March 21, 2011

Bad Coffee and Catholic Wisdom

Today I'm visiting our friary in Yonkers, New York, where I was assigned as parish priest for three years. I'm on the provincial "liturgy commission," and today we are planning liturgies for our upcoming provincial chapter. The coffee here is terrible, and it reminds me of some wisdom I received as a catechumen.

The parish where I became a Catholic didn't seem to have heard of the restored catechumenate or the RCIA. Instead, they put me in the care of the permanent deacon, a very kind man, who was to give me 'convert instructions.' After going through these instructions on Thursday evenings through the summer of 1993, I asked if I could be baptized before the fall semester began.

The deacon agreed that it was a good time, but explained to me that I would have to be examined by the pastor first. Of course I had no idea what this meant, and I studied everything I could think of the night before. I was to be examined after the morning Mass. I had never been in a rectory before. The deacon and his wife waited outside.

The old pastor invited me to sit at the dining room table. He gave me buttered toast and a cup of coffee. David McCullough's Truman sat on the table, along with the local newspaper, the New London Day. The examination consisted of me being asked if I really wanted to be baptized. That's all. And I was all ready to name the sacraments, the commandments, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the mysteries of the rosary, etc. When I responded that yes indeed I wanted to be baptized, he gave his congratulations, presented me a baptismal certificate (a day early) and showed me out. I was relieved and very surprised that there had been nothing to it.

The deacon and his wife asked me how it had gone. I told them everything.

"How was the coffee?" asked the deacon.

"It was awful," I replied.

"That's a good lesson about the Catholic Church," he went on, "the coffee is usually pretty bad."


Sara said...

Hey Father, welcome back to Westchester! Sorry about the weather.

Brother Charles said...

I couldn't believe it when I was greeting the people after the 8:30 Mass. It was snowing like mad! Happy beginning of spring!

Robin said...

I am quite struck that a deep desire for God took precedence over memorized lists and rules, and that even bad coffee was not an obstruction to that desire.

There was a lot of God at that breakfast.

Brother Charles said...

Beautiful. Thanks for the comment. More and more I think that it's hard to make a distinction between "God" and what we experience as the "desire for God" that doesn't limp in coarseness.

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of my brother's pre-cana experience where he failed miserably the pastor's catechism test. He was asked, "Who is Jesus?" My brother responded, "The Son of God." The pastor then ripped into him about how Jesus is the second person of the holy trinity, the alpha and the omega, and so on and so forth. Needless to say, my brother was left with an indelible scar from that encounter.

Brother Charles said...

Wow, anonymous. I apologize in whatever way I can on behalf of the priesthood. Stories like that break my heart.

Greg said...

Reminds me of my humorous path to conversion.

My daughter had converted previously and I noticed her thick catechism book. I asked if I could borrow it to prepare for "the test."

She chortled and let me know that wasn't exactly the way it worked...

A short time later I was in RCIA. My immediate thought was "Great. I love to debate theology. This is going to be so cool." Wrong again.

After a couple weeks of trying to fire up an intense debate on theology with the RCIA leader, I realized I had got it wrong again.

It was in dismissal that I came to fully appreciate the beauty of the new (old) approach to baptism. The real change, the real value, arose out of the opportunity to care for one another as Christians. I could debate with the best of them, but could I love another as Jesus taught? Now that was cool.

sam said...

I do not envy your work on the liturgy commission!

Perhaps good coffee could be one of the fruits of Anglicanorum coetibus! Time will tell. (Though I am not really sure that Anglican good taste extends so far.)

There is a lot to be said for your "examination."

4narnia said...

i keep missing your visits, Fr. C! try and let me know next time you're visiting. (i still have a little gift from Asssi to give to you.) yes, the weather today sure didn't feel like spring. PAX!
tara t