Saturday, December 7, 2013
My Journey as a Catholic So Far, Pt. 4: RCIA and Arrogance
In my class were all manner of potential catechumens from all walks of life - lapsed Catholics Anglicans, Protestants, non-Christians, ad nauseum. The priest who conducted the proceedings was the same one I had first spoken with; a charismatic convert from Anglicanism, one of those rare specimens of married Roman priests, he began his first talk in the sanctuary by referencing one of my favorite beers' slogans. On the bottle of Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale, he spoke of how it had "veritas" on the sticker, and explained the meaning of the word as "truth". This may all sound trite now, but for me, it was a neat little transition into the huge topics we would be confronting.
The standard convert questions arose - "Why do Catholics pray to saints/Mary?", "Purgatory?", and the like. But despite the fact that I had gone ahead and begun reading past the basics, it was a good experience, full of dinners and snacks throughout. We were all invited to become catechumens at the end of the course, and move on from the simple stage of inquiry. Many of those classmates that I knew dropped out - one Anglican girl thought it all a bit much and was not able to get past the issue of praying to saints, some simply drifted away again, some stayed and entered RCIA. I was one of them. After meeting with the chief parish priest at the cathedral who later became my guide and confessor, filling out some paperwork, and getting through my "interview" with a nervous reply of "I want to come home now," I began the RCIA experience.
Now, I have no idea what RCIA is like for anybody else out there, but for me, it was an intense struggle. For a period, I began to succumb to a fearsome intellectual pride that was subtle enough in its beginnings to slip past all the romantic exuberance I had about learning about the faith. Instead of wide-eyed wonder at the faith and all its history, I fell into intellectualizing and information-gathering.
Suddenly, in my arrogance, I fell into a kind of boredom and wandering state of mind. I was surprised that no one seemed to want to go "deeper" when it came to learning about the Catholic faith. I assumed that all the others in the class were reading St. John of the Cross and St. Thomas Aquinas too. I say this not to boast, but to expose the horrible arrogance that had begun to dig itself into my soul. Here, I wish to expose it once and for all.
Annoyed at the elementary nature of learning the Catholic ABC's (which, after all, is what RCIA is all about), I would skip out of the coffee break where everyone would mingle with each other, and instead slip away to the parish library to scan over the Summa Theologica, or read the mystical accounts of St. Catherine of Genoa.
In doing all of this, in slipping away into a world where philosophy and knowledge saved, I went further and further off the path. True, I learned a lot - but I had forgotten about the heart of Christianity. I also forgot about the importance of the communal nature of the Church - as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware puts it, "The Christian is the one who has brothers and sisters. He belongs to a family - the family of the Church."1
1 - The Orthodox Way, ch. 6