to do much more.
I had no idea y’all had to pay an annual license/licence. Saw another reference to it today after reading your reply. Yes, the Roku has been a wonderful way to cut the cord without cutting all ties with the outer world. I saw an article about an actual Roku TV that will be coming out in a year or so, can’t remember now. Can’t keep up with the endless parade of interesting gadgets, but oh how fun it is to try! ;)
Excellent post. I too am horrified at the nonsense that gets peddled by representatives of the Church (clerical and lay), which as you say, is basically their opinion dressed up as official Church teaching, or worse the idea that there is no official Church teaching on x, y, or z and it is all negotiable!
Re the deacon and parish in question, are you in a position to do anything about the situation (e.g.; writing to the bishop about your experiences)? Or would it not be okay seeing as it is not your parish? I am not sure of protocol here. Also, not sure if this would be okay as it is a different parish, but I sincerely think you should put yourself forward to teach the RCIA classes – that’s one surefire way of making sure the classes are taught properly :-)
Thanks for reading & commenting! I’ve spoken to several people who have the ears of folks in higher places. ;) Our bishop has been working on changing things in our diocese since he arrived a few years ago. The bishop also brought in a wonderful layman to help but sadly he passed away before much could be done. So the work continues but it takes time. He’s really been working on improving the training of deacons, praise God! So things are happening but not as quickly as we’d like to see it. ;)
I see my own role as a sort of catechist/evangelist at large. Ha! ;) I end up sharing the faith in all sorts of strange circumstances and places. Wearing a not huge but not small crucifix, making the Sign of the Cross and saying the blessing before meals no matter where I am, reading from Catholic books, wearing Catholic T-shirts–these things generally spark conversations. We Catholics are in the minority here in the Deep South. People are drawn to ask me questions. “Say, you’re Catholic, aren’t you? Why does the Catholic Church teach (fill in the blank here)?” And I admit that I relish these opportunities. It’s one of the reasons for my constant study. That, and the fact that I love the Church and her teachings.
As far as taking part in the RCIA, I truly don’t feel called to it. Not to be a whiner, but I have a chronic illness that makes talking out loud for longer than a few minutes very difficult. It also makes standing up and getting around difficult and more so as time passes. And all of this makes commitment to showing up and physically taking part in something ongoing like the RCIA a bit beyond me. (I actually lost my voice over a year ago and it’s come back a little. But the coughing fits are rather epic and annoying to me. Imagine a classroom of enquirers trapped in a room with me! Horrors!) ;)
But this is why I write and why I write the things I write. It’s why I use Twitter so much. It’s why I’m working on some stories, a couple of novels. There are ways I can participate and contribute and God has called me to do those things. I do sincerely appreciate your suggestion, though, and your vote of confidence. I would like to be able to take part in some small way in the training of others who are going to teach. I’ve been able to contribute somewhat by way of ongoing conversations with those who are involved in that work. And by prayer and sacrifice.
So I do what I can and leave the rest in the Lord’s hands. Please pray for me. I pray for all the readers and commenters here, so I’ll be praying for you, too. :) Thanks again for reading and for your reply. God bless!
Thanks for the reply! It is good to hear that some progress has been made in your diocese, though am sorry to hear that the layman in question had passed away early on in the process. But, as you say, these things do take time, and I’m sure that his (and your) groundwork will not have been in vain.
I can imagine living as a Catholic in the South is…interesing! Certainly plenty of opportunities for discussing the Faith, unlike here in the UK where religion is either seen as an embarassing topic to be avoided or something to be scorned and belittled (usually with very little knowledge of what is being scorned of course). Also, you are truly blessed to live so close to EWTN! Their programmes (particularly the Journey Home) have been a great help to me over the years. I don’t get that channel anymore, but I do try and catch up stuff via youtube still.
Sorry to hear about your illness. I see now why taking part in RCIA would be a stretch too far, to say the least. But at any rate, you are doing great work through your blog – what I’ve read thus far has been both encouraging and inspiring. I shall certainly pray for you, and I thank you for your prayers. God bless you too!
I can’t take much credit for groundwork, I can cover little ground, really. But we all do our part. Living as a Catholic in the Deep South is an adventure. ;) In some ways it’s not as harrowing as it once was because so many nominally Christian people have become indifferent. At the same time another group of people have appeared who are more confrontational, anything but indifferent: those who hate all religion, especially Christians, and hate Catholics more than anyone else. These are the atheists who are growing in number and really represent something new in the South. Well, newish. Not like it happened yesterday.
My health has become an obstacle for me, keeping me from doing some things, helping me settle down in one spot so I can get other things done. I used to love to drive around all over the place, from one end of the country to another. Now I can’t do that. Walking from one room to another can be a challenge. ;) As I recover from this last bout of flu and flare-up, though, I’m getting back to thinking, reading and writing. (Sad when you have no energy even for that kind of activity!) I want to use my forced settling down to get some serious writing done. That’s my goal, here for the blog and for my other projects.
The Journey Home is a great show. EWTN is very important to me. Dearly love the place and the priests and other people there. Do you have a Roku? I watch EWTN on Roku because I got rid of cable and satellite a while back. Freeing it was. And is! :)
Thank you for all your kind words. God bless you. :)
This is great post about a widespread problem. We’ll be fighting with liberalism in the Church for a long time. One thing that prolongs this fight is that people like this teacher are never contradicted from an official source. They have a religious interest, were taught by liberals, and don’t even know that their beliefs are controversial. They believe that orthodox Catholicism has been rejected as too rigid, that the most radical left goes to far, and that their half-way Catholicism is just right. I think some of these people could be reached by those in authority, if those in authority tried, but under no circumstances should they be teaching RCIA.
Thanks! And bear in mind that this is not just some instructor or catechist but a DEACON! One of two deacons who led the “RCIA” and neither of them knew what they were doing and neither of them had any business teaching anybody anything about the Church. I was horrified. And every class was worse than the last.
I’m so spoiled hanging out as much as I do at EWTN and talking with knowledgeable and faithful priests and theologians. I study the faith but when I want to make absolutely sure I understand something, I go talk with Fr Mitch. I go ask a dear friend who is a theologian there, one who reads all the books they use on the shows to make sure they’re kosher. ;)
Boggles my mind that anyone would have the audacity to lead enquirers without bothering to learn the faith first. Without checking to make sure even one time that they knew what they were doing. It’s so easy. These guys live near EWTN too. They have catechisms. Good grief, they have the internet! The right answers are all around us. Easy to be had. And what they’re teaching isn’t merely controversial, it’s plain old flat out WRONG.
Ah, well. Something to keep praying about and working on. Thanks again for reading. God bless you. :)