I wish I had a dollar for every time I felt like a newcomer to the Catholic Faith. I remember the prayer I wrote in my RCIA journal in 2005. Lord, I am going to look like I don’t know what I am doing as I fumble my way through this. I’m going to look like an idiot sometimes.
Like that first Lent when the Alleluia vanished from the Liturgy, and I didn’t realize that would happen. Or the many times the organist has played an unfamiliar tune to the Gloria. Suddenly, I can’t remember the words.
Like my First Communion, when I had to remember the order of bowing and saying Amen and crossing myself – when all I could think about was Jesus waiting as I walked the aisle so that He could come to me – and I to him.
Or the year I substituted in the English department at Immaculate Conception Parish and the teachers would meet before the students arrived. They would pray the Memorare. Little Mary Beth who was only in seventh grade took pity on me and printed out a copy of the prayer so that I would not have to stand in the teachers’ prayer circle and participate in fits and starts.
Like the time I attended Mass at EWTN and there was a lot of Latin. It seemed like I was the only one who was lost. I remember the embarrassment I felt. I was scheduled to be a guest on one of their programs later in the day, and I didn’t even know how to pray the Mass with them.
Like the time I visited St. Ignatius of Loyola School and bowed my head to pray with teachers and students in the gathering space – only to feel a tap on my shoulder from one of the teachers who pointed to the Crucifix on the wall. That’s when I realized everyone in the room was looking upon the Lord as they prayed, and I hadn’t noticed because my head had been bowed and my eyes closed (like I had done in my Protestant years).
Or the times I have written an article for the column and received a kind letter from an editor who wanted to help me edit the article so that it was more in line with official Church teaching.
Over and over, I have felt like a newcomer to the Faith. I still have moments when I can’t remember whether we stand now or kneel. And those momentary lapses in memory almost always come when I am the guest speaker or the teacher or the Catholic writer – the one who is supposed to know it all.
Lord, I’m going to fumble and stumble around sometimes as I try to figure this out. I’m going to look like a fool as I travel down unfamiliar paths.
Recently, I was talking to a priest. When he realized that I am a Catholic writer, he suggested that I write something about the changes in the Liturgy. “It will be hard for the musicians and some of the people. And it will be hard for priests. We’ll probably stumble awhile, as we try to learn the new wording.”
“Oh, Father! You’ll feel just like a convert!” I said and then I told him about my year in RCIA and the way I still feel at times.
The church secretary who was sitting near us smiled then. “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. We all need to feel like a convert now and then.”
She’s right. But it’s not the end of the world. Every convert knows that you get through it somehow. Eventually, you learn. Almost immediately, you love. And the learning and the loving move in tandem.
Take it from one who has fumbled along many times. All will be well. Change is never easy. And this change will be particularly difficult for many. If you are a priest or a musician, offer it up for a convert who finds the entire Liturgy something of a foreign language. Offer it up for the one who longs to be part of the Church family, but feels like he will never fit in as easily as the cradle Catholic sitting beside him. Offer it up for the one who is trying to learn everything in just a few months of RCIA.
And I will let you in on a secret that every convert knows. You will look back on that part of the journey and miss it a little. You will realize that God was there. You knew it. You felt it. You relied on it.
I’ll meet you in the Mass. And we’ll learn together.