Fellow Workers

Rather than have class last night, the RCIA team helped with a service project. This included entertaining an 11-year-old girl—who wound up entertaining us more—but in the midst of our treasure hunt, there was also prime opportunity for bonding between the volunteers.

I try not to discuss my commute to the parish much, especially around people I don’t know, but inevitably someone will bring it up. “You come from where?” they ask, and I simply shrug away my one-hour trip, saying I started the program when I lived closer and would prefer to finish it there.

But last night, my teacher laughed at that response. “She didn’t even live here before,” he said, which isn’t false—I was still a half-hour away, even before I moved.
One of the other volunteers turned to me and asked, “How did you end up at this parish?!”
I paused for a moment. My hesitation made the others chuckle. I had to come up with a quick answer, so I offered the easiest excuse—I blamed my sponsor. (Sorry, friend.) “Although,” I added, “he doesn’t go here, either.”

On my hour-drive home, which is completely silent now that my car’s radio is broken, I considered the question further. How did I end up there? My sponsor is the easy reply, but it’s not completely true. (Hey, you can’t get all the credit.) It could’ve also been the friend whose advice I sought in beginning who, when she couldn’t answer my questions, provided the names of priests I could talk to. It could’ve also been that one priest I ended up consulting, which makes the most sense because it is his parish. But that doesn’t fully answer the question, either, because I didn’t come to him on my own.

Ultimately, it was a joint effort. It was my sponsor, who first invited me to a Catholic event. It was that friend, who freely admitted she couldn’t help and sent me to someone who could. It was that priest, who talked with me for three hours one afternoon and said I was “basically already Catholic.”

It was all of you. That’s how it’s done—all of us, working together, for His sake.

Beloved, it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren, especially to strangers, who have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey as befits God’s service. For they have set out for his sake and have accepted nothing from the heathen. So we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers in the truth. —3 John 1:5–8

Remaining Weeks

I flopped onto my oversize reading chair last night, with stacks of things to read piled on the nearby table—the book on Jesus that’s consumed the last few weeks. The apocrypha. A booklet explaining the meaning behind Confirmation. A prayer guide. And atop the pile, color-coded for our convenience, the schedule of events for the remaining weeks of RCIA.

I’ve been told Ash Wednesday is early this year. That honestly doesn’t mean anything to me—what difference does it make to someone who’s never taken part?—but staring at that schedule, it hit me that it’s a mere two weeks away. During the Advent season, it seemed so far. Now that Christmas is over, I truly understand how quickly the date approaches.

It’s not just Ash Wednesday. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not that big a deal. But it’s what it signifies. It’s the start of a new season. The final season of which I’m just a Candidate. Because when it’s over, and the Easter celebration begins, that’s when my own Confirmation comes. That’s when I’ll fully be part of the Catholic Church.

Yes, I thought of all this in the five seconds I stared at that schedule. I’m not going to say I panicked, but… maybe I did. A little.

The moment I decided to begin RCIA, back in August, this time couldn’t come fast enough. I was so certain of everything; it didn’t make sense that I wasn’t already part of the Church. But as we approach the final weeks, I need more time. There are beliefs I don’t understand. I don’t know all the responses in Mass. I haven’t finished the piles of books on that table by my reading chair. I haven’t even told my parents I’m converting. I’m not ready. And I feel like I can’t tell anyone that.

I could. Last night, I could’ve texted my priest. I could’ve called my sponsor. I could have done anything, but I sat in that reading chair and stared at the things I wasn’t reading. Fine, I started to panic. Logically, there’s no reason. I’m following God’s direction. I know it’ll be okay. But every so often, I remember that this is a big deal. And I don’t know how to process that.

I wish I didn’t live so far from the parish where I began my journey. Big changes are hard enough, but doubly so in an unfamiliar area. I don’t want to attend Ash Wednesday Mass down here. I don’t want to have my first confession (which I still have to do) with a priest I don’t know. Even getting to RCIA on a weeknight is difficult, because rush hour in New Jersey is… well, rush hour in New Jersey. My God, I knew this journey would be a challenge. I don’t know why You went and made it more difficult.

I’m going to fall back on something my sponsor told me after my first RCIA class: “He’s got you.” It’s so simple. It’s so obvious. But even if I don’t feel it sometimes, and especially in those moments of panic, He’s got me. He’ll let me have my little moment of panic, but He’s going to pick me back up and get me going again. After I’m done whining. Maybe during. Because I sure am annoying when I whine.

Those Wicked Gentiles

When I starting getting serious about God (again) during college, St. Paul was my guy. His conversion story was awesome. I never got over how drastically his life changed, and how sudden, all because he finally listened to God.

So it’s fitting that, on his feast day, we’re going to talk about converts. But I’m not talking Paul right now—let’s talk Jonah.

Jonah? Sure. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, since we read his tale at Mass this week. We know the story. But this reading wasn’t about his stubbornness, or even the whale. It was about what happened when he finally listened to God. It was about the people he witnessed to. The Ninevites. The non-Jews. The Gentiles. a.k.a. people like me.

I’ve been delving into this book Jesus of Nazareth, and there are entire sections on who Jesus preached to. Namely, the Jewish population—not the Gentiles. Because once Israel understood and believed the good news of his coming, then they could reach the rest of the world. That was the job of his disciples, not him.

But to hear of Jonah, back in Old Testament days, and his duty to wicked foreigners? It wasn’t God who spoke to the Gentiles; it was His people. Some of the Jews listened. Some of them didn’t. Some of them, like Jonah, listened eventually. But it was Jonah who struck me. We know that he was called to travel outside Israel, but I never considered what that meant. He traveled to Assyria, to those Gentiles, and no wonder he didn’t want to. They had a reputation, and it wasn’t a good one.

Paul was the same. He didn’t just not listen, he literally put Christians to death. He had to be beaten down and blinded to finally turn to Jesus, and even then he stumbled around for a while until he regained his sight. So, yeah, God’s chosen people had a job to do. They not only had to evangelize, they had to leave the comfort of the promised land to do it.

Go out of your comfort zone. Preach God to people who don’t know Him. Save them. The Ninevites repented. And Paul started churches in Greece and Asia and wherever. Thank God they did. Because without them, the Gentiles would have no hope. People like me.