An update last month on my conversion process came as I was making my way through a dark period to what I thought was that well known “light at the end of the tunnel.” Turns out I was right about the ‘well known’ part; I was just mistaken in thinking proverbial instead of punchline:
“if we see a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s the light of an oncoming train”
Robert Lowell, “Since 1939,” 1977
Yeah, things got even rougher for awhile—and that’s why I hadn’t been doing much in the way of posting (which, of course, you were wondering about with such fevered anticipation that some nights you couldn’t even sleep, I’m sure). What I realize now is that I ought to have been blogging my way through the whole mess, since there is a kind of catharsis in getting it all into writing. And wasn’t that part of why I started this page anyway? I now think that part of the hesitation was in realizing that, quite unexpectedly, a small audience seems to be gathering here and I started slipping into the notion of staying “on message.” Pretty stupid, come to think of it.
I’m glad you’re here and reading and I hope you’ll find something that spurs you to think. I just remembered, however, that it’s not actually my job to put any special effort into making that happen.
So there’s that.
Anyway, as I was saying, shortly after that earlier post I got slammed right back into darkness again… and onto a roller coaster. School started up again and I tried to turn my mind back towards lecturing and prepping and the inevitable avalanche of student e-mails. It would seem that I’ve lost the ability to scare lower-division undergrads out of my courses; whether my conversion causal or merely correlative I cannot say but, whatever the case, I’ve got overloaded classrooms and way too much grading that needs doing. While none of these early days were helped by the spiritual trials I’ve been going through, at least I’ve done these courses enough times to not really need to be too focused to get the ball rolling.
Part of what was at issue was (is?) a problem that looks like it will be perennial: other Catholics.
I need to back up in the story a bit to make this make sense. Right, so my whole tolle lege moment came back in January which, as it turns out, is not a good time to start cooperating with the Spirit since the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) starts in September and you’re going to have to wait for it to come around again. Whatever, I knew I would need an annulment if we were going to follow through regardless, so we got that started and, in the meantime, were allowed to sit in on the RCIA already in progress [and don’t even get me started on what they weren’t learning in there!].
A few weeks and assorted meetings with Priests and administrators later, it had been decided 1) that my wife could and should pursue her Confirmation and, 2) that I should switch classes with her since the Adult Confirmation course content was a bit more advanced [and no, there was no modesty there, it really was only “a bit”]. The guy running the Confirmation classes (let’s call him ‘M’) seemed to really like me and Mrs. dfxc, suggesting that we should come over during the summer for a barbecue [spoiler alert: we didn’t], and that he’d be advocating for me to have an accelerated/personalized catechizing and initiation process [spoiler alert: he won’t be]. This quick camaraderie flipped over about five weeks later when I made the rash decision to respond to an assertion put forward by one of the other class members (whom we’ll call ‘S’) that I thought needed a slight correction or adjustment. Here’s how I remember it:
S: …and so I just think it’s so amazing. I mean, I didn’t know about all these ancient records and accounts and stuff but, like, once you hear about it you just can’t even question the reality of the resurrection!
M: That’s right! It’s impressive.
d: Well, but, of course you can question it. Not as a matter of faith but if you’re not committed then, historically or philosophically, it’s an open question.
M: No you can’t! It’s undeniable! That’s a Catholic truth you’d better grab.
d: Well, yeah, I get that the truth of the resurrection is a confession of faith and I’m not denying that or anything. I’m just saying that, you know, it’s not like the historical record is so compelling that everyone has to believe it happened or else reject history altogether. Besides, that’s necessary because, if it were totally provable, there’d be no need for faith, so…
S: …are you saying that…
M: NO! The historical record is undeniable! This is a fact! There’s no way those guards report the empty tomb without it, because they’d lose their jobs and their lives!
d: [wondering what he’s talking about but just going with it] O…K… and where are the records of those guards’ reports?
M: In the Vatican! They’ve kept the original records safe for 2000 years!
It was all downhill after that. He stopped asking Mrs. and me to contribute to class discussion. His attitude towards my background in theology and patristics went from, “I’m going to have to make sure I get this right or d will call me on it! Haha!” to “Hey I’m not looking for any smarty-intellectual answers or anything here…”. Even the casual pleasantries stopped. Then there was a passing but pointed statement he made that Mrs. took to be a not so veiled threat against her being Confirmed with the rest of the group [after which I accompanied her to a very tense meeting with the Priest who, thankfully, made it clear that M had nothing to do with that]. But whatever. The class ended, Mrs was joyously Confirmed, and the wait for September (and the declaration from the Tribunal) resumed.
Flash forward to three weeks ago.
Mrs had decided to change jobs and begin teaching at a Catholic Academy in the Diocese. There were financial pressures attached to that move, piled on top of emotional, spiritual, personal, and even physical challenges [seriously, you would not believe the crap state of that classroom when we began… to say nothing of the horrible mismanagement of the Principal], all of which stacked up on top of what had already been a dark period in my conversion. It was not pretty. We were getting through everything and managing but one night we had a simultaneous meltdown. She took the dog for an unhappy walk and I took to my knees to plead for the light to be turned back on. Then, as if responding directly to my prayer, the phone rang. It was the rectory calling about RCIA!?! Wow, that’s something, right?
…wait for it…
Turns out that M was taking over for the retiring RCIA instructor and that—suddenly, unexpectedly, but entirely coincidentally—the question marks regarding my progress towards a Declaration of Nullity (which, for the record, is nothing but a question mark for everyone who goes through the process) was being considered a reason to exclude me from starting RCIA classes. Because, well, umm, if it doesn’t come through in time, then you can’t go through the Rites and so that, umm, makes it a problem for the rest of the group..? Or something. [Mrs had to go confess a torrent of blasphemy upon learning of this development.] The pastor was going to look into it again and call me back in…
A few days later, again—seriously, I’m not making this up—within minutes of offering some desperate prayer, my caller ID lights up with “Rectory.” Wow again! What are the odds?!? Certainly a good sign.
…wait for it…
You can guess. Short version is, I’m to shuttle myself over to the RCIA program in a neighboring parish [if they ever get it off the ground, I’m still waiting for a callback] and, lest there were any doubt, the pastor let slip the implication that the “issue” was being generated by M’s attitude towards me.
Of course, all of this is going on in tandem with Mrs starting with her students and a host of new and unanticipated problems with her Principal. [She does, however, love teaching her students and respects most of her colleagues so, she’s getting through. It’s going to be a rough year though.] I’ve been helping her organize her lesson plans and come up with creative ways to teach Social Studies without having any textbooks that cover the necessary material (and, just to add a little salt, a ridiculous limit on faculty use of the copier). Nonetheless, we’re making it work, we’re doing well together, I was starting to feel like things were maybe just starting to turn around and I even managed to get us through the financial turmoil of a job change [which is amplified at the end of the summer in a household funded by two educators]. I was feeling the stress and was still feeling spiritually exiled but I returned, once again, to a sense of hope and I prayed.
And you’re not going to believe this. I still don’t. At this point, I don’t blame you at all for thinking I’m completely full of shit but, what can I do, however absurd, this is what happened.
I’m running late to get to work, pulling myself together and I still decide to take just a moment to offer a small prayer before I head out for the day. Then I’m tossing books and papers aside to pack my bag and… hey, what’s that? Oh, Mrs must have gotten the mail yesterday, that’s… is that a Diocese stamp on that envelope?! It is! From the Tribunal! Hold the phone! How nuts is this? Oh man. After months of no contact whatsoever, for this to come out of the blue like this. And the same week that Pope Francis announces changes to the annulment process, and how it needs to be more pastoral, and shouldn’t cost anything. Just, wow.
…wait for it…
It’s a bill. For $1000. For… umm… it doesn’t really say anything. There’s my name, and an annulment case number, and a space for comments… but no comments… no nothing. Just a bill. My reaction, I think, is best captured by quoting a portion of the e-mail I sent to my “advocate”:
Having heard no news of progress or, well, anything since we last spoke in, I think it was, March, I was surprised to discover an envelope from the Tribunal in my mailbox. I was even more surprised, however, when I opened it to find a ‘bill’ for $1000. No comment, no report, no letter… nothing. Just instructions on to whom to send the funds [apparently only payable by check?].
So what happens now?
And what is happening now? Is there some reason I got this bill all of a sudden? Or does the Tribunal just unceremoniously demand money from emotionally and spiritually fragile people every few months?
I have asked. I have sought. I have knocked.
I’ve had to plead for even the hope that I might be shuffled into some RCIA program this year so that all of this might be rectified in the coming Jubilee Year of Mercy — if (ever only if) the Tribunal makes a declaration.
But by December all of this will be easier… for those Baptized, Confirmed, and Married with knowledge of—but apparently neither reverence nor respect for—the Sacrament.
Happy Year of Mercy.
What happens now?
It turns out that, after calling the Tribunal directly for a couple of days and then waiting to hear back, the ‘bill’ isn’t something to be worried about (and ought not have been sent) but I do have a hearing date in mid-October.
I won’t even tell you what I was doing the night before that callback came because I am certain that you’ll not only not believe it but won’t ever believe me about anything ever again. Suffice it to say that if there’s no God involved here, then we really need to reexamine Jung’s ideas about synchronicity.
That’s a story, right? And this isn’t even including a host of other issues related to the parish Mrs is working in now, or other standard miscellaneous annoyances of, you know, life. And yet, and yet… somehow, I’m still walking this path. Go figure.
If anyone knows how to get to the Settings Menu, though, please let me know. I could do with lowering the Convert Difficulty Level for at least a round or two.