Just after high school, my life began to spiral out of control. A series of mistakes and poor choices left me in despair. I was battling depression, but I remained as stubborn as ever until, one day, a friend made a challenge.
My friend was a devout Christian, one who belonged to a local "mega-church." Time and time again, I ridiculed her for her faith and questioned her beliefs. Finally, she challenged me. She asked, "Chad, have you ever even read the Bible?" Of course, I hadn't. Who has time for that? When I told her that I had never read it, she challenged me by saying, "Well, as soon as you finish reading it, you can question my beliefs."
This young girl's wise words changed my life in ways that she does not know. As a stubborn, self-centered twenty-something, I was determined to prove her wrong. I decided to read the Bible, cover to cover, and come back with more ammunition. Instead of finding ammunition against her, I found a truth that I had never seen before.
A Place to Call Home
In the fall of 1997, I called myself Christian for the first time. For the next twelve years, I bounced all over the world. During those years, I hopped from one church to another, and with each move came a search for a new church to call home. Many of them were non-denominational churches, and just as soon as I would start to feel at home, it was time to move on again.
After spending half of those twelve years in the military, I finally found myself back in my hometown. Home was a great concept. It was great to be home with the ones I loved. It was great to feel like I belonged to a family again. When it came to my life at church, I hoped for the same thing. Despite my best efforts though, my search continued.
Being home was great, but I struggled to find a church to call home. From one church to the next, I just never felt like I was part of a community. A few of the churches that I came across were nice enough, but they just did not "feel" right. My search was less about spiritual truths and more about my own personal feelings. At this rate, I thought I would never find a home.
Taking a Second Look
I had always been rather cynical about the Catholic Church. Many of the people I know in my life are Catholic, and our discussions often turned into religious debates. In my stubbornness, I never really listened to anything they had to say. I was so stubborn that they coined the term "Chad-isms." I had my set of beliefs, and nobody was going to change them.
In the past, most of my Christian beliefs came through my own understanding of Scripture and the teachings of one modern preacher or another. But the teachings always seemed very shallow; they lacked theological depth. It was a "feel-good" theology, and it often avoided any of the hard truths. When I struggled to get connected or find a deeper faith, I slowly became disenfranchised with modern denominations. Was it time to take a look at something different, something with an older tradition? Eventually, my heart started to open to the idea. Maybe it was time to take a second look at Catholicism.
We never know when, or where, God will finally call us. Being a huge fan of football, I joined my brother-in-law at a Notre Dame game one weekend. Living in Chicago, South Bend was only a short drive away. When we arrived on campus, I was amazed at the beauty of the architecture. The beautiful paintings and murals inside the buildings were awe-inspiring. Yet, despite the awe-inspiring art and architecture, what truly inspired me was the community on campus.
Large crowds gathered to say a prayer at the Grotto. Catholics from all over the country shared stories of faith. Even the players attended Mass prior to the game. Was this the community of believers that I had been looking for? I won't say that I changed my mind that day, but it opened me up to the possibilities.
My RCIA Process
My journey toward the Catholic Church did not end in South Bend. That was only the beginning. As I looked around me, I noticed that many of the people of faith that I knew were Catholic. My lovely girlfriend (possibly my future wife, God willing), my sister, a few other family members, and a number of friends were all Catholic. More than any other denomination, the Catholics seemed to hold steadfast in their faith. It intrigued me. I decided to "try" RCIA. If I didn't like it, then I would drop out, no harm done.
I walked into RCIA with a lot of questions. No matter how many questions I asked, there was always an answer. I asked the priests, my family and friends, searched online, and consulted the Bible and Catechism. Around every turn, I expected to find the big "GOTCHA!" moment; the moment I could find the ultimately fatal flaw in the Catholic Church. That day never came.
Eventually, I completed the RCIA process. I still had questions, but many of them had been answered. Easter was coming fast, and I still had a choice to make. Choosing to become Catholic does not happen when you start RCIA; it happens when you finish it. I prayed hard. What to do? In the end, there was not a large neon sign saying, "Be Catholic!" on it. Instead, there was a gentle whisper in my soul. It's those soft whispers that can have the most dramatic impact on our lives.
Going Through the Motions
One thing that I noticed while going through RCIA was that many of my fellow candidates and catechumen were simply going through the motions. Some were getting married, or already were, and they were simply going through RCIA to complete the process. What they failed to understand is that RCIA is more about the journey than the destination.
Each step of the way, I studied Scripture, researched the topics, and, most importantly, prayed about what we were learning. Going through RCIA was a personal choice for me, and I wanted to really be sure that I was making the right decision. I owed it to God, and myself, to listen to what God was telling me through the Holy Spirit.
Many of the people that go through RCIA make their choice before they even begin the classes, but I believe that this is the wrong way to look at it. For the catechumens, candidates, and the Church itself, the entire RCIA process should be an evaluation. The Church should evaluate the catechumens and candidates, and vice versa. It is not always a marriage made in heaven.
My evaluation of the Church and its teachings took me all the way until Good Friday, just one day before I was scheduled to be Confirmed. Purposely, I chose to wait this long to allow myself the time to discern what Christ wanted me to do. Instead of going through the motions, I let the Holy Spirit guide me to where I belong. The next day, at the Easter Vigil, I was welcomed into the Catholic Church.
My journey did not end after completing RCIA. My analytic mind turned towards my new Catholic faith. What I began to see was a very deep theology. Many will only scratch the surface of what Catholicism brings to Christianity as a whole. And, as I learn more from the great writers and teachers of the Catholic Tradition, I fall even more in love with that Tradition.
With all of the knowledge I gained through the RCIA process, I realized that there were others like me out there. There were a number of people searching for the truth, looking for community, and hungry for God. God calls each of us to spread His Word, and I decided to share what I learned with those people. In February of 2011, I launched WakingUpCatholic.com as a way to share my story with the world.
Each and every day, I learn something new about the faith. From feast days to indulgences, the Catholic Tradition is steeped with beauty and grace. Through my writing, I am able to share what I have learned, and I am forced to grow even more. The experience has brought my faith to places that I had never imagined. A decade after my original conversion to Christianity, my relationship with Christ has never been stronger, and I owe it to the beauty, depths, and richness of the Catholic faith.