Here is an accout of my time spent in RCIA, complete with typos and spelling errors, as posted on Gerald’s Blog.

What follows is a short account of my time spent in RCIA at a mid-sized parish in Eastern Kentucky. You can read my conversion story for the details leading up to my time in RCIA.

First, a note: I will obscure locations and use first names only throughout this narrative. Several of these people are still alive and, unfortunatly, some of the things I have to say about them are less than complementary.

Also, please let it go without saying that I argued the obvious points of authentic Catholic doctrine, insofar as I was able, whenever I was presented with a loony hypothesis. In the interest of time and space, I will leave it to you, the readers of this blog, who know a great deal about the Faith, to fill in the blanks. I think my experience was typical of converts in many parishes in the early-to-mid-1990’s, who had to deal with the established hippie old-guard on their way out. The theology and history is and was as fresh and new as avocado decor and shag carpet. Think of my expierence as “applied anthropology,” a witness to the passing age.

I entered RCIA in mid-term around the end of 1991, at the age of 14. I remember my first trip to the parish. It was then that I met Lynn, the RCIA director. She started out by showing me the church, pointing out the furnishings, etc. The gothic parish church was “renovated” (uglified) in the mid 1970’s and, as a result of faulty electrical installation, burned to the ground a couple of years later. The replacement building, finished in 1980, was dark, squat, round, and brown. Lynn took me through the “narthex” and showed me the lead jars sitting on a shelf used to store the Holy Oils. She even opened them up and smeared them around to demonstrate the non-difference (except in the smell.) She showed me the “Eucharistic Chapel” where the tabernacle was hidden. She showed me the “Reconcilliation Room” where confessions where heard. She then took me into the big main church and showed me the huge statue of the risen Lord over the altar where the Crucifix should have been. I remember her words:

“Do you see the statue of Jesus, and how his big arms are streached all the way out? I always think that that’s just how the Church is. There is enough room between Jesus’ arms for everyone, from the extreme left all the way to the extreme right.”

While not thinking my self an extreme right-hand side kind of guy at the time, I would soon find out that Lynn and the Religous Education Department (RED) thought of me as such, and that my presence would test Lynn’s declaration of religious tolerance in the Catholic Church.

Our next meeting was a week later. I was interviewed alone by Lynn and the Director of Religious Ed., Sr. Elizabeth. It was during thi meeting that I found out two things: First, both Lynn and Sister were from alta partes. Lynn moved to our little town from WAY upstate New York, so far upstate that most of the people in her town spoke French. Sister was from a notorious religious order in Cincinnati. Both had worked in their capacities at the parish for nearly 15 years. There was a third woman, Mary, also from Cincinnati, who was in charge of the RCIC(hildren) and all youth catachesis. These three long-time religious educators were the sum and substance of Religous Ed in the parish, and had been on the job for a long time.

We met in Lynn’s office adjacent to the library of the old High School (long since closed at the time.) It was a small, neat room, which could have been a janitor’s closet in the old days. Lynn and Sister told me that, since I had inquired in the middle of the Fall, I would be off-cycle and would have to carry on beginning next Fall or, if I wanted, I could tag along for the remaining cycle and begin in earnest the next year. I decided that I wanted as much exposure to the Church as possible and that I would tag along for a while. They said that they would be happy to meet me in the library every week to discuss Catholicism. I was very happy to get started, and I left that
meeting enthused.

The next week, and every week thereafter for several months, I met alone with Lynn and Sister. I was given the nomenclature particular to RCIA and found out that I was, and would remain for some time, an “Inquirer.” Our discussions were, I think, rather more advanced than the ladies expected, judging their reactions to my questions. I had read a few good Catholic books heretofore, and I reacted, rather
naively, to their presuppositions about what I knew with hearty, yet pedantic, zeal.

The substance of the catechesis at this point was, well, insubstantial. I was told a brief history of the Church. Supposedly, there were one thousand nine hundred sixty-five years of hierarchical paternalism, with some rigiditz and formalism thrown in, followed byabout thirty years of “growth” and “discovery” that put asunder the previous epoch in one fell swoop. The point of demarcation was the Second Eccumenical Council, or Vatican II. All that came before was seperated by an vast, inpenetrable barrier, and all that came after was all I needed to worry about.

Sister told me, in these early years, that the Pope, “Our Conservative Pole” as she insultingly called him, was a reactionary. You see, the pendulum which had for so long swung to the left was beginning to swing back to the right, with this “Pole” providing the counter-balance. Sister then told me, in confidence, that she wished
the old man would hurry up and die.

I was presented with some challanging ideas. For instance, one chatechist took chalk in hand one day and drew a triangle on a blackboard in the library. She said “Prior to Vatican II, the Church was structured like this.” She showed how the hierarchy, with the Pope at the top and the laity at the bottom, was thought of as a top-down affair, kind of like a monarchy. Then, drawing a series of concentric cirlcles, she said “But now, the Church is structured more like this.” She showed the hierarchy eminating from the center, with collaborative pennumbra moving through the permiable membranes, from the “people” to the inner midocondria of the hierarchy.

Also, in those early sessions, I was taught about Church authority. I once mentioned (and mispronounced) the word “magisterium.” Lynn said “Yes, that is the teaching authority of the Church. But, you know, there is the extraordinary magisterium, which has only been used twice [Immaculate Conception and Assumption] and the ordinary magisterium, which is not only official Church pronouncements, but also the
collective opinion of theologians.” I made it to mass as often as I could during these early days. I got a ride into town with a sympathetic Episcopalian, lending my bass
voice to their choir in exchange for a ride. After their service, I would strip off my cassock and hustle the several blocks to the Catholic Church, normally in time for the Gospel. This late mass was when the catachumens were called up and dismissed at the end of the sermon to “break open the Word.” I was initially supposed to go with
them, but my handlers figured that I was too advanced (so they told me) and that I would make folks uncomfortable. I was to continue receiving private instruction until the end of that cycle.

It was during this time that I asked for some aids to prayer, such as a rosary, a brown scapular, holy cards, etc. Lynn said that that was not a good idea, because “things” get in the way of a personal relationship with God. In this I was insistant and, to her credit, Lynn secured some items from the Shrine of St. Ann in Canada. No scapular, though. It would be several years, in fact, before I got close enough to a Catholic religious goods store to secure one.

The next Fall, I was thrown in the regular RCIA group. The first one or two cookies and punch meetings I attended were a rehash of the “treatment” I’d received in my first days. The first meeting, I asked so many questions in challange to our instructors that a couple who had considered coming to the Chruch were scared off (God forgive my imprudence.) The second session was even more “fun.” I had received as a gift a statue of the Virgin Mary that a friend carved for me. It
was one of those deco-modern enlongated things, very pretty. I brought it with me to class to show the ladies. Mary (who was very large and very loud) said it was perfect, because we were to talk about the Virgin that afternoon, and she wanted to make an object lesson out of it. Later, after our “faith sharing” (which we HAD to
do when we met in groups, as a means of testifying to our progress “On The Journey”,) Mary held up my statue and said “When we think of Mary, we often have an image like this in our mind; a sort of super-prayerful, other-worldly Mary of lithographs and statues like this. But, really, Mary probably looked something more like this.” She then held up a framed print of one who I presume was St. Mary,
kneeding dough on a rough wooden table, with an exagerated look of strain, akin to (it was really bad art, remember,) constipation. “This is how I think Mary really looked like” Mary the Catechist said. “A woman of her time, toiling as women did, in hard manual labor . . .” . What followed was a pitch for women’s ordination. “Women worked just as hard as the other Apostles” Mary said to me later, “I just wish the Church would join the 20th century and recognize the goodness of women today, so at least I wouldn’t have to go to [a prominent outdoor spot near a convent in a major mid-western city] and watch my [nun] friends celebrate Eucharist ‘in the catacombs’.”

After those two episodes, and the arguments that followed, I was called in to talk to Lynn alone. She said, and I paraphrase, that my questions and challanges were scaring the hell out of my fellow inquirers and that I was to be transfered to Mary’s RCIC program. I protested, but was told it was this or nothing. I aquiesced and joined. Mary’s group met down the hall. Her style replaced the old-folks isipidness of RCIA with a younger, hipper insipidness. It was like changing the channel from CBS to ABC. I was in with two children of lapsed Catholics who were there for remedial sacramental catechesis. I soon learned why Lynn and Sister had sent me to Mary. Anytime I challenged Mary to a point, Mary would stand up and loom over me and
scream, thus winning her argument by ending mine. Two note-worthy points from this time: First, when I mentioned my new CD with a recording of Ave Maria on it, she chuckled back “Oh, I don’t want to hear it!” I asked why, and she said that she HAD NEVER HAD A PARTICULAR DEVOTION TO MARY*. Second, I don’t remember how it came up, but we got to the subject of birth control. Mary told
us it was a matter of individual conscience. I said that it was the unequivocal teaching of the Church, etc., etc. She got up, RAN over to where I was sitting, got down in my face, pointed a finger, and yelled “Listen! I use birth control, and I’m NOT going to Hell! You got that?!”

I was miserable in Mary’s section, and I requested and got a transfer back to RCIA when the group had become more stable. We traveled down to the cathedral for the Rite of Election, and I got to meet the Bishop. I kissed his ring, and he looked at me like I had corn growing out of my ears. Mary scolded me later on this point, and I
felt myself growing very, very cold. I was intent to get through it all and BE a Catholic, and I suddenly didn’t care what the RED thought about me and what I believed.

Around that time, I found a copy of the St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 2 in the library. I stupidly pointed it out to Sister, who asked for it, then insisted I give it to her, whereupon she said “How did we miss this?” and tossed it in the trash can. (So help me, it really happened.)

As Easter approached, we were involved in all sorts of ceremonies, scrutinies, etc.. During one of these, Mary presented me with a NAB. She wrote on the inside front cover “Read this. This is where we find the TRUE spirit of God.”

Finally, Easter came and I was happier to know that I wouldn’t have to take part in RCIA stuff anymore. A few weeks before Easter, Lynn, Sister Elizabeth, and Mary had a talk with me and told me they thought I wasn’t ready (read: “The mind warping has not taken effect”) and that I would have to wait another year. I was furiously upset, and I wandered down to the Eucaristic Chapel to pray. I asked God to make me a Catholic. In that thirty minutes of crying and pleading, I got a thought-Ask the Pastor What to Do. He’s in charge of the program, not those women. I got up, thanked God for the advice, and, in the fashion of an eight-year-old, told on the RED. Father looked down at me (he was 7’1″; they called him “The High Priest”) and told me that I was most assuredly ready. I kept my head down, showed up at the right time on Easter, made the right response, was received by the Deacon, Confirmed and Communicated by the Associate Pastor, (all of this while facing the congregation, by the way,) and with that, I was free from RCIA for good. Also, I was a member of the Body of Christ.

Soon after becoming a member of the Church, I was told by Mary that I needed a job. So I trained to be an Extraordinary Minister. Mary trained me. She showed us how to hoist, lift, and present the elements (“use their name if you can!”) and, in the end, gave us an object lesson. She held an unconsecrated host in her hand and said
“The Eucharist is about the people.” She recited a poem about how “I saw you and you were sad; I comforted you, and I was Eucharist to you” and other hogwash. She held up the unconsecrated host and said “Without people [closing hand, crushing host for dramatic effect] it means nothing!”

I resigned my post a few weeks later, convicted that I wasn’t good enough for the job. Nowadays, I wouldn’t presume to handle the Sacred Species unless there was an emergency of some kind.

Later, I fell in with a local chapter of Catholics United for the Faith. CUF was not well liked by the pastor, so they met in a house accross the street from the church. There were six of us, and we met once a week for coffee, passed around liturature (in those
pre-internet days, it was the only way to keep up on the REAL Church) and had a general strategy “bitch’n-‘n-boast’n” session about church stuff. Since I was a youngster and had come out of our notorious RCIA program with two functioning brain cells, I was kind of like their mascot.

CUF had a chaplain who had been banished by the bishop to the far end of the diocese in the barren hills of south-central Kentucky, about 4 hours away. I wrote a letter to that priest, sharing my concerns about RCIA with him. He wrote back, and sent a cc to the head of our CUF chapter, which made her so mad that she publicly confronted Mary with the letter. Mary caught me a week later and, in her loud and
threatening way, that any more such “acts of disloyalty” would be punished, as it was “hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.” At 16, I knew my place and rights in the Church, and I wasn’t going to be bullied anymore. I walked out, and didn’t speak to her again.

Years passed. I was 19 and living on my own in a converted barn at the edge of a marsh near Beaufort, SC. I got a telephone call to tell me that the associate pastor (not the one who confirmed me) had left the rectory the day before, and the next day announced his engagement to a fellow convert in a full-page “I gave it up for love” B.S. story in the local paper.

At age 21, I learned that the pastor of the church had had a heart attack. While recovering, he applied for retirement in place, and decided to clean up the parish budget by reducing the sallaries of the RED women to $1.00 for the year. This was an ecconomic consideration, but was also made in consideration of the complaints made over their many, many years of inneffective service. The women threatened to
sue, and were fired. A sleaze of an attorney concocted a sexual harassment lawsuit against the pastor and the diocese, based on an accidental run in with a dazed, sick, drugged up pastor in his undershorts on his way to the bathroom in the rectory one evening. The suit was designed to cajole a settlment from the defendants. The pastor, upon being sued, requested ill advised hip surgery. The doctors warned him that, in his present state, he may likely die in recovery, but the pastor insisted. Alas, the doctors were correct.
The parish blamed the death on the women. They dispursed:

Lynn retreated to a local Neuman Center where “her kind” of religion
was practiced.

Sister Elizabeth was recalled to her mother house. I presume that she is either dead or infirm to the point of inactivity.

Mary did us all a favor and (formally, you might say) converted. She became a Baptist. When I was 24, I learned that Mary had died of a brain tumor. Her husband summoned a priest in those last days. Mary cursed him out of the house.

There is much more to tell. Not just more anecdotes, but more personal reflection. Suffice it to say that I was angry and disappointed in the RCIA program, both in terms of structure as well as presentation, in my personal expierence and the expierence of others with whom I have discussed the subject.

As for everything else, I will leave it for the book.

(*Fast forwad a few years. At a conference, I heard Fr. Hardon say
this: It is essential that the catechist have a deep devotion to
Mary. Upon hearing this, I remembered, and I cried.)