It is my delight each year to not only assist during the RCIA classes and get to know the people making the journey into the Church, but to be at the Easter Vigil and witness that final, powerful step into the sacraments and the heart of the Church.
This year when the converts from other ecclesial communities made their profession of faith, “Do you believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God?” I realized that I had said “I do.” to those words, so long ago, without even knowing what I was saying.
My own initial conversion to the faith was unenlightened and distracted.
It was the early 90’s and I was a young Baptist girl married to a young Catholic boy. When we first got married, we tried to attend each other’s church at least some of the time. My husband sang in the choir at his church, so he could make it to mine less often. One time when he came we were having a communion service that involved goldfish crackers (because the fish is a Christian symbol!) and grape juice. I don’t think he ever was very willing to come to my church after that.
Neither of us were very good at really living in our faith at the time. We were fresh out of the party scene, newly married and new parents. Going to church just felt like the right thing to do.
Our families were each religious in their way, so attending church came naturally. We each had a yearning for a relationship with God in our own way, but letting it reflect into the rest of our lives did not come naturally yet.
I remember asking my husband at one time if we could just make some kind of compromise on a church – like Lutheran or Episcopalian. He said no, so we just kept doing what we were doing.
All I knew about the Catholic Church had been learned from my church and my parents, who told me all about the worshipping of Mary and the Saints, and the few times I went to mass I was just sure that someone had to be laughing at me because I didn’t now what I was doing — when to stand or sit, or the songs they sang that weren’t even projected on the walls or announced by page number.
There came a day when my mother-in-law asked me if I was interested in learning more about the Catholic Church; I casually said yes. If she had asked me a month before, a week before, a week after that day I probably would have said, “No, I’m fine, thanks.” But she (or the Holy Spirit) caught me at the right time. She had the director of the RCIA call me, which is good because I never would have called.
I had one thing going for me as a pre-Catholic: I was already using Natural Family Planning. I had discovered it when I was attending La Leche League in one of the natural-mama type of books that emphasized not using chemicals. I knew that this was somehow a Catholic thing, so going into the classes I thought I had one hurdle already jumped.
But they never talked about that at all. There were probably 50 of us in the class, and we sat in the parish hall, in a giant circle of folding chairs. I don’t remember much of what we talked about. I remember one couple who came and talked about how they decided on the vocation of marriage instead of the wife becoming a nun. But I didn’t understand what they meant by \”vocation.” That was never explained.
I remember our priest coming and talking to us a few times and fielding questions. Those were my favorite sessions, and that priest will always hold a special place in my heart for those answers he gave. They didn’t clear everything up for me, but it was enough for me to think, This really isn’t all that different, I could go to church here.
I remember our retreat, when we made a timeline of our life, and then made a sculpture of what prayer meant for us – and I remember thinking that it was a colossal waste of my time.
I didn’t hear anything about big-T Tradition, NFP, or even transubstantiation or the Real Pressence. I missed our opportunity for confession the morning before the Easter Vigil because I had been sick the day before. It wasn’t until we lined up for communion that I realized I didn’t even know what to do or how to receive properly. I had to ask the girl in front of me. Yet at some point in that mass I had answered the words, “Do you believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God?” with “I do.\”
My life was pretty much unchanged by the experience, we settled into a nice pattern of attending the same church. We had friends there. We found a slightly more wholesome party scene. Our kids started school at the parish school. Everything was coming together nicely. As members of our social circle hit 3 or 4 children, they would go and get a vasectomy, and after my fourth excruciatingly sick pregnancy, we did the same.
Looking back, I can see the soft outline of grace on our lives until that point, I know that God was present in every part of our lives – the good and the bad. But within a year or so of that decision, He seemed to have decided that He was really intent on getting our attention.
About a year and a half later, we found ourselves living far from family, jobless, depressed, and grasping for the One who we knew could help us. I began to teeter on the edge of returning to my evangelical roots and to wonder if I really believed much of that Catholic stuff at all.
Through a friend I stumbled upon Scott Hahn’s conversion story. I had never heard anything like it in my life. The most important thing about it for me was that it crystalized the idea that I had lingering questions about the Church that I had never asked, and that I should ask them and not stop asking until I had answers. For the first time I saw that there might just be answers.
I began to ask those questions, to read, and most importantly to pray and go to confession. Then, finally, the floodgates of Grace opened and splashed all over us, drenching our souls in what we had been missing all that time.
Finally we we Catholic on purpose, not just because that was where we found ourselves. My husband went through it all with me, side by side. It is not lost on me what an incredible gift that was and is.
Six full years after being received into the Catholic Church, I received the Church as the gift from God that it is.
I sometimes share my story or a part of it as part of the RCIA classes, and I am always a little embarrassed that it took me so long to figure out what I was doing as a Catholic. I’m a bit of a bad example in that way. It is a humbling reminder to me that even our imperfect contrition, our faith-for-the-wrong-reasons are enough to open our hearts to let God’s grace come streaming in.
Our RCIA program is no longer a circle of folding chairs, and we certainly don’t make sculptures to express what we think “prayer” means. Those days are long past, and I am confident that the catechumens and candidates going through our classes know what they are saying when they make their Profession of Faith. When our group made their profession this year, I said it with them, and I meant every word of it.