Monday, November 13, 2006

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.


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