As I walked into the classroom where the RCIA class was held, I reminded myself to breathe. Considering the state, I had worked myself into, just coming up the stairs, I was preparing for another onslaught from my awkwardness. Oddly, for me anyway, as I walked into this room, I was at ease. I felt at peace. I felt safe. There was a Priest sitting at the front of the classroom and a lady sitting behind a desk. The priest put his mask on and walked over to greet me. I walked up and noticed that this was the same Priest who led the Midnight Mass. The lady at the desk, was one of the people I recognized from that Mass too.
We all exchanged greetings. The Priest told me not to be afraid to ask questions if they said something I needed clarification on or used a specific term that I wasn't familiar with. I nodded and thanked him. The lady gave me a Bible, a Catechism and a notebook to write in. A bit of my awkwardness popped in as I wondered if I was supposed to pay for these or not. I nervously accepted the books and asked, "For free?" She nodded and said, "Yes." I thanked her and happily took the books to a nearby table. She also directed me to a sign in sheet and told me where the bathrooms were and that there was coffee or juice I could help myself to if I wanted.
I was looking at the bible I had just been given, the first Catholic Bible I'd ever owned in fact. I told them both that I had found out a few days earlier that there are more books in the Catholic Bible than the protestant one. The Priest acknowledged this and explained how that all came about. Apparently in the sixteenth century, after translating the Bible into German, Martin Luther removed Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, I & II Maccabees and Esther from the Old Testament. He thought these seven books were not equal to the others. I had stumbled upon that information just a couple days earlier. I never knew that before and that fact seemed amazing to me when I learned of it. I went to my husband and told him, "I never knew Catholic bibles had more books in them than protestant bibles!" He looked at me blankly and said, "Do they?" I playfully rolled my eyes at him saying, "You're supposed to be my 'in-house' catholic. You're useless!" I quipped. He shot back with, "Just because I'm Catholic doesn't mean I know EVERYTHING about Catholicism." We laughed and continued to talk about the things I was learning about Catholicism and things he remembered about it.
I was one of the first to arrive and it was nice to have that little bit of time to get acclimated to my surroundings. As more and more people showed up, every properly socially distanced seat (per pandemic mandate) in the room was filled. I was happy to see so many people were also on a similar journey as me. In the new age world, you can easily get the idea that nobody is even interested in Christianity anymore, let alone Catholicism. Supposedly, open minded intellectual types were too 'woke' to buy into that 'nonsense.' Yet, sitting around me, were all kinds of different people. Some were seeking to convert, like me and some were already Catholic and wanting to deepen their understanding of their Faith. In this one room, was proof that another lie from my old life had been quashed.
Class began at 8:30 am. The subject was Baptism. I suppose it is an opportune time to say that when I was following the pagan paths, I had followed for over three decades, I had mixed feelings about Baptism. Long ago, I used to think that it was the Christian stance to believe that innocent babies went straight to Hell if they were not Baptized. If you believe that, you also tend to believe that there is a strong vein of hatred in Christianity. Slightly related but worth noting is that Pagans, Wiccans and New Agers don't believe in Hell. In those practices, it is widely believed that Hell is a thing of fiction. Supposedly, the 'evil' Church made up the concept of Hell to frighten and control people.
Two things have happened in my life that changed my thinking on Baptism though. The first was the fact that my husband and I had our first child baptized in the Catholic Church. My husband's family were thoughtful enough to let me know that I didn't have to do that. They said if I wanted to baptize him in another denomination, they would be fine with it. Being that I didn't have another denomination that meant anything to me, I agreed. I did however feel a little sad because, for whatever reason, I had erroneously thought that since I wasn't Catholic, I wouldn't even get to be at the baptism. I have no idea where that belief came from. I actually got to hold him while he was being baptized in fact!
Afterwards about a million of my husband's family and friends joined together to celebrate. I had gotten to know some of them over the past year. Others, I was meeting for the first time. To some of them, the baptism meant a lot, spiritually speaking. To others, it was more of a reason to get together and welcome a new child into the family. In any case, I couldn't deny the fact that there was something changed in my son. I didn't know what it was. He was just, different, somehow. Aside from that experience, the second thing that changed my view on baptism had to do with that idea about unbaptized babies going to Hell. I was still filled with that feeling of being loved by God that I received at midnight mass. It wasn't nearly as strong as it was that night, but it was definitely still with me. If God can love me like that, after all I've done in my life, I knew with certainty that hatred and cruelty were not a part of Him.
Today I would learn that there is so much more to baptism than I ever thought. I learned that it is one of seven sacraments. Those seven are grouped into three categories: The Sacraments of Initiation, the Sacraments of Healing and the Sacraments of Service. Baptism was the first in the list of the Sacraments of Initiation followed by Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. Through baptism a person is washed clean of their sins, both original and personal. It is also when a person begins their life as a Christian. With Baptism a person can leave their old ways behind and become a new person in Christ. This sacrament is the one that we go through first so that we may receive the others.
There was a lot I didn't know about this Sacrament. Including something called, 'the Baptism of Desire' and 'the Baptism of Blood.' With Baptism of Desire, a person can still receive the Grace of Baptism if they desire it but cannot because of an extenuating circumstance. Such as, If a person goes through all the motions with the intent of being baptized and dies before being able to do so, they can receive the grace of Baptism. So too can a person who lives a good life and strives to do what is right but may not have been exposed to the teachings of the Church. With Baptism of Blood, if a person should be martyred while defending the Faith, they can also receive the grace of Baptism. The Church does not have an official stance on the fate of unbaptized infants. Yet somewhere in the baptisms of desire and blood seemed to provide a bit of an answer that had everything to do with love and mercy and nothing whatsoever to do with cruelty and pettiness.
This first RCIA class ended with me realizing how very much I had to learn. The biggest thing I learned today is how wrong I had been about ONE topic within the Church. How else had I been mistaken about Catholicism? I couldn't wait to find out!