Monday, June 27, 2005

Me and My RC

As promised, here are a few mundane details of my approaching a priest about starting RCIA. I thought about writing about why I want to become Catholic, and perhaps I will at some point. But I think the reasons are already clear to my Catholic friends and readers who have long seen that religion's sensibilities in my writings on faith. What reservations I've expressed on this blog were overcome in part through gaining an understanding of the Communion of Saints via my devotion to Maximilian Kolbe, as I wrote in April.

Last week, I approached a priest at a church near Columbia University to inquire about taking the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, a means by which prospective Catholics are educated about and taken into the Church. (Catholic readers, please forgive me if my terminology is inexact; I'm at the beginning of the learning curve here.)

I first inquired about RCIA in February at my favorite church, in midtown Manhattan. The parish's RCIA director never returned my message. I already had a bit of an inferiority complex about the place, so rather than try harder to insinuate myself, I decided to look elsewhere.

In April, I saw John Zmirak, an intensely creative writer friend with whom I alternately agree and disagree wildly (he invented the slogan "Arm the Unborn"), and told him of my interest in converting. He said that, given my hunger for orthodoxy and my being more knowledgeable about the faith than most non-Catholics, I would be unhappy in most RCIA programs. RCIA, he said, stood for Repelling Catholics In-Advertently.

John recommended I approach a priest he knew at the Columbia-area church, Fr. J., whom he said was very literate and "liked journalists." That sounded encouraging. Also, being a Kolbe devotee, I thought it was a good sign that Fr. J. was from Poland. Neither the common interest nor the Polish ancestry really matters in the grand scheme of things, I know, but hearing about it helped me overcome my reluctance to call a priest who was a complete stranger—something I was already shy to do, since my interest in RCIA didn't seem to matter much to the first church I tried. I finally left a message for Fr. J. early last week and he got back to me within an hour.

I met with Fr. J. for about an hour and thoroughly liked him. I could see why John had recommended I meet him. He was a vibrant personality: warm, welcoming, encouraging, interested in my story, and brimming with recommendations of articles and books to build me in the faith. He talked much of issues that Protestants (and Catholics from the spiritually drier regions) don't normally associate with Catholicism—about how our past identity has a place in our faith journey, and about the primal longing for God. On the former, he recommended Fr. Neuhaus's First Things essay "How I Became the Catholic I Was." On the latter, he quoted John 1:37-39, describing how we know we are seeking something and, though we can't fully articulate it, we recognize it when we find it: the presence of Jesus.

If this all sounds like wavy-hazy New Age theology, then I am completely mischaracterizing the conversation. What the priest said was all very orthodox, which is why it appealed to me: In the spirit of the G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis books that I adore, he found orthodoxy to be dramatic and exciting.

Fr. J. recommended that, until his RCIA group begins in the fall, I should read Luigi Giussani's trilogy, with which I wasn't familiar. He also gave me a good-sized pile of reading material: Fr. Neuhaus's Death on a Friday Afternoon (which I'd already read, but was very happy to own), and two issues of a beautiful monthly prayer publication, Magnificat.

I left the meeting feeling happy and thankful, knowing more than ever that I had made the right choice.