Thursday, September 14, 2023

An Injustice from the Beginning

[Sept. 14, 2023] I was baptized Catholic as a baby in an ethnically Catholic household (Sicilian-Irish-Polish), where getting children baptized was just what one did. But I never saw the inside of a Catholic Church, nor received any instruction or sacraments as a child. I had, in every respect, a totally secular upbringing.

Years later, as a young adult, the Lord Jesus found me in His mercy and I was introduced to the Christianity I had never had as a boy. After some years of bouncing around, I gravitated towards Catholicism. I attended a few Masses at a local parish, but what drew me in was the literature—I read my way into the Church, by authors both pre and post-Conciliar, a combination of contemporary Catholic Answers grade apologetical books mixed with pre-Conciliar authors like G.K. Chesterton ane Karl Adam. I didn't notice any different ecclesiology between the two sets of authors; I honestly wasn't even aware of a rupture at Vatican II, simply because I assumed the Mass I was seeing was the historic Mass, so I interpreted everything I read through that assumption.

When it was time to become formally reconciled with the Church and receive sacraments, I asked a Catholic friend for advice and he suggested a parish a little further away from my home where he said I'd get better formation. The choice of this parish was fortuitous. The RCIA program was incredibly orthodox, and very well managed. Some of the catechists were workers for the late Servant of God, John Hardon, S.J. (one of my teachers had been Fr. Hardon's personal secretary). Another was the guy was the media producer for Robert Sungenis, who, it will be remembered, much more mainstream back then. Fr. John Corapi, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and Dr. Scott Hahn all did events at the parish. We had regular visits from the late Redemptorist father, Pablo Straub, and there were a few families there who had known Mother Teresa personally. The parish priest said the Latin Novus Ordo and was unflinchingly orthodox. The parish was home to a thriving community of homeschoolers and young families. I was reconciled with the Church on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi in the year of Our Lord 2002 in a thoroughly orthodox (Novus Ordo) environment that I am still thankful for. Thinking back on it today, not only did I have a solid RCIA formation, but probably one of the best RCIA formation experiences that was available anywhere in the American Church at that time.

And yet, it was still a grave injustice, all of it, from the very beginning.

Because of this one simple fact—

It was mere happenstance that I wandered into a solid, orthodox parish for RCIA. What if I would not have asked my friend's advice on where to go to RCIA? Or what if my friend would have named a different church, say, the heterodox parish twenty minutes away run by the Jesuits? What if I would have simply signed up for RCIA at the geographically closest parish, which was considerably more sketchy? And what happened to the likely ten or twenty or fifty other people near me who were probably equally interested in Catholicism that year and walked into clown-mass parishes or the dens of heterodoxy instead of the orthodox parish? What formation did they receive? What became of their faith?

In other words, the wonderful formation I had was mere coincidence. I had, in fact, happened to stumble into the one solid parish in my entire vicariate. Had I walked into literally any other parish my experience would have been drastically different. For the many other people that year who went to RCIA and chose another parish, their experience likely was very different, and probably not for the better. What made me so different than them? There's no reason discernible except coincidence.

Now, I am speaking from a human perspective here; obviously, we must factor in the Providence of God, who disposes all things as He wills and had a hand in this entire affair. He has His reasons. But those reasons are shrouded to us, and we cannot speculate. And of course, God's grace works behind the scenes aiding people in finding where they belong. All I know is that from a human perspective, it was an injustice that I got a good formation by accident. In a Church called Catholic ("universal") where there is supposed to be unity of doctrine and praxis, it is an injustice that those who, by happenstance, selected a different parish for RCIA likely did not receive the sound formation I did. It is an injustice that the difference between a spiritually enriching formation and a heterodox formation comes down to doing well at "What's behind door number one?"

Obviously, in retrospect, there are certainly ways to discern a good parish from a bad one. But does a catechumen possess the skill to do this? Unlikely. I wasn't even aware there was a difference betwen pre- and post-Conciliar Catholicism. How could I possibly be competent to take such things into account when selecting where to take RCIA? (oop, sorry, I forgot it's OCIA now, silly me). 

And, furthermore, yes, even if everyone was on the same page, there would still be a diversity of experiences in formation, some parishes doing it better than others. But the difference should not be so grave that Person A gets the Catholic faith because he happened to walk through the doors of Parish X while Person B gets heterodoxy because he walked into Parish Y. So much should not depend on such a random thing that the average catechumen is absoltuely not equipped to sort out.

Yes, I received a wonderful formation and a solid parish with excellent role models of faith who taught me the Catholic religion about as well as anybody could. But it was still an injustice because the truth is, from a human perspective, I merely got lucky. And luck should not determine whether one gets bread or a scorpion when asking faith from God's Church.


Anonymous said...

Dont overthink it, nothing is happenstance, you were fortuitously blessed and made the most of it, which is another blessing.

People are not mere sponges, we can deduce and there is intuition and gut feelings and instinct that can lead us away from falsehoods- even when uttered from a pulpit.

Christ can personnally catechise if need be and whatever preconditions are met- which only God knows.

Steven said...

There is no coincidence, only God-incidence :)

I had a similar background except raised basically a little pagan. But by Gods grace I had a grandfather take me to mass one time when young and that somehow stayed with me decades later when I matured spiritually and found my way into a church and got baptized. Peace be with you!

Watcher said...

We certainly have a right to be taught what the Church teaches, but we also have a duty to find it out, which is much easier to do these days.

However, we don't appear to have a right to faithful fellow Catholics. They aren't produced on an assembly line, although when I look at pre-Vatican II photos of Catholic school classes, it's easy to think they were.

God entrusted the Church's mission to us human beings, so the most important thing is to be His friend, get to know Him better, and be channels of His grace to others.

By the way, your blog has helped me along my path in the Church, so thank you!