Monday, November 17, 2008

Boldness wins

This might not make sense, as some of the folks here know that I'm a really faithful Catholic (we do have six kids), but half of them aren't baptized. It's not that I haven't wanted them baptized as infants. I do. It's just complicated. I know, lame excuse. I'll get to it in a later post. Suffice to say, Jacob is seven and not baptized, and he wants to be baptized. He wants it in the worst way. Since he's past the magic number seven (the age of reason), he's not going to just be baptized, but he's going to be accepted into the Church in a full way. They call it the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA, also at Wikipedia). Of course, he's not an adult, so instead of calling it the Rite of Christian Initiation for Children, they call it the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for Children. There are some things that the Church created beautiful names for (like theotokos) and then there are things like this.

Anyway, a couple of months ago we officially signed up in this parish and signed up for Religious Ed, including RCIA(C) for Jacob. He's the youngest one in the program I think. We went to an intro meeting, then completely forgot about the second. The third one we were late for, they had that one in the church and it was locked when we got there. So we missed out on everything. I had a schedule and noticed that they were having a Rite of Acceptance. It's the public introduction of the folks in RCIA to the parish, sort of a big deal. I knew it was on the calendar, I had wanted to call the church to say "Hey, we're still in this, don't forget us," but I let work get in the way. We showed up to Mass a minute late and the folks in the program were already lined up out the door. The program director walked right by me and didn't even recognize us. It was happening without us. It was just passing us by like we weren't part of the parade. I felt crushed. I didn't want Jacob to wait another year for this. I wanted it to be their fault (Why didn't they call this week? Why doesn't someone wave us over right now?). I felt intentionally left out (maybe they just didn't want to deal with us, we had missed 2/3rd of the meetings). I just wanted to slink away and be mad at what was going on, to be a righteous victim. I was already embarrassed that I hadn't had Jacob baptized yet. I'm a real Catholic, not just a "devout" Catholic, I don't want to be seen as someone on the outside. Like an adolescent, I was more concerned about appearances that I was about the task that needed to be done. I just stood there and stewed.
Kim had parked the van and had come in as the priest was handing around a microphone to all the folks, letting them be introduced. She noticed that the Bride's room was open and a table was set up therein. Ducking inside, she walked out with a name tag for Jacob. I felt mad. I kind of wanted to ruin their world by walking down there with my son, introducing him, and then showing them that I knew as much about that stinkin' rite as they did. I'd seen it a dozen times, I think I'd even done it as a sponsor a time or two. I told Joseph to "pin up" his brother, then I walked down there with my boy.
My heart was beating like I was racing Lance Armstrong. I smiled (probably smugly) at the coordinator as she (without much of a beat) smiled in return. I told her that we were ready and she told me to remind the priest that Jacob was a Catechumen (unbaptized), we were out of order. I spoke and told the parish that Jacob was our 4th of 6 kids, our second son, our record breaker, no one had had a second boy in a hundred years. The congregation laughed in approval. Jacob beamed. The rite went off without a hitch. You can read the general version here. There's a series of blessings read by the priest where the sponsor or parent then signs a cross over the catechumen's head, followed by their ears, eyes, lips, heart, shoulders, hands, and feet. After the first few, Jacob kept reaching out to embrace me. I had to tell him it wasn't over yet. Finally they released us to sit down. Jacob wrapped me up as much as a seven year old can, and we walked back to the rest of the family. They had a formal sending off halfway through the service as they went off for a class. I walked him over to make sure he was set up. I caught enough to see the light turn on in his eyes. Our kids are good classroom kids. They enjoy speaking up and sharing, and they aren't afraid to know the answer.
Teacher: Does anyone here know what Advent is?
Other kid: Even I don't know what that is.
Teacher: You set out a wreath, and you have candles...
(Teacher's daughter starts drawing an advent wreath on the chalkboard)
Jacob: Oh, so that's what it is. I know the song you're supposed to sing. O Come O Come Emmanuel...
Teacher: Do you know how many candles?
Jacob: Four.
Teacher's daughter: And the colors?
Jacob: Three purple and one pink!!! (almost shouting by now)

Afterwards, they had a small reception (cake, punch, mixed nuts), and the kids of course flocked to where free cake was. One of the leaders for the adult program is a friend of mine (his wife still works at St. John's) and told me "You guys did great. When I saw you come down late, I was startled, but I thought, if anyone can wing it, it's Bull."
I didn't want to attract attention. I didn't want to be bold. I wanted to be a victim, a whining baby upset that the world doesn't revolve around him. Instead I needed to step forward for my son's sake. It's a legitimate question as to "Why is there such a rigamarole just to get a kid baptized? Can't they just do it?" I guess my only answer is that this is a big deal. A really big deal. This is grace stuff, God stuff. You don't just jump into that with a "Yeah, that sounds fun" level of initiative. You have to want it. You have to be ready to be bold for it.

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