The Catholic In The Room

by Bill Brenner on March 13, 2011

The author writes an open letter to the RCIA Class of 2011 about Faith as a journey, not a destination. He warns that addiction, rage and other bad behavior don’t disappear the moment you’re Baptized.

Mood music:


I’ve been spending my Tuesday nights helping out with this year’s group of RCIA (The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) students in Haverhill. I’m doing it partly as extra service for Lent, but also because I’m very attached to these groups each year because of my own Conversion in 2006. [More on that in “The Better Angels of My Nature“]

I help the group leader by sharing my experiences when called upon and when he needs me to stand in and go over Mass readings with them. I’ll be spending a lot of time with them today as we all head to the Cathedral of The Holy Cross in Boston for a ceremony called the Rite of Election.

But I think the most important thing I can do for the newest converts is share some of what I’ve learned since becoming a Catholic. So here it is, my open letter to the RCIA Class of 2011:

You might be wondering what’s going to become of your lives after you’re welcomed into the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass. There’s no cookie-cutter approach to this, but here are just a few of the things I’ve learned:

1. Don’t Succumb to “Happily-Ever-After” Syndrome.

Even though I knew deep down that it wouldn’t be the case, I approached the days leading up to my conversion in a high of sorts; feeling like it would be happy forever more once I was Baptized. In some ways that is how it turned out. But for me, things got a whole lot worse before they got better.

The sins I had accumulated up to that point were forgiven that night, but the demons remained a few steps behind me, ready to trip me into another garbage can.

I continued to suffer from the paralysis of OCD. I continued to give in to my self-destructive impulses [More on that in “The Most Uncool Addiction“].

I continued to indulge my over-sized ego and stay absorbed in all things me.

Some of my most self-destructive, addictive behavior took place AFTER my Baptism.

2. Peace IS NOT The Absence of Chaos. It’s a State of Mind (or, if you really want to get technical, a state of being in God’s Grace).

My own world used to be pure chaos. Self-loathing dripped from my pores and I had a craving for peace. I wanted all the violence and worry to go away. It didn’t.

But that’s OK.

I’ve learned that peace is a state of mind, not the absence of chaos. It’s a feeling and mental clarity that comes over you as your Faith deepens. It didn’t just smack me in the back of the head one morning. It’s a state of mind that slowly grew over time.

3. What You Get is Only As Good As What You Put In

Here is what you might call an open secret:  spiritual well-being isn’t just handed to you like an entitlement or a birthday present. You have to work hard at it everyday. Working it takes many forms.

Service is a big one. Getting to Mass every week is important.

But you have to do more. You have to go on retreats like Cursillo, which will be as life-changing an event for you as the Baptism was. I’ve been on two retreats since my conversion: Cursillo and an ACTS retreat the year before that. The soul searching and sharing you do on these weekends is priceless.

Then there are programs like Lenten Longings, where you keep studying Scripture and discussing it in a group, in context with your daily life struggles.

I’ve gotten a lot from lectoring as well. By getting up in front of everyone and doing the readings, I’m better able to actually understand what the readings mean. And when you actively participate in the Mass, you’re less likely to fall asleep.

And go to Confession often. You won’t believe how good it feels to get rid of the mental trash until you do it.

4. Don’t Let Politics Get in the Way

An active Parish community is like any other community: There are a lot of folks with strong ideas who will butt heads, especially in a Parish like ours where there’s a school attached.

You also might not like everything the priest tells you every week.

People always use these things as excuses not to practice their Faith. Don’t let it happen to you.

All that matters is your own relationship with God. You have to move beyond the politics of human nature and remember the big picture.

I like to compare it to American government. We may not like the President or the Senator in office at any given time, but most of us stay devoted to our country and way of life. So maybe you have a problem with the priest. The priest is human like the rest of us, open to making mistakes. But most of the ones I’ve known do their best and get it right more than they get it wrong.

And there will always be bad seeds out there who twist religion to fit their own sinister goals, taking a lot of people down the hellhole along the way. The Manson Family is a perfect example.

Just remember: It comes down to you and your relationship with God.

If you invest too much of your Faith in the organizational/political/administrative structure, you’re looking in the wrong place and will almost certainly be dissapointed.

5. Plan to Fight the Good Fight to Your Dying Breath

I’ve come a long way in my spiritual growth. With God’s help I’ve overcome crippling addiction and depression and I know more peace today than I ever have.

But boy, I can still screw up with the best of ‘em.

My most destructive addictive behaviors are under control, but I’m always tap dancing from one habit to another. [More on that in “Addicted to Feeling Good: A Love-Hate Story“].

There are still days where I come to church with a crappy attitude. My mind will be on everything else but God. A perfect example is in the post “Rat in the Church Pew.”

I still let my ego get the best of me, especially in my career as a Journalist. I’m easily distracted by shiny objects.

They are all things I need to work on. I can do so much better than this. But I used to be a lot worse.

In summary, it’s a life-long journey. You’ll keep making mistakes.

But keep your heart and head in the right place and everything will be fine.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie Booth March 13, 2011 at 4:28 am

Bill. This is a perfect message for me,personally,today. I am a candidate in this years RCIA class and today it the RIte of Election at St Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Portland.

Word. My mantra these days is “it’s a journey it’s a journey it’s a journey….”.

Thank yoU

billbrenner1970 March 13, 2011 at 5:49 am

Best of luck, Julie. Enjoy the day.

joseph kelley March 13, 2011 at 5:52 am

You are much stronger then you know

misstrade March 13, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Best piece of writing you have done yet and that is the battle for all who walk in the shadow of Christ. RCIA or born Catholics alike. Thanks Bill!

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