La fuerza católica

This is the second part of the “Three Baptisms” series. Click here for Part 1.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” the priest said as he poured water over my head from a scoop shaped like a seashell. It was the Easter Vigil of 2003, and I had just become a Roman Catholic.

My interest in Catholicism began when I was around fifteen. My earlier, cruder ideological leanings turned into a more nuanced interest in traditionalist conservatism, and through perusing the traditional conservatism webpage I started reading about the Catholic Church. I was also a big fan of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, that “extreme conservative arch-liberal” who was very prolific at least in the earlier decades of the nascent New Right movement in America.

I briefly considered Eastern Orthodoxy, and even called up the local Greek church and left a message, but did not receive a call back. Come to think of it, I might not have left my number. In the end, I embraced Catholicism because it I thought it was more Western, and the sophisticated theological ideas and hierarchal structure were attractive to me.

It took me a while to reach this conclusion, and in fact I wavered in my religious convictions toward the end of my high school years, to the point of considering myself a deist. At heart, however, I was a believer, and by the time I entered college I decided to take the plunge.

At the local parish I enrolled in RCIA classes. RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, is a formal program developed by the Catholic bishops in America to bring in adult converts. Every Sunday I would go to these classes where the catechists would expound on one or the other aspects of their religion. I don’t remember much of it, to be honest, and found it rather lacking in substance. The two things I do remember is one catechist saying that the Church is not the BUILDING, but the PEOPLE, and another catechist denying the Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God.

I dropped off attending classes but then came back again and decided to enter the Roman Church. Since I considered myself already baptized I expected to be confirmed but the parish secretary requested a baptismal certificate. Since the Protestant church into which I was first baptized did not believe in the sacramental power of baptism, there was no baptismal certificate. I ended up being baptized on the night of Holy Saturday due to a clerical oversight.

After becoming Catholic I became a bit more vocally religious, and started being obnoxious to my secular college friends. I didn’t make any Catholic friends because I hopped around instead of sticking to just one parish. Plus, my interests in Catholic culture, love of reading G. K. Chesterton, and fanatical devotion to the pope did not find much of a response even among Catholics.

I loved the fact that I was in a church with more than a billion people and had such a long and venerable past. Plus, since I have Filipino and Portuguese ancestry, I considered myself to be following the religion of my forefathers. But the actual lived practice of Catholicism in its post-Vatican II form conflicted with my idealized construct of Catholicism. For example, I loved watching the Christmas Midnight Mass at the Vatican and listening to the beautiful Gregorian chant, but when I went to church, this is what I got:

It was at this point that I started becoming interested in Eastern forms of worship and liturgy. My only interaction with the Orthodox had been with them as intellectual opponents online. I perceived them to be stubborn in not realizing that there was no serious difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Why not just submit to the Pope? I did like their music, however, and started listening to Ancient Faith Radio.

In January 2007, I visited a small Ukrainian Catholic parish, St. Sophia’s. It was made up of only one family plus a few visitors, and worship was held in a tiny chapel attached to a Catholic school. I do not think the parish exists anymore. I thought the liturgy there very beautiful, though rather simply sung. Nobody had music, and the congregation just kind of sang whatever melody they knew. That made me wonder what the proper way to do things was. To investigate, I decided to visit the Greek church.

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