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BIS LIVES Blog

Crooked Lines: My RCIA Experience

what is catholic rcia like

There is a lull on a day in late June. I find myself searching for Catholic churches nearby where I live in the Loop. I remember a friend recommending Old St. Patrick’s in West Loop. But it was a bit far, and I need something closer.

There is a cathedral right in the middle of the Loop one street over from Wacker. I walk past it several times before I finally notice it. It is the oddest church I had ever been to. It looked like any of the business buildings it was sandwiched between, its only give-away being the cross on the top, difficult to see from the street. I wait to go in before I see a man go in front of me. Walking forward, I push the heavy doors open.

The First Step is Asking

I ask if there was a priest I can speak with. And no, I wasn’t here for Confession. I am directed down a hallway into a waiting area. I sit in an old chair.

The priest is very old, and very kind. His name is Nicholas.

What brings you here today?

I swallow.

I’m thinking of joining the Church.

It feels weird just saying it. It really is a small room.

Why?

Catholic social teaching mostly–the values of human dignity and care for creation, in particular. I feel like I am here to do more than I am. I feel lost.

He nods.

I feel like you would be a great candidate to join the Church.

We talk a bit about Notre Dame. He gives me a few book recommendations and I thank him.

That weekend I make the mile trek over to West Loop to attend mass at Old St. Patrick’s. It is a feast for the eyes. I duck in the back and sit next to a large family. I have never been to Mass by myself.

God paints straight with crooked lines.

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Shifting and RCIA

I shyly mention to my family and a few friends my intention to join the Church. I had spent a good deal of time researching the process and saw that Notre Dame offered RCIA (Right of Christian Initiation for Adults) through campus ministry on campus.

I begin the RCIA process, a course that I refer to as “Sunday school”. They are Sunday morning sessions during which we are taught the basics of Catholicism, fundamental beliefs, stories of the Saints and living according to the Word and the Catechism. Each session bleeds into another.

At my second session, Brett says something that will serve as the background to my faith journey and my final year at Notre Dame.

God paints straight with crooked lines.

Jesus and Trials

I was brought to this point, sitting in RCIA, through a series of events that only make sense retrospectively.

Something brought you here today. Jesus brought you here today.

I think about my turning point – seeking out to attend Mass by myself. Going to Mass as a way to find peace from intense shifts in my life.

The semester is challenging. I feel suffocated. I’m sitting in therapy every week. I find myself driving off campus whenever I can. My own school doesn’t feel like home. I keep making mistakes. I will always remember 2017 as the year of mistakes. I’m trying to get myself to settle and not expect more. I wrestle the feelings of wanting more and wanting to run. Afterwards I feel empty. Tension is growing at home and I’m the center of a tug-of-war rope. I am constantly moving back and forth and I see every perspective. I have never been good at compartmentalizing or disassociating and this time is no exception.

God paints straight with crooked lines.

Comparison and Confusion

I begin to feel like a fraud. I attend every RCIA session but I am not absorbing anything.

My classmates are here. Are they feeling something I’m not feeling? I begin to pray through my journaling. But I don’t feel like that’s enough. I really want to develop my relationship with Jesus, but He feels far away. I can’t seem to focus on much other than relationship conflicts. While I am learning about a doctrine of love and all I can see is anger and ugliness around me.

Am I ever going to love Jesus like that? I think this every Sunday while I listen to the campus ministry interns present. Their joy in the Lord is genuine. I don’t really feel like Jesus is present in my life. I start to wonder if I want to go through with this. Am I pretending?

My thoughts go back to my initial doubts about my values and those of the Church. I am unsure if there is a place for me here.

God paints straight with crooked lines.

Praying and Mary

The last four months of college begin. I pray a little harder and stand up for myself. A relationship begins.

I learn about the Virgin Mary. I didn’t think I could reconcile my beliefs on feminism with the teachings of the Church. But I become fascinated with Mary. Mary said “yes” to God and changed the world. She was the mother and without her there would be no Jesus. She was young and poor. Mary was overlooked in regular society.

I address most of my prayers to Mary. She knows how it feels to make impossible and life-changing decisions. There’s comfort in that. I have had to make a number of those. I learn the Rosary and it becomes my chosen method for deep prayer. For someone with anxiety, the repetition is soothing. I am not sure if I feel closer to Jesus, but I do feel closer to Mary.

God paints straight with crooked lines.

Adoration and Sainthood

I go to my first Adoration hour. I remember a few years ago, thinking Transubstantiation was a farce. It does not feel like a farce today. I kneel and close my eyes and begin to recite the Rosary. My right hand follows the beads of the Our Father and the Hail Mary. My left hand clutches a small gold bracelet with the inscription I Am a Survivor. It is only me, Jesus, and Mary. I am reminded of the gift of life. This breaks me a little bit. I have not always treasured my life.

We are all called to be saints. I do not have to do extraordinary things to be a saint. Even smiling at a stranger brings me closer. I choose the little way.

It’s time to choose my confirmation saint. I had known mine since the first day. Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She dedicated her life to serving people that the rest of the world would have been happy to forget. St. Teresa made them feel known. She exemplified respect for human dignity. It resonated with my approach to mental illness. People with mental illness are still people. I am still a person. But I choose her for a second reason and that is that she struggled with her relationship with Jesus. She claimed that she did not feel Jesus for nearly half her life. Some days I still feel like a fraud, but even Saints did not have perfect relationships with Him.

God paints straight with crooked lines.

Easter and Home

Are you ready to say yes to God?

It is Holy Week. I am shocked by how fast I got here. There’s a knot in my stomach. I do not like being looked at. The idea of standing in front a giant congregation makes me sick. I am sweating with anxiety the day of. I feel angry, sad, and excited. Familiar faces in the crowd smile at me and it settles my heart.

I watch my classmates get baptized and confirmed and I feel proud. I’m gifted with not one confirmation Saint, but two. I feel numb until it is my turn to receive Communion. This is my favorite part. This is the bread and Body. I feel overwhelmingly loved that evening. The night ends at two a.m.

I wake the next day.

I am Catholic, I am home.

Have you been through the RCIA process? What was your experience?

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Susan Zhu is a recent college grad from the Midwest who is carving out a life of faith and joy in Chicago. She is a passionate advocate and works in communications at a global non-profit. You can find out more about her here.

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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Amy
    August 22, 2018 at 7:14 am

    Wow! Your testimony hits close to home! Never in a million years would I have thought of becoming Catholic. But my husband and I have been attending our local church for three years now, We have been to RCIA and now awaiting my annulment from a previous marriage 20 yrs ago, The whole conversion process is life changing for me and I only regret not discovering the Catholic faith sooner, I have never been as close to God as I have been in last three years, Please pray for the Lords will be done with my annulment case.

  • Reply
    Kourtney
    August 23, 2018 at 9:05 am

    Thank you for being so brave to share! This is beautifully written and the vulnerability is very powerful. Welcome home!

  • Reply
    Michelle
    August 25, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Thank you for your testimony! Sometimes I feel like I won’t ever get there. I am currently in RCIA but don’t know when we will actually come into the church – my husband and I have a difficult marriage and he isn’t sure he wants to stay married (legitimately so). Since he was baptized Catholic, though, our pastor has explained we must receive the sacrament of marriage along with first communion and confirmation. So, God is calling me to wait with patience and fidelity, trusting that He will not leave me alone, that in His perfect time He will join me to Himself in communion. But it is a daily struggle and the Eucharist is what I desire most! It is lovely and reassuring, though, to read your story and be reminded that cooked lines are no big thing to our God.

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