Monday, October 02, 2006

Conversion Stories

I always enjoy reading conversion stories on other people's blogs. In 2001 I was asked to give a speech during mass, detailing my experience with RCIA. I wrote the piece below at Deacon Charles' request, and I delivered it with shaking hands and an uneven voice. But afterward I had numerous people come up to me and tell me how moved they were. One lady even asked for a copy of it, to show her son, who had fallen away from the Church. Anyway... I have been toying with the idea of writing up my conversion story for this site, for some time. Today I realised, I already have that story- all I need do is post the speech. It says everything I want it to say.

"Looking For God In All the Wrong Places,"- speech by the Ornithophobe, August, 2001.

Hello. My name is (deleted for privacy) and Deacon Wayne has asked that I speak to you today about my experience of the RCIA program here at Our Lady. I consider it both an honor, and a privilege, to do so.

I am still in my neophyte year- I was baptized and confirmed this past Easter. It was the culmination, I thought, of a lifelong dream, the dream of belonging to God, of feeling at one with Him and with His Church. I now realize it was merely the first step of many, in a never-ending commitment to follow Christ, and his teachings.

I was a Catechumen; an unbaptised querant into the rituals, and doctrine of our catholic faith. My family background was a hodgepodge of Christian traditions, punctuated by infrequent attendence in churches of one denomination and another. I grew up saying grace and bedtime prayers, and learned to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” We had rosaries in the house but no one prayed them.

I was never baptized. Despite the efforts of well-meaning neighbors, shepherding me to and from Vacation Bible School, and Sunday School, it never happened. I never quite made that long, arduous trek down the aisle to Get Saved and Get Dunked. And no, Jesus himself never reached down from heaven and gave me that shove- Besides, it was so awfully PUBLIC. To Go stand up, before all of those people, and do something so intensely personal? I am just not that bold.

Not that I didn’t WANT to do it. I wanted it desperately. I wanted to feel His presence, in His house. I just never could.

I began services here in 1997. On Easter Sunday. I went for three weeks. Then, in 1998, I did it again. Easter Sunday, and for a couple of weeks after. Some people make new year’s resolutions; Apparently mine coincide with Easter.

Last year my son started Prekindergarten here, and I came to the realization that if I didn’t make a place for our family here at church, then my boys could both grow up with that same emptiness that I had. The idea seemed divinely inspired- I thought that if I went through RCIA, then my kids could be “cradle catholics” in the truest sense, living and breathing their faith throughout their whole lives. They’d never have that feeling that they didn’t belong in Church, And Maybe- Just maybe, they’d never question the presence of God there either. And I thought that perhaps, if they never questioned it, then He’d be there, for them. At the beginning in RCIA, I was doing it for them. As for me- I’d rather given up on feeling God’s presence on Sunday morning. Id stopped thinking it was the churches, and started thinking maybe it was really me- I started too late, I couldn’t feel comfortable in church, Whatever- I just knew that I was spiritually Colorblind- Everyone else obviously felt fine, So the problem lay with Me.

I began the classes here on Wednesday nights, not too long after he started School. Every
day, he’d go off with his backpack, and every Wedneday, I’d go off with my Binder. I wanted everybody to like me, so I bought them off with Food. If I brought Cake, everyone would think that I was nice and nobody’d suspect I couldn’t find God in church. I took meticulous notes in class, read a lot of supplemental material, and even answered all those little discussion questions on the handouts. I tried to spend a lot of time in prayer, and in meditation. Was I doing the right thing? I honestly didn’t know, half the time.

I asked lots of questions, and hoped I was arriving at the right answers.

I went dutifully to mass, too. Although I always felt very strange when everyone would go up to receive holy communion on Sundays. A little ashamed,too, hiding in my seat, wishing no one would notice me or that I wouldn’t have to get up and draw attention to myself to let my neighbor out of the pew. But, humiliation or no, I went, most every week. I threw myself into my studies, determined to get the most I could get out of the process.

Christmas Eve I went to midnight mass. I was exhausted, having been up almost 24 hours straight dealing with gifts and festivities and family visits. The holiday season is always a mess for me,as I’m sure it is for many of you, with Baking and Christmas Cards and about a blue million relatives. But I made time to come listen to the beautiful music, and to pray. And as I prayed, I felt renewed, and calm. I didn’t get to sleep until very late Christmas morning, after Santa came at our house- But I didn’t feel tired.

As the Lenten Season Began, I was really looking forward to being taken into full communion with the Church. Not just so my kids could have a Catholic Home, but for my own sake. I was suddenly very excited about it, full of energy and joy. I had this sense that something mystical and wonderful was about to happen to me. I was in a good mood no one could shoot down. I think my Cynical-side was on vacation through most of April. I became Relentlessly “Chipper”. I decided to throw myself a Baptismal Party. So what if I’m a grownup? All the kids in my family who got christened had parties- I made myself a gorgeous cake to celebrate, and I went out and I bought a hat. I invited my whole family. I made my Husband promise to attend- and he’s not seen the inside of a church since our Wedding Day. My poor, aged Mamau, who is on Oxygen and Never Leaves the house, came. Despite her Baptist upbringing and thinking Im a hellbound Papist. My mother came, though I had a hard time convincing her that it was okay to wear slacks, and that no one would pin a napkin to her head if she didn’t wear a hat. She not only came, but she cried happy tears for me. My Uncle Came, my kids came- and they made me “Happy Baptism” cards. Mrs. Layman, My sponsor, Stood right up here next to me as God took me in and made me his own. It was one of the most beautiful, most profound moments of my entire life.

I finally feel like I belong here on Sunday mornings. When I take holy communion I am part of something larger than just this building, just this congregation- I am genuinely part of the body of Christ. I am united through His Body and His Blood with Christians across the globe, and with all of those throughout history who have shared our traditions and our faith. I know most of you have been able to feel part of that closeness for a long while- but for me, the newness hasn’t worn off yet- I’m still bowled over by it every Sunday, by that perfect moment when we are all one.

In summation I could enumerate the things I learned in RCIA; I could pray rote prayers, discuss church history, Church Doctrine, Biblical Symbolism, and our lovely stained glass windows! But you can learn all that yourself by coming to the classes this fall. But RCIA is about Formation as much as it is Information. It is the art of making brand-new Catholics. I’ve just shared with you how God, and the church, made me.

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