Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Catholic Journey: The First Five Years

Next Easter will mark 10 years since I became Catholic. The following is a condensed account of my first five years in the Church, chronicled as letters to a completely fictional former RCIA director. The names have been omitted to protect the guilty! (The second five-year period is still being processed...can't wait to tell "Bob" about the Extraordinary Form and Summorum Pontificum!)  

June 2003

Dear Bob,

Well, I’ve passed the one-year anniversary of being received into the Catholic Church! I’m very happy to have become Catholic, and I thank you again for all your help on the journey through the RCIA program. You were a wonderful RCIA Director!

My family and I moved to the Cathedral parish of a different diocese just a few months ago, and suddenly I find myself in the position of Parish Secretary! They couldn’t get anyone else to take the job, so they gave it to me. It’s a small town, so I guess good help is hard to come by! Ha ha! I’ll try to do a good job.

I’ve been getting involved in lots of things at this parish. I’ve started attending daily Mass, and now I’m a reader and a Eucharistic minister. Besides that, my husband and I volunteered to be the RCIA directors; it’s another one of those “no one else will do it” situations. And we were excited to find out that there’s a Respect for Life Committee, which we’ve joined.

I’ll keep you posted on my journey into Catholicism!

Peace to you!

March 2004

Dear Bob,

I’m coming up on another anniversary as a Catholic. What a year it’s been! I’ve learned a lot about our Church; who would have thought there was so much more to discover!

Our bishop has issued an instruction regarding some minor changes in the Liturgy, in compliance with the new GIRM. Wow! I never knew there was actually a document that stated how things were supposed to be done in the Mass! No one ever mentioned it before! I like the idea of standards having been set for the Liturgy.

From my seat at the parish secretary’s desk, though, I can see that the bishop’s pastoral letter and instruction have caused a great deal of consternation among some parishioners, and even among some of our office staff.  I’ve heard people say that this is “our” church – the lay people’s church, not the bishops’; they say that no lay person should be deprived of their “right” to perform liturgical ministries. But doesn’t the Church belong to everyone – no less to bishops and priests than to the lay people? And isn’t there a clear hierarchy of authority within the Church? In one of those Vatican II documents, Lumen Gentium, there’s even a chapter that is entitled “The Church is Hierarchical.” I wonder how people got the wrong idea about this!

Walking in the Light,

June 2004

Dear Bob,

Wow! The bishop’s most recent pastoral letter is raising even more hackles! Now he’s saying that readers and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist should be of “high moral character”. He’s given us a statement of personal faith which he says all liturgical ministers should be able to affirm. And he says that those who cannot agree with all of the statements need to step back, take stock of their beliefs, and attempt to correctly form their consciences. It’s refreshing to have someone stand up and insist that there really is a “right” and “wrong”. 

I’m amazed that so many people are up in arms over this idea of “high moral character”! The statements in the bishop’s list are so fundamental, I’m surprised that so many people are objecting to them. Aren’t there certain things that we believe because we’re Catholic? But now, some people – including the parish priest! – are little upset with me for saying that I believe and affirm all the statements! Well, for heaven’s sake – I affirmed all of them when I joined the Church!

Anticipating greater reverence,

December 2004

Dear Bob,

I guess I’ve achieved a reputation as something of a trouble-maker. It’s really been in innocence, though. The bishop talked about the GIRM, and I discovered that there are lots of Church documents that define liturgical norms. Naturally, I have questions when what I see at Mass goes against these norms!

But now my parish priest tells me I’m too “by-the-book”! I told him that there’s a reason we have a “book” in the first place, but he doesn’t seem to understand. For instance, at Christmas, there’s always a “children’s Mass”, and the RE Director chooses children to be the readers. I pointed out that the Bishop’s directives clearly indicate that children should not be readers. I suggested that the pastor consult the bishop, and finally he did – only to be told that, guess what, children should not be readers. Well, as you can imagine, my name is Mud around the office. In fact, a visiting priest confronted me and accused me of “taking away” the children’s Mass! Like I have that kind of power!

I guess I was pretty na├»ve coming into the Church, thinking that we’re all one big happy family. Turns out we’re one big dysfunctional family, with priests who don’t obey the bishop, and lay people who act like they think they are priests…or maybe the Pope!

Keeping the faith,

March 2005

Dear Bob,

I continue to have some friction with the office staff and the priest. When I said that I was scandalized by a few of the lay ministers who have made public statements contrary to Church teaching, my pastor told me, “You’re the only one who feels that way.”

The priest keeps telling me that “we have to meet people where they’re at.” Well, it seems to me that there is a lot of bending over backwards to accommodate people who dissent from Church teaching; we tweak the liturgical rules so that they’ll “feel good.” After all, we don’t want them to leave the Church! But when someone like me suggests that we change something in order to do it right, I’m considered “rigid” and “judgmental” and “by the book”! I sometimes wonder if I would get special attention if I said “I’m leaving the Church if you don’t do it right!” Somehow, though, I think they’d be holding the door open for me.

A little discouraged,

June 2005

Dear Bob,

Well, another milestone – my 3rd anniversary as a Catholic – has come and gone.

We have a new priest! That worked out well, because things had become pretty tense between me and the previous one. The new priest seems to be on board with the bishop, but there are some warning signs. He told me that he can’t really ask people if they agree with those statements of faith the bishop is requiring, because that would be judgmental. Excuse me! I thought it was his job to keep people on the right course! 

Some exciting news: I’ve been appointed to the local Catholic hospital ethics committee! The pastor said he really didn’t have time to go to the meetings, and I offered my services. I’m looking forward to learning something about Catholic ethics in the medical community.

Pray for me!

November 2005

Dear Bob,

I attended a total of two hospital ethics committee meetings, and have now been “fired” from that position!

It turns out that the Ethics Committee has been approving tubal ligation requests on the premise that the woman’s health may be compromised because of complications that might occur during a future pregnancy. But really, it amounts to direct sterilization: the purpose is to prevent pregnancy, not to alleviate the symptoms that accompany pregnancy. Most of the committee members are not Catholic, and even the Catholic members – including a deacon from our parish! – were supporting the direct sterilizations.

I explained that what they were doing was forbidden by the Ethical and Religious Directives they claimed to be following. My comments were not well-received. A couple of weeks later, my pastor told me I’d been dis-invited to attend the meetings. He didn’t seem at all concerned about the flagrant violation of Catholic moral teaching; instead he said, “At least they aren’t mad at me.”


January 2006

Dear Bob,

Despite all of the bishop’s best efforts, it seems like some people still don’t get the idea that there are certain requirements surrounding the Mass! We had a Mass for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and Father was to give a special blessing to all the children. Well, he did that, and the Mass was very nice, except that, at the consecration, he invited all the children to come up around the altar and hold hands in a big circle! I was stunned. I was incredulous. I knew this was not right, and it just turned my stomach.

We have a “children’s choir” now, too. Everything about this choir flies in the face of Church teaching on liturgical music. They are adorable, of course, but are generally under the age of 7, and can’t sing. The songs selected for them have a decidedly childish flavor, are standard fare at Protestant churches, and involve ridiculous hand and body movements. My own daughter opted out of the children’s choir for precisely these reasons. But when I pointed these things out to Father, he accused me of being anti-children.

There are other “little” things that have come up that bother me. The woman who is in charge of decorating the Cathedral is in the habit of using the altar as a work bench. She places her keys, her purse, fabric, her scissors, and other tools on it while she is working. I told her that the altar is holy, and is not to have those objects placed on it. She huffily announced, “I know that.” I removed the items for her, but she didn’t thank me. When I complained to the bishop, he merely commented, “I’m just happy they don’t use the tabernacle as a foot stool.” Maybe he’s given up hope of making any headway where reverence for the Blessed Sacrament is concerned.

I’ve resigned as reader and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. Father isn’t happy with my comments and suggestions about the liturgical missteps that go on, and I really don’t want to be a minister if inappropriate actions are going to be condoned or even encouraged at Mass.


April 2006

Dear Bob,

Here it is: my fourth anniversary as a Catholic!

My husband and I have decided to resign as RCIA directors. This year was a fiasco! There were a few candidates who missed more classes than they attended, and we were not feeling that we could recommend that they be received into the Church. They just were not prepared to become Catholics! We informed Father of our misgivings. He insisted that it was “too late” to tell them they couldn’t join the Church this year, and that they all had very good reasons for missing the classes. We told him that we agreed the reasons were good, but the end result was that they weren’t prepared. Our protestations fell on deaf ears.

This makes me appreciate the thorough job you did in our classes!

God bless you!

July 2006

Dear Bob,

I have decided to quit my job as parish secretary. The tension with Father is too much to bear. He avoids me as much as he can, and there’s no way I can be his secretary if he won’t communicate with me!

I’m sad that he won’t discuss issues with me. I’ve yet to find a priest who has been able to give me good, sound reasons for flying in the face of the rubrics. Seems like they don’t want to acknowledge that there is a standard, and they don’t like it when I suggest that there is one and they’re not adhering to it.

Oh well – I’m free at last!

March 2007

Dear Bob,

I was so excited by the things the bishop was doing, but now even he seems to have decided I’m just a thorn in his side. I made the mistake of writing to him with a concern I had about a liturgical faux pas he himself had committed. Instead of just saying, “Yeah, I goofed,” he was defensive and rude. He told me that I was “right” about the issue, but he added that “sometimes there are more important things than being right.”

I’m flabbergasted by that comment, which comes from a man who I thought understood the importance of authority and truth! My point in bringing up these various issues with my pastors hasn’t been about being “right”. It’s been about respect and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament! I’m sure there are other Catholics out there who feel the same way I do. But I suppose that, like me, they’ve been silenced by the illogical arguments and blatant refusal to follow the teachings of the Church of the powers-that-be in their individual parishes.

Well, Bob, it’s been just about five years since I was received into the Church. What a journey it’s been! I went from wide-eyed innocence to a greater appreciation of the teachings of the Church to a cynical acknowledgment of the shortcomings of our leaders in a pretty short period of time! As a result, I’ve withdrawn from every parish involvement I had, other than attending daily Mass.

But I have not given up! Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have, and I am employing it on a daily basis. And even if some people on earth never “get it” where the Liturgy is concerned, the Heavenly Liturgy awaits us all.

And I think I’m safe in assuming that we won’t be singing Kum-Ba-Yah.

In the hope of Christ,

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