Monday, March 12, 2007

Pertinacious Converts

When converts first begin to sing,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.
Their happy souls are on the wing,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.
Their theme is all-redeeming love,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.
Fain would they be with Christ above,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.

Dr Philip Blosser has lamented the disappointment of some converts to Catholicism, who discover that what they read in the great works of the Church Fathers and Doctors and Authors like John Henry Newman and all, are not made manifest in parish life. He cites the disillusion encountered with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) programs in most parishes, many of which succeed in dumbing down the Faith to the point where a number of his colleagues have returned to Protestantism.

All this, in a piece entitled "Protestant reverts: Catholic dishonesty in advertising?"

The Second Vatican Council called for a revival of the ancient catechumenate. In the USA, it has been largely touted for its experiential qualities. This can be problematic, since the Catholic Faith is largely cognitive in terms of formation. Instead of feeling saved, through Christ and His Church one is saved. The will may precede the intellect, but there it rests in the end.

Every fall my parish would make an announcement, and I've actually thought about sponsoring someone. I've read entirely entirely too much about the Faith for my own good; how hard can it be? But I have also endured through RCIA rituals at Mass. I am genuinely embarrassed for most of the candidates. They undoubtedly put a great deal of personal soul-searching into this. Then they are made to stand facing of hundreds of people, along with their sponsors, some of whom are called to the pulpit at the Easter Vigil, to introduce their charges and prattle on about what a wonderful experience it was for them (that is, the sponsors). Then there's a round of applause. Once when I visited my parish back home, one of the star attractions was a guy who was already Catholic, but was introduced as "returning." Sort of like a "do over." What happens next, do they repeat the rite of confirmation?

Me, I'd run (not walk) screaming for the exit. And I'm not one who's shy about public speaking.

They make no doubt but all is well,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.
And Satan is cast down in hell,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.
They feel themselves quite free of pain,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.
And think their enemies are slain,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.

One can only conclude that such programs are placed in the hands of well-intentioned weenies who hand you a book of drivel that "the Church" requires you to use. Any time that happens you know that by "the Church," they actually mean some parish weenie committee, largely composed of die-hard committed weenies with entirely too much time on their hands. No doubt they were put there by the good Father, who found in the RCIA a means of keeping them occupied, and getting them out of his hair. I'd sooner take a correspondence course in the mail. (Hey, don't the Knights of Columbus still do that?)

Commenters to Dr Blosser recommend the old-fashioned private instruction with a priest. If you can find one who's competent to the task, more power to you. Personally, I'd only agree to take part in such a charade if a parish priest invited me personally, and we sat down and had a perfectly clear understanding of what would happen -- and what wouldn't.

I can understand the good professor's dilemma. Were I still living in Cincinnati, I seriously doubt I'd be a practicing Catholic today. That place has been out of control for years, going back to when Bernardin ran the show (into the ground). Even here, where things are more or less stable, I still have to "shop around" for a parish with a distinct measure of reverence, and a pastor who knows how to act like an adult. And that's before the catechism lesson even begins. It's one of the reasons I almost converted to Eastern Orthodoxy some years back; I just couldn't take it anymore.

And yet, here I am.

They wonder why old saints don't sing,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.
And make the heav'nly arches ring,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.
Ring with melodious, joyful sound,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.
Because a prodigal is found,
   Wonder, wonder, wonder.

In the end, Peter asked our Lord the same question posed by the seeker in all of us: "Lord, to whom else shall we go?" You have to learn to live with that, and find your own island of sanity. Many of the saints had to do the same, and the promise that Christ made to His Church -- that the gates of Hell would not prevail -- would surely account for a few dime-store theologians hanging around the rectory just looking for a break.

Maybe someday, we'll ALL get a break, and get what we came for. Till then...


* From the liner notes of The Christmas Revels album Wassail! Wassail!: "This rousing revival song by the Vermont composer Jeremiah Ingalls was written in 1805 for the spirited communal singing at camp meetings during the Great Revival."


Anonymous said...

I consider myself blessed that I had a very good RCIA experience. The course was very detailed and very orthodox. The teachers were well prepared, and our priest attended unless his schedule prevented him from doing so. In fact he gave a superb lecture over two classes on Christian morality and the formation of conscience that ought to have been required for cradle Catholics as well.

As for the rituals, no "experimentation", Father just stuck to the official prayers and so for me it was a genuinely spiritual experience. No embarrassment here. Of course I have no idea whether my experience was an exception or reflected what was generally going on in our archdiocese.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Shazam!! And you're a poet too?!

Liz said...

Given that my RCIA experience included frequent videos with Fr. Richard McBrian and a curriculum with cartoons,plus scrutinies liturgies that Father made up himself and that included the RCIA candidates standing around in the sanctuary once a week throughout Lent as well as progressing in, I guess it could have been better. I saw RCIA as a hoop to jump through, I learned virtually nothing except that things were as bad as I'd been told. Yet, I still converted, and 18 years later come this Easter, I'm still Catholic, as are at least 3 of the other people in my RCIA group, and all 3 of us lean conservative sort of traddy (or at least as traddy as you can lean in a diocese where the closest EF Mass to us is nearly 2 hours away). I became Catholic because I became convinced that what the Church taught was true, no matter how badly deformed it was in a local setting. I'm fortunate to have gotten a better pastor 11 years in, and to have made friends with some very faithful Catholics in my parish (who actually even survived Catholic school in the 60s). The question this past year has been will I survive the Synod on the Family and Pope Francis. However, I keep telling myself that God is in control, not me and besides, there's nothing to go back to, so forward march.