Sunday, December 8, 2013

My Journey as a Catholic So Far, Pt. 5: Wandering Off the Path

As I continued with my RCIA courses, much of my honeymoon-romanticism about the Catholic Church began to wane due to many frustrations presenting themselves.  As I aforementioned, the elementary approach and content of RCIA was boring me out of my mind, and during many of the discussions, I found myself asking questions that were having to be answered outside of class - hardly anyone seemed to know what I was talking about, and apparently much of my questioning was running the risk of confusing others who were new to the faith entirely.  I understood, but still was always left seeking answers.

I distinctly remember my priest chastising me after Mass one day when, in a fit of arrogant pride, I said that I was tired of learning about "Hey, did you know that the Catholic Church is run by the Pope?" content.  I was slapped down pretty hard for this, and rightly so I think.  I had forgotten humility, forgotten understanding, forgotten that everyone is at different levels of experience and knowledge, and had pridefully usurped it all in my intense searches through history and theology.

For a time, too, I fell off the beaten path and found myself studying existentialist philosophers - Camus, Sartre, Kierkegaard - and began to transpose the ideas of existentialism on to my spiritual life.  The Christian journey had not become a walk of faith, but rather a leap, a search for authenticity, and an agonizing experience.  I lost my joy that I had had in the early days, with it being swallowed up in Kierkegaardian angst and bleak existentialist mindsets. In Kierkegaard, I saw a kindred spirit - a Christian who was tired of the mindless, habitual church attendance and reheated potluck dinners, who was tired of Christianity being presented as something easy, breezy, and fuzzy.  This was something that he characterized as "spiritless" Christianity (cf. The Sickness Unto Death)

It surely did not help for me to expose myself in college to reading Jean-Paul Sartre's writings, especially his thoughts on our being responsible for everything that happens in the world, while studying the evils of the Holocaust and the Soviet gulags at the same time - but I wanted to confront these realities of the past, to try and understand the problem of evil that atheists often hurl at Christians.

It was only through the work of the Lutheran existentialist Paul Tillich that I found a way out of the darkness of atheistic existentialism, who spoke of this kind of existentialist rejection of God as "freedom without content."

I left it behind, but not without scars.  The existentialist outlook, both Christian and atheist, had influenced me deeply.  I spent the rest of my classes in RCIA writhing through lectures, fuming at comments that I thought seemed so callous and ignorant to people going through spiritual angst, as if becoming Catholic were just all so very easy, as effortless as breathing.

Near the end of RCIA, I finally broke down.  Telling my classmates that it was all "[expletive] nuts" and that the Church assumed everyone led Dick-and-Jane storybook lives, I walked out of the parish hall shaking with rage.  One lone person took off after me, and while I cried in the middle of a cold downtown street, convinced me to keep coming.  Our particular teacher at that time, a former Communist, arranged to have a Mass said for me.

My sponsor told me that it wasn't so much a matter of belief or assent that was central at this point, but one of being able to tolerate others, to make it through a class without looking like I was having my guts torn out. 
I told him I would, but couldn't understand how that had anything to do with the Catholic faith in terms of belief - but it had everything to do with it.  If I could not act Christian, if I could not walk the walk, then I would just be another clanging cymbal, as St. Paul puts it.  If I had no love, then how could I be Christian at all?

With this in mind and heart, I proceeded to finish up RCIA.  But what is ironic here is what provided me the heart of Christianity, and pushed me in spirit to keep going, and to live the Christian life. 

1 - The Courage To Be, V


  1. RCIA was not a great experience for me. From the moment I started going to that (and to Mass) I knew that I could not trust any of them to teach me the faith. If I had I would have been in trouble. I just went through the classes and did not say much and studied on my own. I didn't study deep stuff like you did though, just things like Catholic Answers, Chesterton, writings of Saints etc.
    I ended up teaching RCIA for one year a couple of years ago. I did not run it but only helped. I ended up having to correct almost everyone but one other person. RCIA is not a pretty picture in most places.
    I'm probably not really addressing your main point, but I didn't have the problem of acting out in RCIA. I keep to myself usually anyway.

    1. Hi Rebecca, interestingly enough, this is the same story that I am hearing from most converts from all across the board. RCIA was, as I said, the great test of whether I would be allowed to become Catholic...if I could sit through a class without looking like I was ready to scream, then I could be baptized. Even that alone frustrated me. It wasn't so much the content, which was actually pretty decent, but the talks afterward that bugged me. The teaching was fine, the priest is one of the most devout I have ever met - it was more the class discussions after that drove me nuts, or the seeming-callousness of of some of the sponsors of other catechumens.

    2. My RCIA experience was not great, but good. The teacher was a deacon who was well-prepared for folks who would enter at a beginners level. I had been studying the Church for two years and knew quite a bit. I had to hold back oftentimes to let others answer, but others either didn't know or didn't care. I was going to become Catholic so I just rode it out.

      Chesterton, Belloc, O'Conner, the Catechism and many others had led me to Mother Church. My teacher said I had self-catechized myself.
      He was telling people I was his star pupil, a;though I was trying to be; I just wanted to know everything I could and I didn't understand why the others didn't want to know also.

      Anyway, I have been home for three years and RCIA made little difference in my decision.


  2. Our RCIA is not run by the priest or a deacon. Lay people run it. One of them now has a theology degree, but she was among those who I had to correct about doctrine. Someone asked her if St. Paul was an apostle and she didn't know. It's pathetic. When I went through, some couple was leading it, and I don't remember them ever saying they had any special credentials. Now, our parish doesn't even have RCIA, even though my friend and I volunteered to run it. They just send everyone over to the other church about twenty minutes away.

    1. Wow - that's way worse. Again, my problem I think was simply arrogance. I am pretty sure that my RCIA classes were good when it came to teaching, but I just found the general elementary nature to be frustrating. Pride, right?
      In your case, the problem sounds different...but unfortunately, it sounds like an all-too common phenomenon.


    2. Perhaps we (those of us who are highly self-motivated, or at least highly holy-spirit motivated :) are looking for a college-level kind of education / experience, where RCIA is mainly focused on covering the very basics so that we can begin receiving the sacraments as soon as possible.

      All of that varies so widely depending on the resources of the parish, the culture around that parish, and the knowledge of the catechumen. It seems, I think, as long as certain key points are mentioned, then the church can be satisfied we're not coming in and receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist without being aware that it is the real presence of Christ.

      The profundity of our experience really depends on us individually, as we each pursue it.

      St Max Kolbe has been ministering to me the last few days, pointing out that even in the worst circumstances, Christ is there, and showing us how to love one another.

  3. The living part of the Catholic Faith is the real challenge. I am a cradle Catholic but I only began to really love the Church fairly recently, and I am 53 years old. I thank God that He gave me this grace. I try not to be a clanging cymbal but God knows how many times I fall short in an hour! Only by His Grace!