My RCIA Experience
In the process of writing my memoir, I came across an old essay that I wrote back in 1999 at the conclusion of my RCIA process. The RCIA is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults which a person must go through in order to be a Catholic. I am posting the entire article here as it was written. It gives a very accurate description of what I went through. It includes some personal information that is not commonly revealed. I wanted to be as honest as possible. It was my commitment to LENT that year.
- Original from Mar. 1999
My Road To Damascus
The story of my personal conversion needs to be written. It is needed for my own record but also for others that I may touch. Even if one person is touched by my story then I will have done a service and in some way spread the good news as all Christians are called to do.
My story is humble compared to some other well-known personalities. The road to Damascus is a reference to the Apostle Paul who was converted on the road to Damascus with the help of the Lord almost 2000 years ago. I thank God for showing me the light, to see the truth that will lead me to salvation. It is with his grace that I am here and writing this story. The help that I received from numerous people is also by the gift of God. I am grateful to all of them and hope that I am worthy of their love and support. They will always be in my prayer.
My journey of faith began when I was about 16 years old. I was born in Taiwan in the year 1951. My family was not religious in any way but we did attend some Buddhist ceremonies usually for a family funeral. I immigrated to the US at the age of 10. In our family, we always celebrated the major holidays like most people including Christmas but, at the time, I did not know the true meaning of Christmas. I only know that we receive gifts from parents and relatives and we all get together for a large banquet. It was a festive occasion with tree and lights. It was no different from New Year or some other Chinese holiday. When I was about 16 years old, a couple came to our door one day and wish to talk to me about Jehovah and the Bible. They seem like very nice people and I had some free time on my hand so I decided to give it a try. I always kept an open mind and wanted to learn more about the Christian religion and the Bible. This was a good opportunity for me. They started coming to my home about one hour a week and we discussed the Bible and also readings from their magazine The Watchtower. I did not always agree with their teachings but what impressed me was the way the two people lived and they treated others. They were kind and gentle and very helpful without expecting anything in return. It wasn't until much later that I found out more about the Jehovah Witnesses and some of their controversial teachings and believes. I discontinued the Bible study after about a year and I concentrated more on my studies and prepared for College. That episode was a learning experience for me. It taught me that people can be very nice and sincere in their believes but it does not necessarily make them right.
After college, I started working for IBM in upstate NY. It was the first time I left home. I had lived at home and commuted to college at CCNY. Being alone in a strange town is not a good feeling. Luckily I had a few friends whom I knew from College and had started work for IBM together. Also, I met quite a few at work and we would have very interesting and lively discussions on various topics during our breaks. Some of my friends were Jewish and some were Christian and some were neither. At times, they would argue over some points of believe or faith and I would offer my humble opinion as well. I did a lot of reading and research on my own and was more or less interested in the topic not from a religious point rather from a scholar point. I remember one time while watching a TV program that I became interested in the topic of prophesies from the Bible. This was in the 80's and "Countdown to Armageddon" was a popular movie. I started to learn more about this topic and became involved in a program on TV by an evangelist. He was such a good speaker and so convincing that I was totally taken in by his preaching. I never joined a religious group or church but that was the closest encounter I had with Christianity. It was also then that I found out the true meaning of Christmas not as a Holiday but a celebration of the birth of Jesus, our Savior. Looking back now, I wondered how I could have lived through all those years and not know the true meaning. It just goes to show how commercialized this holiday has become. It was also this period that I became friend with a true Christian. I will not reveal his name but he is someone I met at work. We became close friends basically because we shared many interests. He is a very smart person and very friendly and helpful. He is always willing to go the extra mile to help others in need. I was very impressed with his good nature. He was very religious but not imposing. He would not compromise on his faith and basic believes. We had many discussions and he always kept his cool and was very helpful to me in increasing my knowledge of the subject. I learned quite a bit from him not only by his teaching but by his example. I always considered myself to be a moral, law abiding person. My naive believe at that time was that being a moral person is sufficient to be saved in the eyes of God.
I met my wife, Christina, through my sister-in-law. Her father was a close friend of my wife's father. They had both served in the Chinese Air Force during the second world war. We dated for about two years and were married in a Church. She was brought up Catholic in Taiwan mainly because she attended a Catholic school. Her parents were not religious just as my parents. We got married in a Catholic church in NJ and we did attend some pre-cana sessions with the priest as is the requirement. This was my first contact with Catholicism. It just seems to me at the time that there was too much emphasis on rituals. I did not mind it too much since it was only a temporary inconvenience and the church was an impressive place to be married. Not knowing then, I had participated in one of the seven sacraments. After marriage, we became totally engrossed in our day to day living and did not really have time for religion. Soon after, we conceived our daughter Karen. We have three children now ages 15(Karen), 13(Eric) and 7(Jason).
The challenges of work, family and others kept us busy one year to the next. Time past very quickly and we were very happy. My in-laws was living with us. They were retired and healthy and they also helped with the caring of our young children. We went everywhere together on weekend trips and vacations. There was no serious burden to make us stop and think and contemplate on the meaning of life. We were too busy living it. It was not until a few years ago, in 1993, that things begin to change. I have experienced sorrow in the past and have always dealt with it. In 1969, my own mother past away from a suicide. I was devastated mainly because I felt so helpless and I did not really understand why she left us. It is only years later that I understood what was going on with her. Back then, people did not understand much about depression and the effects of menopause on some women.
In 1978, I had experienced a lost love affair. We had dated for about two years and for some reason, things did not work out. I was depressed after that for quite a while and even resorted to taking some anti depressant medication. Eventually, I pulled myself out with the help and support of my family. I met Christina, my wife to be, soon after and that episode ended. This time it was different. There were three things that came down about the same time. First, there was increasing pressure at work. IBM was going through tough financial times and some people were forced to leave (take early retirement). Even though I was not one of them, I felt bad for the people who left. It also meant more work for the rest of us that stayed. The pressure was mostly my own doing. I took things much too serious than I should. I worry about things that I had no control over. These things I learned later but at the time it was choking me.
Second, my mother-in-law's Alzheimer disease was getting worse. Her symptoms started a year earlier and at first we did not know what was happening. After a while, when it became obvious we took her to various doctors for exams. Since there was no cure, we had to take things as it comes. She went through all the symptoms of anger, denial, paranoia and physical violence. Even though I had read books on the disease, I was not prepared for all the stress.
Last, my own health was taking a toll. In 1991, I had been miss-diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I went through many prescriptions of antibiotics with no avail. As it turned out, I had really developed an acute case of allergy. All my symptom was related to this newly acquired condition. Eventually, I went to an allergist and my condition was corrected. But at this period, I was very depressed. I just felt like I am loosing control of my life. It culminated in the time I checked myself into a hospital. I had not slept in about a week. I returned from a business trip and I was totally exhausted.
I could not even think straight any more. I knew I couldn't go on and that I needed help. I remember very well lying on that hospital bed and I started to pray. I asked for help in getting me through this. I finally got some sleep and badly needed rest. I was home the next day and took off a whole week to convalesce. I received support from my wife and family and friends. It is at that point that I realize I need to change. I started by taking it easy and being attentive to myself. I realized that I could not take care of my family or my work if I am not well. Another key point that I learned from my manager is that I am not indispensable. As much as I care about my job and my work, and as much as I feel that I am needed to make things go right, I was not indispensable. I realized that if I was gone tomorrow, everything will be all right and someone else will pick up the work. This realization took a big load off my back. Shortly after this, I came across a simple prayer in a Hallmark card store and ever since then, I have this sitting on my office table. It is the Serenity Prayer. I think we mortals sometimes need a traumatic experience to make us aware of the other part of life. The spiritual side gets the attention only when something goes wrong. It takes a serious injury, a life threatening situation or a death in the family to wake us up. This was the first of my wake up call. Just prior to this period, my wife and I started to attend Mass at St. Patrick's off and on. It was partly due to my mother-in-law's condition and also due to my father-in-law's sickness. He had developed emphysema and is starting to have some problem getting around. On Dec. 24, 1994, we were on our way home from a Christmas celebration to attend the Christmas midnight Mass when we got into a serious auto accident. Luckily no one was injured but the car was damaged badly. This was the second of my wake up call. Next, my family was hit with some tragedy death of two of my uncles. Both died of cancer before their time. One died of stomach cancer in 1994 and the other, a surgeon, died of a brain tumor in 1995. These incidences brought to the forefront of how fragile life is and how any one of us could be gone in a flash. In 1994, I was fortunate to make a business trip to Rome and work at the Vatican Library. I visited the Sistine Chapel and was amazed by the beauty of the work of art. I remember telling myself that something of this beauty can only be accomplished with God's help and inspiration.
In 1996, when Karen was 12, she came to us and asked about our religion. Many of her friends were getting ready for Confirmation and she was wondering why she does not have this experience. We had been contemplating this for some time and this was the impetus for us to act. We decided to call the parish and arrange for a meeting to discuss how to get our family back on track. I remember our first meeting with Sister Ellen very well. She was the Catechumenate Director at St. Patrick's Church. She was very friendly but not overbearing. She asked some questions and explained the process to us. Karen and Eric could join the RCIC program right away. Jason, my youngest is still young enough where he can be baptized and then enroll in the CCD program. They were starting a weekly inquiry session for adults and she asked me to sit in. The process takes a while she explained and it is good to learn about Catholicism and its practices and believes before making a commitment. I remember how friendly everyone was and how they made us feel very comfortable. I told her I do not mind taking the time and I feel very fortunate to have the RCIA program at St. Patrick's. All the people on the Team were wonderful and dedicated and a true role model for our kids and for me. I found this to be one of the places where the people really live their faith and know their priorities. I am forever grateful to all of them for helping me and my family in our journey of faith. The RCIA program for me took about a year to complete. Karen and Eric took an extra year to complete. My moment came in Easter of 1997, when I was baptized and received my first communion and confirmed all in one night. I was also the first to be baptized in the new baptismal font that our church has acquired. My RCIA process was guided by Sister Ellen, and my sponsor and God parent Nona Donovan. They have been an inspiration to me with their patience and time and energy week after week guiding me along my way. It was Nona who gave me the book "The Road to Damascus" that documented some famous people who have converted to Catholicism in their own words. The rest of the RCIA team also shared their personal experiences with me and our other candidates. There were 6 of us that year. I was the only catechumen (one that had not been baptized).
The conversion process though taken a year to complete did not seem that long. There were so much to cover and many things to reflect on. I struggled with some of the rituals and believes during my discernment. I also prayed for guidance. In the end, I was called by name. This year, I read the book "Nearer My God" and it contained many points and counterpoints by scholars and in much better ways than I can put to words. I believe I have grown for the better and the last 2 years have really been the prove. I am much more fulfilled both at my job and my personal life. I have experienced the grace of God first hand and I am very grateful.
In the summer of 1997, I went on a business trip to Israel and also visited Jerusalem. It was a wonderful experience seeing the Holy Land. I also had a chance meeting with Father Oscar. He was on the same plane with us going there and later we met at the Hotel in Jerusalem on our last day there. In a way, I believe this was the Holy Spirit at work. As it turned out, Father Oscar has written many books on the subject of RCIA and the conversion to Christianity. He has sent me copies of his writing and they have made me more aware Of the Catholic faith. Later that year, my father-in-law past away after a long bout with pneumonia. Our family grieved at the loss but I believe we were better prepared to deal with this loss because of our faith. Even though he was not a religious man, he supported our journey of faith. Later that year, I was fortunate to also visit St. Petersburg, Russia on another business trip. What impressed me was not only the beautiful art and architecture of St. Petersburg and the Hermitage Museum but the small church that I attend Mass. Here in this country after 80 years of Communist rule, where any religious activity was banned and persecuted, I found a small number of faithful Catholics practicing their faith. Even though the Mass was done in Russian, I could follow the different parts of the Mass due to my training by the RCIA process. I thought to myself, my journey could not even come close to what some of them must have endured. In 1998, a year later, I had another opportunity to re-visit St. Petersburg. I found the small church flourishing. There were even some young people in attendance. I found Russia undergoing many problems including a financial crisis. It is good to see religion making a come back after all these years of persecution. I have faith in the Russian people to win over any past problems and with God's help I hope it will happen soon.
God works in strange ways and for everyone there is a right time. My journey of faith is just starting. A wise Chinese once said, "the longest journey begins with the first step". I have taken the first step and will continue to learn and study and practice my faith. It is not enough to have the knowledge but we also must act according to God's will. Even though we are human and we will fail at times but it is the act of trying and the intent to do good and the grace of God that will lead us to salvation. May God bless us all.
First and foremost, I like to thank God for showing me the way. I also like to thank St. Patrick's parish for the support and guidance especially the RCIA team members and Sister Ellen McNulty, Nona Donovan (my Irish Godmother), Mary Longhi and all the parishers of St. Patrick's of Yorktown. It is partly due to their living example that help convinced me to be part of the Catholic Church. I owe them a debt of gratitude for me and for my family. May God bless all of them. Peace be with you all.
This year I was elected to the parish council as a member of 15 people to serve for a three year term. I was surprised to be asked to run and even more surprised to have been chosen among other more experienced Catholics. Being a new Catholic, I must have a different perspective. It is a great honor to be given the opportunity to serve in a thriving parish. I hope to contribute my talents to make our parish even better.
This year also happens to be my 25th anniversary at IBM. After working at IBM for the last 25 years, practically all my adult life, I have been giving some thought to what I have learned. What wisdom have I gained I realized, as much as I like working for IBM, despite all the benefits and the many trips overseas, IBM is not going to be the center of my being. I want to work hard at making something of myself and not be known just as "an IBM employee." There is nothing wrong with this title. It is just that I wanted more out of my life and I realized there are much more to life than our jobs and our careers. A man's total self includes his family, his friends and his community in addition to his career. When a person devotes all his energy to his job, something is amiss.He is short changing his other life. My time and energy should be divided between my job, my family, my friends and my community. God has been very good to me and I feel it is my duty to help others in need. Another wisdom that I learned is "true happiness comes to one that gives instead of one that receives." When everyone of us is ready to meet out maker, it makes little difference if we have made a fortune, or won awards or build an empire or be a world leader. What really matters is how we measure up as a human being.
END March 25, 1999
My Baptism Msgr. Brennan and Nona Donovan
A lot has happened since my RCIA process. I am grateful to all for that experience. Part of my focus on HubPages has been on Religion and faith. I will continue to contribute to this conversation. As I said in many previous hubs, the faith in God is a personal decision. It cannot be coerced. We all come to this decision sometimes in our lives. Thanks for reading and I welcome comments.
Peace be with you.
How Did I do It?
As I mentioned in the introduction, I found this essay in my file as a printed document of 5 pages. The original soft copy was lost. I used modern technology on the iPhone to recapture it. I created a hub detailing how I did it. The OCR app was not perfect. I had to edit some of the text to fix the errors. However, it was still a great time saver.
The Process Of Converting A Text Document To HP
- How To Scan A Document With Your IPhone
A simple way to create a PDF document using your iphone.
Some Recommended Reading...
The following are a few books that I recommend.