Wednesday, January 17, 2007

RCIA: Week Six

In honor of Thanksgiving weekend, no RCIA session was held for November 26, 2006.

Old Testament:

As the visions during the night continued, I saw one like a son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and presented before
him, He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every
language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be
taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed." -- Daniel 7:13-14

New Testament:

"and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and
ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our
sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and
Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming
amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All the
peopls of the earth will lament him. Yes. Amen. 'I am the Alpha and the Omega,'
says the Lord God, 'the one who is and who was and who is to come, the
almighty.'" -- Revelation 1:5-8


"So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him,
'Are the King of the Jews?' Jesus answered, 'Do you say this on your own or have
others told you about me?' Pilate answered, 'I am not a Jew, am I? Your own
nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?' Jesus
answered, 'My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to
this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to
the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.' So Pilate said to him, 'Then
you are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say I am a king. For this I was born and
for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to
the truth listens to my voice.'" -- John 18:33-37

In today's media, we often find ourselves hypnotized by the activities of royal families around the world or, in the US where there is no royal family, the activities of celebrities often regarded as royalty. Workplace conversations center around Angelina Jolie's latest humanitarian aid project. News networks report on the Queen of England's plan to visit the US next May to mark the 400th anniversary of the establishment of Jamestown. And gossip columnists routinely report on every detail of the lives of countless celebrities. But, in truth, we have a King who surpasses all earthly royalty and celebrity in goodness and glory: Jesus Christ. However, it isn't always easy to keep our priorities straight. We're human, and it's difficult not to think, at time, that people who seem beautiful and talented and elegant and charitible (despite their repeatedly reported flaws) who are seemingly admired by millions aren't worthy of our own admiration and worship of sorts. But we are told there is a greater power. In the Book of Revelations, John wrote to a people persecuted by the Roman Emperor Domitian for their refusal to burn incense in worship before his likeness. John bolstered the faith of his people, reminding them that their King is a king whose dominion was unlimited, crossing the divides of race and nationality, language, geography, and time. And so, on this day of the feast of Christ the King, we are asked, to whom do we give our allegiance? Do we worship at the altars of celebrities and materialism? Or do we bow to the King of Kings?

Monday, January 08, 2007

RCIA: Week Five

November 19, 2006
Due to illness (mine) Tom and I missed Mass and RCIA.

The Old Testament Reading:

"At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your
people; It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until
that time. At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written
in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; Some
shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the
wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, And those who lead
the many to justice shall be like the stars forever." -- Daniel 12:1-3

The New Testament Reading:

"Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same
sacrifices that can never take away sins. But this one offered one sacrifice for
sinces, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until
his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has made perfect
forever those who are being consecrated. Where there is forgiveness of these,
there is no longer offering of sin." - Hebrews 11-4, 18

The Gospel Reading:

"But in those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon
will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the
powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see 'the Son of Man
coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the
angels and gather [his] elect from the four winds, from the end of the eart to
the end of the sky. Learn a lesson froom the fig tree. When its branch becomes
tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when
you see these things happening, you know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I
say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken
place. Hevean and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of
that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but
the only the Father." - Mark 13:24-32

Many of us have experienced times in our lives when we have felt like our world was ending. Maybe a loved one passed away, an important relationship ended, a serious illness afflicted ourselves or a family member, or we found ourselves suddenly without a job. Such times are not pleasant. But the end of the world? That's...bad. It really isn't all that surprising that a lot of people -- including some very strong, faithful Christians -- shy away from it. No one likes to think of death -- much less the complete collapse of the world -- but at the end of the liturgical year, that is exactly what we are called to do.

The language contained in most readings related to the Apocalypse is forceful. From the unknown author of the Book of Daniel warning us that it will be a time of "unsurpassed" distress and that those who do not believe will be subjected to "everlasting horror and disgrace" to Mark telling us "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken," the imagery is designed to be jarring, but, moreso, it is designed to help us address the present time in light of the end. In other words, we are supposed to be shaken up enough to start examining ourselves and making the necessary changes in our lives to be prepared for that moment which will determine our eternal future. (See how that works?)

But in addition to acting as a catalyst of change and forward momentum, apocalyptic passages are also designed to offer hope. When the Book of Daniel was written, the Jews were being oppressed by the Greeks, and many Jews were put to death since it was a crime to practice their faith. At the time of Saint Mark's words regarding the end times, his people faced persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero. So when the author of Daniel encourages the people to remain faithful with promises of everlasting life (the earliest reference to the resurrection of the dead) and when, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus promises his disciples that he will come with power and glory to gather his believers, hope is offered. Furthermore, in the Letter to the Hebrews, the knowledge that God's sacrifice of his Son secured salvation for all of us is reaffirmed, and in the Gospel of Mark, the forceful imagery of the end times gives way to a lesson providing us with the advice to remain watchful (Surely we can do it...after all, people were standing watch for the birth of the Messiah from its first prophesy at least 600 years before its occurrence, and they didn't have the benefit of the promise of salvation.)

So, yes, one day, our lives of joy and sorrow will end, and one day our world will collapse, but God will be there to save us. We will survive.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Today is Transgender Remembrance Day, a day set aside to remember those who were murdered or who died of neglect simply because their lifestyles and self-identity didn't match that which is considered "normal" in society. In addition, I was sent a link today of a website that listed some of the things extreme-conservatives have said in the name of God and "good American morals" -- things that reek of hatred and intolerance, things that call for violence against others, things that make me ill. When will we learn that while we may not agree with or condone some of the choices others make in the ways they live their lives, the greatest of all morals to be upheld is that of love? When will we begin to understand that judgement is God's and not ours?

Friday, November 17, 2006


Last month, I sat in a stewardship meeting listening to Father Bernie speak about evangelizing. While the practice is not something to new to me, as it is common in the Pentecost faith, it became clear that the idea of approaching someone and inviting them to church was almost unheard of to many Catholics. Father Bernie observed that most people would rather chew their own toenails than talk about religion (okay, I'm sure those weren't his exact words, but you get the point). In fact, most people will talk about anything -- including politics -- except religion. We'll debate endlessly about taxes, whether or not the war in Iraq is justified, campaign finance reform, the electoral college, environmental legislation, and even political issues that are almost inextricably tangled with religion (such as same-sex marriage, abortion, right to die, and stem-cell research) -- but to simply start talking about our basic beliefs, our spiritual habits, and our faith is completely taboo.

I've been lucky. There has rarely been a moment in my life when I felt I had to truly defend my faith. Like every Christian, I've experienced situations in which I've felt more comfortable keeping quiet in matters of faith; situations in which I've been the lone Christian in a group of atheists, agnostics, or practioners of other "alternative" religions; situations in which I've had to meekly speak up and say, "Hey! We're not all like that" when stereotypes run rampant. And while I've never had to choose between my faith and serious harm, I've certainly had to choose between my faith and my comfort many times over the past month. I have endured accusations of "turning away from God," blog spam extolling the evils of the Catholic church, accusations that I've abandoned my own religious convictions, personal concern that I've disappointed my family by deviating from my religious upbringing, and, in the midst of it all, fear that I'm mucking it all up. But that's faith. There are no easy answers.

Faith is many different things to many different people. To some, it's something that is most often placed on a shelf and never really called upon until times get tough. For others, it's a integral part of everyday life -- but a part that exists mostly in the background. Still others will stand staunchly by their faith and tend to it -- until doing so becomes uncomfortable. And few will truly live their faith by talking about it, defending it, challenging it, demonstrating it, studying it, and making it grow stronger. It's never easy to be one of those few, but I pray that I will be.

Beginning the Annulment Process

Last week, I had my first meeting with Father Bernie regarding the annulment of my previous marriage.

First off, I really like Father Bernie. I know I liked several of the pastors I had while I was a kid, but I really haven't held any opinion of any minister I've encountered in my adult religious life until I met Father Bernie. From the moment he greeted me for the first time before the Rites of Welcome and Acceptance, he has exuded a sense of warmth, friendliness, and flat-out "cool" that immediately put me at ease. I've seen him several times -- before the Rites, my first RCIA session, our "Meet the Coach" stewardship meeting, Mass, and my annulment meeting -- and each time, he has greeted me by name with a warm smile and a handshake or hug. When I expressed nervousness over the annulment process via e-mail, he made it a point to reassure me when he saw me before Mass the following Sunday. And when he has blessed me during Mass, I've seen true caring and joy in his eyes, and I know he is the kind of priest I will comfortable turning to for guidance.

Father Bernie's role in the annulment process is to act as my defense attorney of sorts. To me, this annulment means everything. Quite simply, I want to remarry someday and raise a family of my own, and the idea of a mistake I made when I was 23 preventing me from fulfilling that dream is scary. For those unfamiliar with the Church's view on marriage, it should be emphasized that the Catholic church views all marriages between baptized parties within any church as sacramental (i.e. valid) and that sacramental marriages are permanent. In other words, a civil divorce isn't sufficient to end a marriage, and those who remarry without having an annulment granted are entering into a state of mortal sin because their new marriage would be considered adulterous to the first. Therefore, a case has to be built to prove the marriage was never sacramental in the first place, and if it can't be proven, the original marriage stands as sacramental in the Church's eyes.

Though I had researched the possible grounds for annulment, I didn't quite know what to expect during my meeting with Father Bernie. I knew we would discuss my relationship with The Ex prior to and at the time of the marriage, but I wasn't sure how much bearing his behavior during the marriage would have on the case. Honestly, I had hoped we'd be making one of two arguments: that The Ex's remarriage had released me from my obligation to the marriage (though I wasn't sure if that had any canonical basis) or that as someone raised Protestant, I honestly believed civil divorce was sufficient to allow for remarriage within the church. But apparently, neither of those are going to hold enough water to float a raft.

Instead, Father Bernie feels that my illness during the time The Ex and I dated, the acuteness of the illness at the time I accepted the proposal, and the complexity of my recovery during our engagement and the first part of our marriage contributed to a situation in which I was not truly rational enough to realize the magnitude of the decision I was making. Throw in his behavior and my own lack confidence, and it looks like the case might hold enough water to float an ark instead of just a raft. I hope. It's difficult, after so many years of our issues and the ultimate breakdown of our marriage being The Ex's fault, to admit the initial problem might have been my own lack of judgement. But it's also freeing, in a way, because it means that when I made the decision to walk away, I didn't fail. In the end, I'm learning that my mistake wasn't in walking away but was, instead, in entering into my marriage by my own human weaknesses and will instead of by God's will. Hopefully, the Church will agree that the circumstances surrounding my marriage attest to that and will allow me to move on with my life. But for now, my job is to give Father Bernie the information he needs to help them understand what I already know. Yes, it's possible the Church will deny the annulment, and if they do, I will be heartbroken. But there is a point in every petition to God that, while we continue to do our best to help ourselves, we must stop praying for what we want and start praying for what He wants (and the abililty to accept it). Only then will we find out what God has in store.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

RCIA: Week Four

Our congregation exploded this week! I'm not sure what happened, but Tom and I weren't quite sure if we were in the right spot when we met the RCIA group in our reserved seating area -- since we didn't see the usual sign and since we still get easily confused navigating the church. Someone in the RCIA group said they've been seeing a lot of license plates from the area surround Father Bernie's previous parish, and I know one parishioner had several family members in attendance for her birthday, so that may have been part of it. Regardless, it was nice to see a crowded church. But on with the show...

We began our dismissal session with the usual discussion of how we were feeling in Mass and our comfort levels, and I'm left with one question: what is the big mystery of Mass? Why is it regarded as this confusing jumble of movement and ramblings almost indecipherable to a non-Catholic observer? I understand a non-Catholic probably isn't going to know all of the prayers or understand why certain things are done (and I'd be willing to bet there are a lot of Catholics in the same boat), but is it really that discomforting to simply follow along? How difficult is it to stand when others stand, sit when others sit, kneel when others kneel, and simply bow your head and listen during prayers when you don't know what to say? The only thing I can think of that might be a bit stress-inducing during Mass is wondering what you should do during the Sacrament if you've never been told, and even that dilemma can be solved by simply asking someone. So, it's easy to wonder why we have the same discussion every week. Are we supposed to be rehashing every little "a-ha" moment we have, telling our entire class we're just indescribably proud of ourselves of for not having to look at the missal to know the proper response the Gospel reading or that we have the Apostle's Creed memorized when we're not even present for that yet? Maybe we are. Most of us have been attending Mass for awhile (from me, who attended my sixth Mass on Sunday, to an RCIA candidate/catechumen who has been attending for 30 years), but most of us will still probably notice something new or begin to understand something new every week -- particularly as we continue to study our faith -- and maybe we're supposed to share those little "inside secrets" with others.

After our hospitality break, Deacon Dave joined us to begin our tutorial on the structure of Mass. For the most part, he guided us through the missal, which is something Melissa had already gone through with me during our first Mass together. I think it was helpful to those who weren't completely familiar with Mass or who hadn't been shown the missal before, but to be honest, I zoned out a little and found myself perusing the parts I've never used the missal to follow. Until then, I really hadn't realized there were several options to choose from for different prayers and such.

When Deacon Dave excused himself for the 11am Mass, we began our discussion of our Old Testament and Gospel readings.

As he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her, "Please bring me a cupful of water to drink." She left to get it, and called out after her, "Please bring along a bit of bread." "As the Lord, your God, lives," she answered, "I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die." "Do not be afraid," Elijah said to her. "Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the Lord, the God of Israel, says, 'The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.'" She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah. -- 1 Kings 17:10-16

In the days of the Old Testament, it was the custom of hospitality to grant the request of any stranger requesting food or drink, and in this passage, the prophet Elijah makes such a demand on a woman who is struggling against famine. At least one of the mothers in our group seemed to struggle with the concept of choosing "a custom over my child's welfare," but in doing so, I believe she missed the point. So, what is the point of the passage? When we break down the exchange between the widow and Elijah, it becomes clear. First, Elijah asks the woman for drink, and the woman obliges without objection. But when Elijah asks for food, the woman does object. In fact, she all but refuses by appealing to Elijah's sympathy, telling him if she feeds him, she will, essentially, be killing herself and her child. It is not until after Elijah promises her by the authority of God that, if she obliges him, neither she nor her son will starve, that she chooses to feed Elijah before feeding her son. She did not choose the fulfillment of her customary obligation over the welfare of her child. She chose to step forward in faith and trust God would provide as Elijah had promised as a reward for her sacrifice.

In the course of his teaching he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation." He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." -- Mark 12:38-44

Two things are happening in this passage. First, we are made aware of scribes, that is, men with a certain amount of religious authority, who have made a habit of collecting fees from widows in exchange for their promise to present the widows' prayers for them since the custom of the day prohibited women from doing so themselves (and widow-women would not have a husband available to do it for them). Whether the scribes actually presented the prayers or simply made a show of pretending to do so is unclear (and rather irrelevant except in debates of the severity of the scribes' sins). With the collected fees, the scribes would often arrive at the public treasury -- the depository for offerings to the temple -- and make a great show of presenting the offerings. Along with them, the wealthy people would often make great shows of depositing great sums of money into the treasury containers which were designed to make great amounts of noise with each coin thrown into them (paper money did not exist). Jesus, in his teaching, observes the contrast between these scribes and wealthy contributors and a widow woman who arrives to contribute only a few cents, an amount that would barely make a sound or seem to make a difference at all when compared with the other offerings. He tells us the scribes and the wealthy contributed only from their surplus while the woman gave "all she had, her whole livelihood."

To be clear, there are many, many, many passages within the Bible which must analyzed rather than taken literally. While there was some dispute regarding this particular point, I -- much like with our Old Testament reading -- do not believe the passage is encouraging us to sacrifice our own well-being in order to give. I do not believe the widow gave literally everything she had and resigned herself to death; instead, I believe she kept enough to survive but gave everything else. While the scribes and wealthy gave much, they gave what was not originally theirs or what could be given without affecting their lives. No sacrifice was involved. The widow, on the other hand, sacrificed her pride by publicly contributing so little (monetarily) but truly sacrificed in order to give that small amount. To her, the offering probably meant she was left with barely enough to survive. The lesson is clear. Our offerings to God and our actions of faith are not judged by monetary worth or public acclaim. They are judged, instead, by the sacrifices we make to stand in faith and to contribute to God's work. That which is sacrificed in the name of God is more valuable than that which is given without consequence.

This week, I will think upon the scribes and the widow as I choose how much I can afford to give of my money, time, and talent. I will decide what is necessary to keep in order to maintain my well-being and the well-being of my loved ones and to secure my future. I will choose how much I can sacrifice in the coming year, and in the end, I pray I will be more like the widow than the wealthy.

RCIA: Week Three

Originally posted in my personal journal on November 6, 2006 regarding RCIA on November 5, 2006:

Sunday, November 5 marked my third week as a Candidate in the RCIA program and our second RCIA session. Tom and I met Melissa in the vestibule prior to 9am Mass and sat together in the reserved seating area until I, along with the other Candidates and Catechumens, was dismissed prior to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. During our dismissal session, we discussed the homily in relation to our Old Testament reading:

These then are the commandments, the statutes and decrees which the Lord, your
God, has ordered that you be taught to observe in the land into which you are
crossing for conquest, so that you and your son and your grandson may fear the
Lord, your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes
and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life. Hear then,
Israel, and be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper the more,
in keeping with the promise of the Lord, the God of your fathers, to give you a
land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord
alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and
with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which
I enjoin on you today. -- Deuteronomy 6:1-6

Our facilitator for this week explained the passage as such: At that time, God's people were living in a culture with several deities, a pantheon of gods, so to speak, and as such, they showed reverence to one God above all other gods by praying the shaman (which I may have spelled incorrectly) twice daily. In this particular passage, God is setting forth the greatest of the Ten Commandments: to hold no other god before Him, stating that keeping this Great Commandment will allow the people to prosper -- the implication being that adherence to the other "lesser" commandments naturally flows from adherence to the Great Commandment. In addition, the use of the word "enjoin" tells us that failure to adhere to the Great Commandment will result in the wrath of God since the denotative definition of "enjoin" is "to order." Simply, if the people want to prosper, they must commit totally to loving God and none other above Him. The question to ponder was: "How does that passage make you feel?"

One of my classmates answered that it struck fear into him because he felt that no one could do the right thing all the time and that no one could be one-hundred-percent committed to something one-hundred-percent of the time. To him, the expectation of total committment was daunting. I, on the other hand, had the opposite reaction. As I explained it, I was raised in the fire-and-brimstone faith (Pentecost) and grew up with the impression that the line between Heaven and Hell was almost impossibly thin because the focus was largely upon the Wrath of God (i.e. fear). So, to me, the idea of salvation being as simple as committing to God -- loving Him, trusting His will, etc -- is freeing because it allows me to let the little things go and to place all things in His hands -- which isn't always easy but, when combined with His mercy, is usually a lot easier than analyzing my own judgement of every little issue. To place my salvation within the context of commitment to God and my faith is to trust that the right path will flow naturally from Him -- which is more reassuring than having to trust myself to have the answers.

During our break, our sponsors (and Tom) joined us, along with a future seminarian, to discuss our reading from the Gospels (notice how the Old Testament and Gospel readings are always related to one another):

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how
well he had answered them, asked him, "Which is the first of all the
commandments?" Jesus replied, "The first is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our
God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with
all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is
this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment
greater than these." The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher. You are right
in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.' And 'to love him with all
your heart with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your
neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are
not far from the kingdom of God." And no one dared to ask him anymore questions.
-- Mark 12:28-34

In this scripture, the Great Commandment is repeated, but Jesus also adds one more commandment of equal importance: loving your neighbor as you love yourself. In doing so, the Ten Commandments are summarized into two commandments: place no other gods before Me, and love thy neighbor. To love God and be committed to Him, one must consciously decide to love their "neighbors" for our neighbors were created in his image and are part of the body of Christ, and to walk the path of treating their neighbors with love, one must call upon the strength of God for we and our neighbors are human, imperfect, and, therefore, not always lovable. The two commandments are eternally united, and all other commandments flow from them.

But how inclusive is the term 'neighbor,' and how does this love for God & neighbor sanctify our daily living?

In theory, a 'neighbor' should be anyone in the world, but to most of us, a 'neighbor' is someone we come into contact with regularly and directly. But would any of us really have a problem if 'neighbors' included only our family, friends, and maybe even co-workers? Most likely, we wouldn't. Most of us do our best to limit contact with people we find unpleasant and, instead, surround ourselves with people we love and whom love us. But what is the challenge in loving those who love you? Instead, we must be mindful to include everyone we come into contact with as our 'neighbor' whether that person is a friend, a family member, a cranky customer, the guy who cuts us off in traffic and flips us the bird, the goofy looking kid covered in pentagrams and eyeliner at the mall, etc. Everyone we come into contact with -- no matter how direct, indirect, or marginal -- is our neighbor. They were created in God's image and, therefore, have some redeeming quality, and while it is not our responsibility to force ourselves onto others or to allow seemingly despicable people to drain our energy to the point of having nothing left to care for ourselves and our families, it is our responsibility to take time to respond rather than to react to them, to recognize that God knows their heart and what makes them act in the manner they choose, to recognize a need and to help if we can, and to "take the high road" just as we would want it taken with us. Through that, we conserve energy that might be wasted upon senseless rage and retribution, show our love for and committment to God, enjoy the inner peace that comes from keeping faithful, and, indeed, become more like Him in our capacity for forgiveness and acceptance.

Monday, November 13, 2006

RCIA: Week Two

Originally posted in my personal journal on October 30, 2006 regarding Mass on October 29, 2006:

For our second week of RCIA, Tom and I opted out of the field trip to St Mary of the Woods because we were concerned the bus wouldn't return in time for him to report back to post since a busy schedule for Monday meant a busy night for him on Sunday -- and an early return to Fort Campbell. We also felt it best to opt out because Melissa was not going to be able to attend because her husband would be out of town on business, leaving her with no one to watch the kids. The trip coordinator seemed disappointed when I told her we weren't coming, but she understood.

Since none of us went on the trip, Melissa, Tom, and I decided to meet for 9am Mass and sit together with Melissa's parents (I had met her mother at the meeting). Mass with two small children is rather interesting -- as is any church service with two small children -- but we managed. I was proud that I actually understood more of what was happening and was able to say more of the prayers, etc without relying on the book. I didn't feel awkward while performing the sign of the cross with Holy Water upon entering (and leaving) or while taking a knee (I can't remember the actual term) before entering our pew. And when it came time for the Sacrament, Melissa encouraged me to go up to receive a blessing. Tom abstained because he's really just getting back into practice after his deployment and didn't feel ready to partake. I, however, did receive a blessing, and I didn't feel self-conscious at all.

As it is, I'm not sorry we missed the trip. We may have missed a bonding experience for the group, but it's not like you can tell the Army to reschedule some things because it's a little inconvenient to have to come back to post earlier than usual. I also don't think Tom nor I were really ready for an all day trip with a bunch of people we barely know. Our time together is limited to what we can fit in on the weekends, and we tend to be very protective of it -- meaning we really don't like to schedule our weekends full of social and familial obligations. In the end, I felt that the opportunity to bond with my sponsor a little more and to attend a full Mass was more important and more valuable than the trip would have been.

Meet the Coach

Orginally posted in my personal journal on October 20, 2006 regarding a parish stewardship meeting on October 25, 2006:

On Wednesday night, Melissa and I met at the Parish Hall for one of the "Meet the Coach" meetings for the parish's 2007 Stewardship Campaign. Father Bernie is rather new to Holy Rosary, having only been at the parish for about two months, and since his arrival, he has launched a campaign to build a team mentality among the various parishioners (thus the theme). Part of the strategy has been to conduct a survey among the parishioners to determine the parish's needs, hold meetings to discuss the findings, and begin a stewardship campaign to meet those needs. Personally, I went to learn a bit more about what the parish offers (I really had no idea how much they do offer), to have the opportunity to meet more people, and to meet Father Bernie once more. The meeting wasn't unpleasant, though as someone who genuinely doesn't have a lot -- or really any -- money to spare, stewardship campaigns generally make me uncomfortable. It isn't that I don't want to give; it's that I think it's more important to keep a roof over my head and food on my table. Fortunately, although "tithing" -- a concept not foreign to me since I was raised Protestant -- is something that the church seems to be moving toward to meet its needs, the Catholic Church does have a provision in the Catechism that states giving should be done according to one's means. Tom and I did talk about it later and after checking with his father (our own personal theological answer-man) to be sure that tithing is truly something meant for people who are actually financially stable, we decided to try to give what we could after paying the bills and putting some back to secure our post-Army education-filled futures -- which means we'll be happy to give 10% of what we have after the bills are paid and a little is tucked away into savings. For us, that's a sacrifice because it means tightening the budget for even basic things like groceries. But mostly, I think I'll give my time. Tom isn't able to do so because he's on post all week, but I have plenty of evenings I can devote to a project or two at the church while still finding time to write. Regardless, I was able to meet Father Bernie again at the meeting and was impressed that he remembered who I was (after all, it's a big church), and he mentioned during his speech that he thought it was great that new candidates like me are jumping right into things (at least I think that's what he said; I was a bit busy keeping baby E from putting goldfish cracker crumbs in my hair). I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that a few people who work at my company are Holy Rosary parishioners, and I was happy to meet Melissa's kids, A and baby E (who, as I mentioned, really, really likes to play with my hair). All in all, it was a good meeting and though I was a little lost during some of it, I'm glad I went.

RCIA: Week One

Originally posted in my personal journal on October 30, 2006 regarding RCIA on October 22, 2006:

The Heretic Gets a Nametag
At 8:15, Tom and I met the rest of the RCIA group in the Parish Hall for what was dubbed a "Formation Meeting" on the schedule but I can only really describe as a meet-and-greet and lineup. During the "meeting," we picked up our nametags (Tom, not officially being part of the RCIA process didn't get one, but Carol Ann said she'd have one for him by our next session), met Father Bernie for the first time, and met my sponsor, Melissa. Father Bernie was very warm -- very different from what I expected from a Catholic priest (never having met one) -- and Melissa is awesome. She immediately placed me at ease by assuring me that, though she's been at Holy Rosary her entire life, she was new to the RCIA process too and was looking forward to learning with me. She also explained to me that her husband is not Catholic, so she's very used to explaining things to people with a Protestant background, and she joined Tom in teasing me a little about being a "heretic" or, at the very least, a soon-to-be-former-heretic. I was also relieved to find that Melissa didn't have a problem with Tom joining me throughout the process even though he's a "cradle Catholic." I knew Carol Ann (the Director of Religious Education for the parish) had said that he was more than welcome to sit in on every session and meeting, but it was still a relief to find out I had a sponsor who didn't feel like his presence was intended to step on her toes but was, instead, only intended to keep me comfortable and not cut into our limited time together too much.

We Want What?
During Mass, the RCIA group and their family members (which, for me, is Tom) has reserved seating in the first few rows. On normal Sundays, we will all simply meet in our reserved seating area, but because we had to perform the "Rite of Welcome and Acceptance," our first Sunday was different. Tom went to sit in the reserved seating area while Melissa and I remained with the rest of the group in the vestibule, awaiting our names to be called as we filed in. The group was, understandably, nervous and chatty, but I think we managed to keep quiet enough during Introductory Rites not to disturb things too much. However, I think the nervousness could have been avoided completely if we'd simply gone over the Rite. I understand it's supposed to be a bit of mystery, but beyond lining up, none of the Catechumens/Candidates had any idea what was happening. As a result, once we were all standing in front of the congregation and were asked what it was we asked of God's Church, all 24 of us froze and had to be prompted that the answer was "faith." Despite the slight muck up, the rest of the Rite went more smoothly. Father Bernie blessed each of us individually, and our sponsors performed the Sign of the Cross upon our foreheads, eyes, lips, shoulders, hearts, hands, and feet before presenting us with crosses to wear and allowing Father Bernie to present us with new study bibles. Once the Rite was complete, we all gathered in our reserved seating area (which allowed me to reunite with Tom) until the homily had ended, at which time the catechumens and candidates were dismissed to begin our RCIA session.

Hello, My Name Is Melanie, and I'm a Heretic
Each week while the sponsors and rest of the congregation are partaking in the Sacrament of the Eucharist (communion), the candidates and catechumens will be meeting in the basement of the Parish Hall for our own "dismissal" discussion. For our first session, we introduced ourselves to each other and gave a bit of information about our backgrounds. I was happy to find that my background as a Pentecost was not the most far-flung in the group. In fact, we have one woman who was raised Mormon and a man who was raised with an atheistic background. Still, by the time the fifth person had introduced themselves, it began to feel like a Heretics Anonymous meeting with almost every introduction following the name/religious background/what led the person to the Church format.

I, too, gave the standard introduction. I simply gave my name, stated that I was raised Pentecost, baptized Baptist, was a member of the Methodist church as an adult, and had come to inquire about the Catholic faith based upon reading a friends thoughts regarding her own Catholic faith and realizing many of the teachings fit quite well with my personal beliefs. I refrained from mentioning that one of my biggest current motivators -- the thing that has helped me overcome the fear of actually taking the leap into the Church -- has been the serious nature of my relationship with Tom or that my second biggest motivator is probably a desire to strengthen my own faith in response to the loss of my grandfather on the first of October. Some people don't find those motivators to be "good enough," but, as Tom's sister, Theresa, said to me, "What better motivators are there other than the people you love?" I agree, and while I didn't elaborate on my motivations simply because I feel that my personal reasons are my personal reasons that don't necessarily need to be shared with everyone, I found it rather sad that many people seemed to think it was necessary not to simply and briefly explain how they came to inquire into the Catholic faith but to, instead, justify why it took them so long. After all, should it really matter what our motivations are? Should anyone be criticized because their motivation centers around a loved one or an affinity for the Mass itself rather than a sudden realization or belief that the Catholic Church is the One True Church? I don't think so. Instead, I think anyone who has taken the time to truly reflect upon their belief system and find the courage to make a change should be respected.

The second part of our dismissal discussion centered around the Rite performed at the start of Mass and how each of us felt about it. Don't get me wrong. I really do understand the serious nature of taking this step; after all, I made the decision to do it just like everyone else. But what is it about these kinds of discussions that seem to make everyone seem like they have to be "serious Catholics" instead of just being people who are exploring their faith? There's a fine line between acknowledging the meaning of something (which is one of the things I love about the Catholic church -- everything has so much meaning and history behind it) and in waxing on endlessly about a sudden feeling of family and bonding with the people in the room. Maybe I shouldn't feel that way because maybe that's really how some people felt about it, but I'm a bit cynical about these things sometimes, and some of the theatrics struck me as just that -- theatrics -- and as such, they took a little bit away from my own experience. I do want to be able to bond on a certain level with my class, but it's not going to happen just because we all made a similar decision to stand in front of a church full of people together and commit to meeting every week to discuss religion. It's going to happen as we discuss things and share our life stories and find the common ground between our differences.

Jesus as a Leader

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, "Teacher,
we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish
me to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one
at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know
what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the
baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to
them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I
am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not
mine to give but is is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten
heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and
said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the
Gentiles lord it over them,a nd their great ones make their authority over them
felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among
you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave
of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give
his life as a ransom for many." -- Mark 10:35-45

Once Mass was over, our sponsors joined us in the Parish Hall basement, and we all took a break with coffee, donuts, fruit, and orange juice. Fifteen minutes later, we resumed our RCIA session. For this part of the session, we read the Gospel reading from Mass aloud and broke up into smaller groups to discuss it. My group consisted of me, Tom, Melissa, the parish organist, her husband/sponsor, a Spanish teacher from Holy Rosary school (I think), his sponsor, and one of our catechists. Our questions were, "How does the standard for greatness in this reading differ from society's views of greatness?" and "How can this teaching be applied to our faith?"

During our discussion, our group talked about how most people seem to view greatness and leadership as something that is achieved by exerting power over others and leaders as being those people who already possess that power. However, the message of the passage is simple: greatness is achieved through servitude. By serving others, we become great. By approaching our world with an attitude of servitude -- asking what we can do for others instead of what can be done for us -- and by living in the world without judgement -- as Christ did -- we become great. We become the kind of people who are able to lead by example rather than force and the kind of Christian that can lead people to God not because we can make others feel guilty or afraid but because we can show them joy. And with that, a short discussion about the Sign of the Cross -- during which we learned that the sign is a prayer in and of itself rather than just an opening and closing ritual -- a quick reminder about the following week's trip, and a prayer, we closed our first RCIA session.

First Mass

Originally posted in my personal journal on October 17, 2006 regarding Mass on October 15, 2006:

I attended my first official Mass Sunday morning. Overall, it went well. I was a little confused with a few rituals, but Tom explained them afterward, so I think I'll be okay next week. But, really, isn't there a manual for this? hehe... Anyway, I felt quite comfortable. I did feel a bit like a huge blinking "Newbie" sign during Communion (since, as a non-Catholic, I cannot participate), but I'm sure that was due more to my nerves than anything else. Anyway, I think we'll go back to Holy Rosary next week. I'm not sure it'll be the parish I ultimately choose for path to conversion, but I seem to be comfortable enough getting my bearings there.

One of the advantages Holy Rosary seems to have is the possibility of year-round RCIA (or at least an RCIA program starting very soon). In smaller parishes, RCIA often begins only at particularly times of the year, to be timed with baptism at the end of the Easter season (if I'm remembering what I've read correctly). Personally, I'd like to get started -- not because I feel the need to rush but simply because I don't feel the need to waste time. RCIA is a one year process (I think); that gives me plenty of time to know if it's the right path for me. I don't really want to wait five months or so to even get started. However, if the possibility of starting RCIA now isn't open, I might seriously consider attending a Mass or two at Nativity or Resurrection -- two smaller parishes that seem very warm, welcoming, and active. Still, I sent an e-mail to both Father Bernie and to Carol Ann, the parish's Director of Religious Education, regarding starting RCIA. A few moments ago, I received a call on my cell phone (which I couldn't take because I'm in the office) from a number at Holy Rosary. I'm guessing when I check my voicemail, I'll have a message from Carol Ann. Hopefully, she'll have good news for me, and hopefully, once I begin RCIA, I can get a better idea of how difficult my annulment will be to obtain.

I spoke with my former boss regarding annulment since I knew she had been through the process. As it turns out, she is very resentful of the Catholic church because it was, apparently, a very arduous process for her. However both she and Tom don't seem to think it will be so difficult for me since I was not married in the Catholic church. Still, I'd rather hear that from Father Bernie, and I'm anxious to understand what, exactly, I'm going to have to do and how much it will cost because I did read something that indicated an annulment through the Catholic church can take a year to obtain and cost the petitioner nearly $1000. That's money I don't have, and while there isn't a huge emergency to have my annulment granted, I'd like to get it taken care of as expediently as possible because, frankly, I don't want to be in the position of having to wait for it if I do decide to get married.

So, we'll see what happens. I'll return the phone call on my lunch hour.

Why Catholicism?

Originally posted in my personal journal October 11, 2006:

Anyone who has read my musings on religion or who is familiar with my religious history understands I'm not a big fan of "doctrine." To quote myself, "I believe in God, but I don't believe in the infallibility of organized religion. I believe God is far more forgiving than most doctrine would like us to believe." In my opinion, there is a vast difference between "religious conviction" -- a person's relationship with God -- and "doctrine" -- the human interpretation of Holy text. To follow doctrine is not necessarily to follow the teachings of God but is, instead, to follow the teachings of those men who interpreted the teachings of God. I do believe doctrine has a place in religion, but instead of being the final word on what is "right" and "wrong" according to God (who, again, is far more forgiving than any human or human interpretation of His mercy), I believe it should be used merely as a guideline for teaching and be regarded as vastly secondary to a personal relationship with God and the sense of comfort and support one should feel within their chosen religious community. That being said, I was raised as a Pentecost, but I was baptized in the Baptist church. In my adulthood, I became a member of the United Methodist church, and most recently, I have regularly attended services at a local United Church of Christ (often dubbed Catholic-lite). In addition, over the years, I have attended services of many different denominations, including Catholic Mass. Not once has the change ever affected my personal relationship with Christ.

One might ask why someone who has held a relatively strong faith in the existence and power of God throughout her entire life might jump around between denominations as much as I have. The answer is simple: community and, to a lesser extent, doctrine. Again, I'm not a huge fan of doctrine, but I do see its place and can understand the importance of agreeing with at least the majority of what your chosen religious community teaches. For the most part, I didn't have an issue growing up Pentecost. I was taught the same things most kids are taught about God and about being a good person, but I do take issue with one tenet of the Pentecost doctrine (okay, probably more if I wanted to get in-depth, but let's just go with the one) and have for years. Pentecost is one of what many dub the "fire-and-brimstone" religions. That is, the Pentecost faith -- at least in my experience -- generally teaches the concept of a Wrathful God, almost to the detriment of the concept of a Merciful God. As a child, I was taught that God is, indeed, more forgiving than we can fathom but also that He is very wrathful and to be feared. The result was a foreboding fear of God if I was anything less than perfect -- a sense of "be perfect and repent constantly or go to Hell" duality. As a result, I grew up with a faith in the power and mercy of God but an extreme fear of my own judgement from God. But, it wasn't until my pastor at my Methodist church made a point of truly studying John 3:16 -- "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life" -- and emphasizing to our congregation the simple promise of Mercy contained within that scripture, that I began to truly question the emphasis of doctrine in religion. For most of my life, I had lived in fear of not being perfect, and suddenly, a pastor -- a teacher of God's word -- was telling me that the very first Bible verse I'd memorized in my childhood had promised me that I didn't have to be perfect because I all I needed was to do my best, to trust in God, and to try to develop my relationship with Him. I was 24 years old, and that moment has defined my Faith and my search for a religious community ever since.

Over the last year or two, I have often read my friend, Cat's, musings and observations regarding Catholicism, often with the idea of conversion floating around somewhere in the back of my head. Like her, I have found the bulk of what I know about Catholicism to be quite logical. This isn't to say that I agree with everything I've read thus far, but I sincerely doubt there is a religion in existence that would fit my personal beliefs perfectly -- unless I'm going to write it myself. In addition, while I'm not overly familiar with all of the rituals of Catholicism, I find a certain amount of comfort in religious ritual. I find that when ritual is performed as an addition to personal worship, it can provide a sense of stability and unity within one's chosen religion and religious community. Catholicism seems to be much heavier on ritual than the Pentecost doctrine, but I like what I see, and it occurs to me that Methodist is more ritualistic than Pentecost while UCC has been more ritualistic than haven't I been moving in this direction for years? Yet, with all of these observations, I have found little motivation to actually take the first step toward conversion and to start regularly attending Mass -- until now. That being said, the roots of my own faith are firmly planted, and this is a decision I will make based upon my own personal convictions. In other words, if I find something in this process I simply cannot reconcile with my own faith, I will not convert.

Regardless, the next step is simple. On Sunday, Thomas and I will attend Mass together. At this time, I'm choosing between a large parish of about 1400 families and a small parish of about 300 families. They are both close to my home and seem to have an inviting atmosphere. For me, the question is largely one of whether I want to blend in and make my mistakes or ask my stupid questions in relative anonymity or if I want to do those things in an atmosphere in which I'll stand out more but be more likely to receive personal guidance through this process.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Welcome to Miscellanie

miscellany /mis-uh-ley-nee/: a miscellaneous collection or group of various or somewhat unrelated items

miscellanie /mi-sel-uh-nee/: Miscellaneous Thoughts from the Mind of Melanie

And that's all there is to say... for now.