We all sat in a circle in a back-room of the basement of Gesu eager to learn more about the rich faith we were about to become a part of. For many of us catechumens, this was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel of empty religions and meaningless days – we had finally found the truth and wanted more. It was our first RCIA meeting and no one knew what to expect and certainly no one could have prepared us for what we got. “Welcome brothers and sisters! The ‘core team’ is so happy you have joined us for this RCIA meeting!” And so began the anti-crescendo of the “core team”‘s wicked magnum opus.
I should back up. First, I was raised nominally Catholic, however, for reasons I won’t get into here, I was never baptized or confirmed. When I reached adulthood, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by those who knew much more about the Faith than I. RCIA was the next logical step to kick off a life long devotion to becoming a better Catholic. My point is that I had an advantage over the other catechumens; I had already been given a great deal of information about the Faith before RCIA. When you read about my experience, you will see why this is important.
After our round-table introductions were complete, I had a pretty good sense of what the “core team” was all about. Their tragically misguided approach to securing new Catholics was much like that of the Milwaukee Archdiocese. “Maybe if we are like everyone else, people will like us….?” I’d like to think that their intentions were benign – we all know what paves the way to hell – but at some point the leadership of our city’s faithful needs to manage this situation and bring us back in line with, oh, I don’t know, the Catechism would be a great place to start!
Looking back I struggle to find one shred of true Catholic doctrine in that entire several month long class. Instead, the discussions surrounded our feelings about being Catholic and what it meant to each of us. I distinctly remember several occasions where we were encouraged to take “a Jesus break once and a while” because “sometimes if you walk away and miss a few masses, you can come back refreshed and ready to open your heart.” We never covered the restorative power of the Sacraments, which is the best way to heal a distant heart and soul. According to our instructors, the Rosary was just some prayer that some people liked, but that it wasn’t really a meaningful part of being a Catholic. If that doesn’t get your blood boiling, you might as well stop reading right here.
After that class I went home and found myself pondering the decision to go through RCIA. If I was disturbed, I can’t imagine what the others were going through. My impression was that the majority of the catechumens wrote the whole class off as a joke and kept going because it was the only way they were getting married in one of many of Milwaukee’s gorgeous Catholic churches. I know that is a cynical read on the situation, but honestly, at that point I wouldn’t have blamed them at all. Here was one of the few chances to reach people and that chance was completely decimated by those entrusted with this huge responsibility. It gets worse.
Life went on and I kept going to RCIA. Time passed and there was a bit of a poisonous bond forming between the teachers and the students. My sponsor and I went out for drinks with one of the male teachers. “Let’s get cocktails, boys!” kicked off the night. As we drove to Water Street Brewery on the East Side of Milwaukee, the teacher “accidentally” touched the leg of my sponsor and sort of giggled. We didn’t think much of that at the time, but later that night it became significant. The drinks were flowing, we had good food and were ready to move on to a new scene. Paddy’s Pub was hosting some fantastic traditional musicians so we stopped in for a pint and some good music. As the teacher’s lips got looser he said, “Man that violinist is just gorgeous. If only I weren’t gay! Hahaha. Oops! Did I just say that out loud?” At this point we thought it prudent to step outside for a smoke and have a little conversation with the teacher. I want to be perfectly clear here, because I think there are a lot of misconceptions on the Church’s position on homosexuality. Look, if you are gay, that’s fine. I am not going to look down on you or discontinue my friendship with you, but the simple fact is that I don’t and the Church doesn’t agree with practicing that lifestyle. I liked this teacher and I still think he is a nice guy, but it was very important to find out what his position was on the matter. After a long discussion he stated that he fully intended on finding a life partner and practicing his homosexuality. Furthermore, he joked about how he probably wasn’t well suited to be on the “core team” – you think?
Take a breath. Grab some cold water. Buckle your seat-belt.
Finally, after months of scaling Mount Insidious, the class was over and I was going to be baptized and confirmed all in one day. The Liturgical Führer – a short, well-intentioned but completely unqualified woman – had us run through a mock ceremony the week prior. I could tell this was purely an on-stage performance she was orchestrating and we were her underwhelming actors. This is the same woman responsible for the “Liturgical Dancers” that nearly gave me a heart attack during mass on a different occasion. Moving on… I made just one request, “I would like to receive on the tongue, please.” The Liturgical Führer froze, the “core team” was genuinely shocked and visibly annoyed and I was left feeling like a leper. They pushed back saying that was an ancient way of receiving the Eucharist. Of course, I insisted and ultimately I was granted PERMISSION to receive on the tongue.
The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood.
I have never felt so happy, free and close with God as on the day I was baptized and confirmed. The “core team” and Liturgical Führer would like to take some credit for that, but I assure all of you that only the Sacraments themselves, through the grace of God, were a positive part of that experience. So we must all ask ourselves, where is the leadership? What are our church leaders doing with their time that all of these abuses, liturgical or otherwise, across the Milwaukee Archdiocese can take place? I have written to the Bishop with some of these concerns; that was months ago and I have yet to receive a response.
After my baptism and confirmation I stood in a white robe in the back of the church while the parishioners exited. A woman stopped and said to me, “Congratulations. It was a beautiful service, Father.” Not her fault… maybe she went through the same RCIA program I did.