Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where am I now?

During the process of my conversion, I was uninterested in the Catholic faith. Coming from the particular protestant background that I was raised in, the Catholic faith was not only foreign, but looked down upon if not looked at with outright contempt. My wife and I had married with the understanding that we were of different faiths, but after a while I began to seek to convert her to my own protestant stance. I was convinced that the Catholic faith was wrong and I set out to prove that to her.  As time went by I would approach her with more and more questions, I guess more accurately described as confrontations. “Why do you believe this?” “Why do you Catholics do that!?” To which she would always reply, “find out.”  She refused to argue with me, which of course infuriated me!

At this point I was really fooling myself, because my heart was not really into finding answers. I would do some reading of course online, mostly from protestant and Anti-Catholic websites to try and find answers.  Then a major event happened in our lives: the baptism of our biological daughter, Moira.  As the time drew closer, my wife informed me that we were baptizing our daughter Catholic. We really didn't discuss it further other than when, where, which priest would baptize her, etc.  As a protestant I didn't really care what religion she was baptized into, as long as she was baptized.

As the day finally arrived I stood with every person in the congregation of the church at St. Mary's in Sycamore Illinois.  The priest walked us through the process, renewing our baptismal promises and then asked us if we would raise our daughter according to the Catholic faith. I responded in the affirmative and as I did, it dawned on me that in order to teach her what the Catholics believed I would have to know myself!   I could no longer simply dance around the issue, I had to actually delve into this so that I could teach her as I had just given my word before God and man that I would do so.

I began to search earnestly for answers, not just reading the protestant side of things but going to Catholic sites, speaking to Catholic apologists online, and even spending a great deal of time talking to the priest at our home Parish in Genoa.  I had many questions and someone eventually suggested that I join the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program at our parish.  I was ensured there would be no commitment required and I could go there and find answers to all of these questions that I had.  I signed up and began to attend, but I must admit that this first trip through RCIA was one filled with a bad attitude and hostility.   I wanted answers, but not for the right reason. I came to class to argue, or to find ways to prove to my wife and eventually my daughter that the Catholic faith was wrong.

The sweet lady who taught the class would look at me sometimes and simply say, “It's part of the mystery.” Then she'd move on to another topic or further into the topic we were discussing.  This made me so angry at the time. I had been taught my entire life that there is no mystery! Every answer you want or need was supposed to be right there in the Bible.  I eventually quit going to RCIA and simply studied on my own, convinced that the teacher simply didn't know enough about scripture to be able to answer me.  I was so convinced that I had already known God and his Word that I knew there was no mystery to him.

As time went on I found answers to many of my questions. An astonishing thing happened along the way, I began to find that every single time I found the answer I was looking for, I found a new question. Another astonishing thing happened as well, I began to find answers that weren't in scripture, but were in writings from the early church fathers, documents from the Church itself, even in just talking to other members of the Catholic faith. My beliefs about God were not really changing, but my understanding of God was growing in a way that began to show me that not only did my beliefs fit in with the Catholic faith, but that the faith was so deep that it really was a mystery, because God himself was beyond our understanding. The word that had so exasperated me in the beginning, became a word that I embraced and clung to as I again enrolled in the RCIA program.  This time not to argue or look for ways to convince others of how wrong the Catholic faith was, but to help me understand just how right it was.  Not just for them, not just for my daughter, but for me.

The amazing thing that I am finding is that despite all of this journey that I have been on for many years, from the days when I sat beside my grandfather in the pews of a Baptist church, to the day when I went forward and confessed my love for God at an altar call, through the days of my baptism, prayer services, and eventually my confirmation in the Catholic faith; I never noticed the pattern of repeating that was going on in my life. Even when I began to read this wonderful document about the six stages of development my mind wanted to compartmentalize it into single stages, as if we could graduate from one into another.

Throughout life we have been taught that each event is a stage to move to another, and that eventually we will get where we are going. Working a job leads to a promotion, after which you no longer have to do the things before.  My approach to this document was very similar in that in attempting to analyze where I am in those stages, I quickly began to quantify if I had moved through one stage to the next.  I checked off my list through imagination, quickly moving past literal, to group faith, into personal, and hoping that I might actually be able to write myself down as someone who had gotten to the mystical stage.

As we discussed this in our small groups, many of the others did the same with their analysis of themselves.  We each found ourselves hovering between stage 4, Personal Faith, and stage 5, Mystical faith. In fact, I felt a little ashamed as if I was failing because I could see that I didn't stay in the Mystical area.  I saw parts of my life where I felt I had achieved that for a time, where I had acted in those ways, even from time to time I could honestly say I had achieved the Sacrificial faith that I so desire to have at all times.  Yet, when I was honest with myself; I wasn't there all the time. I felt as if I was failing God and even was concerned about coming to class, that maybe I was the only one who wasn't able to stay in 'the zone'.

Then we began to discuss it at length and the light began to dawn on each of us, more especially when our teacher began to talk about the cyclical nature of faith, that we were walking along that normal path. My eyes began to open to a new understanding of the imaginative faith. Where as before I saw it as something that only children do, even having clever anecdotes prepared in my head of how my nephew talked about God's mom, aka Mrs. God,  or how that my daughter had once thought that God put on a costume so he could look like a ghost; to where I now see that we each have to reach the stage of imagination in order to move forward and learn. That once we grasp on to a concept, some part of the mystery, we must begin to delve it in our mind before we can begin to ask questions. We must imagine what God is like, because he is beyond us. That once we reach a point where we have begun to even glimpse the mystical aspect of the truth that is being revealed to us, another question appears.  We then begin to use our imagination again to try to fathom this new truth, and the cycle begins anew.

How relieving it was to find that simple eye opening truth, that all of this time that I had been seeking answers and only finding more questions, that I had been truly following the nature of revelation and faith. God was calling, and I was responding. I wasn't failing, but I was growing in faith. I still hope that some day, I can be in the stage of sacrificial faith at all times; until then I will be content in knowing that I can glimpse those moments without trepidation but simply realizing that when I do have a moment of pure sacrificial giving, a moment in which I am no longer concerned with my self at all but only with 'other', that in that moment, I will have opened another stage of the mystery.  That in opening another stage of the mystery I will have drawn that much closer to God.