Second week, in the middle of the storm.

It’s been a hard week. Scary health crises, extra work shifts, financial worries. In the middle of all that, back I go to RCIA.

Father Cornelius is delightful. A jovial fellow, enthused with the love of Jesus. English is his third language and sometimes things get a little lost in translation. He told us that if he said anything we disagreed with, or that sounded off, we should speak to him or one of the other priests to clarify. He told a funny story about one time when he got over excited and accidentally said that Mary was the Mother of the Trinity, and had to publicly apologize for the error. A humble man.

We began, as ever with Adoration, which I love. Sometimes it is such a sublimely ecstatic experience I cry. But not last night. Last night I became utterly and completely aware of my own sinfulness. I knew I was powerless to reconcile with God through my own efforts.

As I looked at the monstrance in near despair, the words ‘Even for you’ kept coming to mind, over and over.

The Mass that followed was full of readings and liturgy about forgiveness and by the time it was over, I finally understood that God was telling me that Jesus died, knowing all those sins that haunt me, even for me. The personal application of salvation is much made of in Protestant circles, but I truly believe I have never been quite so aware of that personal, specific salvation as I was in Adoration and Mass.

Then a long, long talk about the Bible, including a question from a woman who is clearly very serious about the spiritual aspect of things, which may prove interesting in coming weeks.

And so the weekend has arrived, and I am profoundly grateful. Another Mass tomorrow or Sunday to look forward to. I have also applied for a Christmas job, so we shall see how that pans out.

A difficult week

I knew this week was going to be tough. Extra shifts at work, kids school appointments and a health check for me. I kind of expected some extra difficulties for having the nerve to go back to RCIA.

What I didn’t expect was the consultant to suggest further investigations of my tremor, because it presents as a classic Parkinson’s tremor rather than a medication and anxiety induced shake.

To say I was blind-sided would be an understatement. I was expecting a relatively clean bill of health, not a potentially catastrophic diagnosis in my early forties.

Some more investigations need to be carried out, naturally, so my task is to wait patiently and see what comes of it. I could do better in that regard. But I find myself aware yet again of the fragile nature of our human existence, and how much I want to respond to what God sends me with faith and hope.

I pray I will.

First evening back.

Adoration, followed by Mass, followed by introductions, followed by a barbecue in the cold Autumnal air. Gorgeous way to spend an evening in mid September.

I am very fond of Adoration, I seem to have a really clear line to hear from Jesus, and He had some stern words about an issue that has been troubling my conscience, so that was a bit wince-inducing.

Mass was as peaceful as ever. I do especially like it when there is no singing of hymns and there is plenty of silence to contemplate the enormity of what is going on.

Fr. Craig was on fine form this evening in the introductions, all delightful Welsh levity and self deprecation. He says a wonderfully reverent Mass, but has a deliciously funny sense of humour.

And there was bottles and bottles of wine at the barbecue which I wasn’t expecting at all. Don’t know why it should surprise me, a hangover from Baptist days no doubt. Ha, see what I did there, pun not intended.

I was warmly greeted by name by everyone, like I was amongst friends again and had been greatly missed. It was a most peculiar and pleasant feeling.

Tomorrow I go back to work after being off last week. I work in a shop on a Friday, so I had best turn off the light and get some rest, it’s an early start on the bus. But yes, a very good night.

RCIA

I first went to RCIA last September. I. Was. Terrified. It started well enough, with a beautiful quiet mass, and then we all piled into a small room and I had to talk to people. My anxiety was sky high.

I decided to share my experience on Facebook, which helped me focus, trying to recall things I could put in my posts. This was a good idea for the purpose of engaging with the course. Not so good for my relationships on Facebook.

I hadn’t realized how many people would be dead set against any conversion. I hadn’t actually said I was going to convert, just talked about going along to learn more, which was quite true. But it was enough for snark and cross private messages.

My confidence plummeted and every week I found myself more and more stressed as I had to choose a sponsor and find my baptism certificate ( I couldn’t) and so on and so on. I was anxious beyond reason, and got to Christmas before pulling out, partly because of my anxiety, partly because of the feared reactions if I went any further.

And at first that felt better, like putting germoline on a graze on your knee. The anaesthetic of relief from anxiety worked for about a month. And then I began to realize how much I missed Mass. How I really needed to be part of a church community. How much I wanted to be Catholic and couldn’t be a Protestant.

I hadn’t actually attended a Protestant church since we’ll before Easter last year, and I knew it was coming to a head, a place where I either walked away from Christianity entirely, or I nailed my colours to the mast.

So I made the decision to do two things. One, I would go back to RCIA this year. And two, I would stop using Facebook. If my ‘friends’ opinion was making me so anxious, and if they couldn’t accept my decision, that hurt no one, without judgement, I didn’t really need to have the whole thing in my life.

The added benefit of leaving Facebook was not having to see unpleasant pictures and stories shoved in my face by secular family and friends, and watch my Christian friends become more liberal by the minute.

And the interesting thing is that since making these decisions – not doing them, simply making the decisions a few months ago – my anxiety has begun to dissipate like morning dew. I am settled. I’m even calm in every other aspect of life, work, home, parenting.

So RCIA starts again this evening, with a Mass, an introduction and a barbecue. And I am actually looking forward to it.

I plan to share the experience on this blog, and now that you know where I am coming from, I hope you will appreciate the personal enormity of the step I am taking. I haven’t covered everything in these few brief posts, just tried to give a rough sketch of who I am and why, I am sure more details will trickle through as we go. Wish me luck for tonight!

Discovering Mass

And so it was that something happened. My husband said enough was enough and withdrew us from the Reformed church. It was ostensibly because of the distance we were travelling, but I was aware that he wasn’t really as sold on Reformed teaching as I had been.

So we found ourselves in the local charismatic Church of England parish church, and my husband and kids soon became active. I was horribly uncomfortable in a charismatic setting, but decided that the happiness of my family was more important than my discomfort.

I discovered while there, that there was a retreat centre not so far away and decided that a retreat would be just the job for me. So my husband dropped me off in the beautiful surroundings of the retreat house and I joined in the guided retreat, which was based on Pope Francis’s encyclical on evangelism. It was like I was a naughty grubby kid sneaking into a toyshop, gazing at the wonders around me. And we finished the day with Mass. And oh my goodness but it was wonderful. Like there were angels joining in.

The presiding priest, who had run the day long retreat, was a dying man, and his peace and composure really impressed me.

Back home, my fragile mental state meant I found it very difficult to leave the house, but I was determined to get to another Mass. When my husband would take us to the shopping centre, I could see the Catholic church from the multi storey carpark and longed to go. I spent hours on Google maps working out the route. And then finally, asked my husband if he would take me. He reluctantly agreed, and I had the same heavenly experience.

With some bumps in the road, I have been attending Saturday 5pm Mass ever since. At first it was ‘my time’. A peaceful place to rest my fevered head. But over time, as I grew to understand exactly what was going on, I began to feel my heart soar in worship just walking in the building.

So, I decided to go along to Journey in Faith, the parish’s RCIA programme. More of that to come.

Deep in Reformed country.

So I, with my husband and our then two children were attending a Reformed Baptist church and I began to hear about something called Quiverful. It made sense to me to be open to life as I would call it now, and we embarked on a journey which involved a rather extreme understanding of wifely submission and headcovering and getting pregnant as much as physically possible. Which took it’s toll on me. With miscarriages included, I was pregnant for pretty much a constant seven years.

I now understand that this was a very subtle twisting of the teaching of the Catholic church, which requires that you simply be open to life, not attempting to have as many babies as possible until you end up in a wheelchair.

But that was just it. The Catholic church seemed to have a sane version of this teaching, but I knew from other Reformed friends that the Catholic church was wrong and likely not to be trusted. But over time I could see they were right. On this one point, I conceded.

Then the big crash happened. My mental health, which had been becoming fragile for a while, snapped like a dry twig. I ended up in hospital and was forced to re-evaluate everything. It was at that time I began to revisit the prayer books Fr. Simon had given me all those years previously. I began to actually pray them, rather than regard them as a curiosity. And the peace! Oh the peace that came from regularly praying set prayers was enormous.

So here I was. Accepting the Catholic teaching on life. Praying set prayers. Where was this going? Well, at first it was going to forums, stretching my mental legs and asking questions of the Orthodox and the Catholics. Something profound had shifted. But I still wasn’t ready to come out of the protective hard hat of Calvinism. It would take something real for that to happen.

Coming the sideways route.

I took my time getting here, of course. The challenge of adjusting your views on the whore of babylon is no mean feat. But, to hamfistedly quote Elizabeth Bennett, I believe I must date it from the first time I made friends with an Oriental Orthodox priest.

Which, for reference, was the turn of the century. I was an eager user of the new worldwide web, and discovered chatrooms. And in an AOL chatroom quite euphemistically termed ‘Christian Chat’, I came across an assortment of characters, including Fr. Simon.

He was genuinely nice, sending me books and videos about Orthodoxy and praying for me during the Divine Liturgy. He even sent me a Coptic cross from his trip to Egypt.

But then life happened. My pregnancies got progressively worse until I ended up in a wheelchair, and we lost touch. I became more and more Reformed and the attractions of sacramental Christianity slipped away in favour of the more cerebral comforts of Calvinism. It seemed I was as far away from the Catholic Church as ever. But of course, that’s not where it ended. More of that soon.