Along with the use of English in the classroom, one of the pleasant differences between law school and seminary is the slightly greater diversity of the student body.
Believe it or not, seminary is a bit male-centric. Catholic-heavy, too. And I won’t even get into the monochromatic wardrobe. I won’t belabor the point: I’m enjoying the many color-palette explosions.
Despite the external differences, though, similarities abound. School is school—the reading, the writing, the arthritic typing. And in between it all, there are a few spiritual questions. No matter where you are, those tend to float to the surface.
As today moves our Holy Week intensity from Palm Sunday clean up (all those palms…) to Holy Thursday cleansing (come for the feet washing!), we really settle into some heavy spiritual questions. Passion. Death. Resurrection. Services the next three days are unlike any other. Ritual raw and polished.
My favorite service (because you asked) is Good Friday. Stripped down, full of confusion, jarring. Find a 3 p.m. landing point – making sure you have good socks on, just in case (some churches ask for shoeless reverence of the cross).
No matter your Easter-tide highlight, however, pretty ritual always runs second to flesh-and-blood commitment. In many ways, Easter time is all about the converts: the men and women who have desired to make a formal commitment through the reception of the sacraments. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, nearly 300 people will take that profound step, including a law school classmate.
See: spiritual questions always bubble up.
I have my reasons for Church participation, but others? What’s up with that?
And convert to Catholicism? That sounds quaint—or maybe crazy?
As in class, my fellow 2L Alexis will try to clue me in.
Peter: Alexis, welcome to the blog! Make yourself comfortable—and explain all this to me! Did you just have some Sunday-morning gaps in your schedule?
Alexis: Hey Peter! Thanks for having me. I wish I could sum this up as simply as “Sunday-morning gaps,” but I will try to be as brief as possible.
So, to give you a bit of background, I will have to go back to the way beginning. I know, sounds brief already, right? My father and mother both grew up in the Catholic Church, so I was baptized Catholic as an infant.
Peter: So, technically, you’re Catholic already! (There’s actually no Church mechanism through which you can be un-Catholic-ized; on-the-books membership is set from Baptism.)
Alexis: True. However, I was actually raised by my father and stepmother, who was not Catholic. So, I guess there was a sort of compromise, and growing up I went to a Methodist church. As you probably could guess where this story is going, I never finished the sacraments, and I did not go to a Catholic school.
Peter: This seems to be pretty common in the world of converts. In New Orleans, a child might even go through Catholic schools and just not finish the sacraments. I remember one candidate who was delayed Confirmation because of family problems from Hurricane Katrina. It took ten years before he would begin again. But now, I digress.
Alexis: From there, a few things really led me to RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes. For one, the majority of my family is Catholic. So, even at Thanksgiving or Christmas, I felt like I had to mouth the words of certain prayers to fit in at the dinner table.
Peter: Interesting. Catholic table-side prayers. I guess that was like when the Mass responses changed, and our Christmas and Easter congregation showed up. It took them a few years to latch onto “and with your spirit.”
Alexis: Then, once I got to college at LSU, I started joining Catholic friends in Sunday Mass and Tuesday Adorations. Around my junior or senior year of college, I considered converting but it did not feel like the right time in my life. Then, I moved to New Orleans for law school, and after settling in, it just felt like the perfect time. I really appreciated the Jesuit values, which were really prevalent at Loyola, in the homilies at Mass at Holy Name and in the people I met along the way.
Peter: Wait, wait, wait. Law school was the perfect time? I’ve heard people, like, study and stuff. Aren’t you super-busy? Rumor has it you recently went to Prague to debate European schools on the value and limitations of arbitration. How can you make time for RCIA on top of everything else?
Alexis: Haha! Right, who would say that law school is the perfect time for anything new. I am extremely busy, and yes, I recently went to Prague to debate international teams on contract and arbitration agreements—I am sure that sounds super interesting to everyone else. But I thought I could spare an hour of my week to get away from school and all school-related talk—and I could. It has been really nice to recenter myself and think “big picture.”
Peter: I don’t imagine you’ve ever seen me but, along with weekday Mass, my recentering comes at lunchtime. There’s one rusty table and an even rustier chair on the porch of one of our St. Charles-fronting properties. I sit there, just listening to the birds chirp and streetcars clack—before heading back for another library round. There is, indeed, a bigger world out there. Has there been anything else that got you thinking about this big step?
Alexis: I think the biggest “push” towards converting was this overarching sense of community. I have pretty much decided that for the foreseeable future I will remain in New Orleans. Anyone who lives here/is from here can back this up: Catholicism plays a prominent role in this city.
And honestly, despite going to Mass and receiving the entrance-and-exit welcomes, I still felt like I was on the outside of something that I really wanted to be on the inside of. Like, “Why are they kneeling at this time?” “Why are they saying that?” “Why can’t I take the Eucharist?!”
You get it… But, at the heart of it, Catholicism in New Orleans to me was values, morals, structure, and most importantly, relationship.
Peter: That’s beautifully put. This city still moves to a Catholic beat. Trying to explain any number of our civic traditions would take cross-referencing the latest in geological studies, the oldest of French Civil Codes, a late-19th century guide to Reconstruction, and the timeless Butler’s Lives of the Saints. (Here’s one: why do the Mardi Gras Indians parade on and schedule their Super Sunday in connection to St. Joseph’s Day? Seriously. I have no idea.)
But like any relationship, there are some unknowns. Is there anything maybe you’re a little anxious about leading up to the Easter Vigil?
Alexis: This may be a boring answer, but no, I really am not super nervous about it. I have always had a relationship with God and I think in a way I am just recommitting that relationship. I have been wondering if I will feel different after Vigil…I have heard that some people do and some don’t, so I am interested to see that.
However, I do have to confess a lifetime of my sins this week, so that should be quite interesting and is a little nerve-racking.
Peter: Yeah, that whole “lifetime of sins” can be something. I had my First Reconciliation in 3rd Grade—let’s just say there were reasons for my being held back a year of catechism. Needless to say, there were also reasons for my being concerned about the confessional proceedings. Early one Saturday morning, we showed up for it—only to find a locked church. I remember thinking, “I have to get ready for this again?!” I don’t remember thinking it was in any way a metaphor.
But, like you said, if this is the embrace of a God who has accompanied you along the way, it’s just letting go of all the past junk. God’s mercy, God’s goodness, God’s accompaniment on the journey: that’s the core of Confession, which may come as a slight surprise from the outside. Speaking of, have there been any surprises about the RCIA process?
Alexis: I think something that really surprised me is the conversations we have in RCIA. Our RCIA teacher is really honest and transparent, and I think that really got me excited about converting and affirmed that it was the right church, group of people, and time for me. For instance, I think it is really easy to question everything, especially when you are in a place where it is encouraged, like in RCIA.
One of the most interesting things that a former-RCIA candidate told us was that it’s important to remember that “it is always about your relationship with God—religion is manmade, and men make mistakes.” I think that really resonated with the entire group, because what is true faith without a little questioning/persistence on issues you feel strongly about, right?
Peter: Catholicism doesn’t check reason at the door. It’s a thinking, striving faith. As one scholastic mantra put it, fides quaerens intellectum, that is, faith seeking understanding. I think that’s what you’re tapping into. Faith should provide that space to be more secure and more unsettled. Put another way, the questions deepen as we grow in relationship.
As we sign off, and you get back to dispatching the arguments of Armenian law students (true story, folks), do you have any other thoughts as you look to this weekend?
Alexis: To tie it all together, I am really looking forward to starting this new journey with some of the people I have met along the way. I am super excited for Easter Sunday—not just because I will finally get my hands on some crawfish—but also because it will feel like I am really a part of the Holy Name community!
Alexis and I reference the Easter Vigil in this post. Want a preview (during your next free 145 minutes)? Here from just outside of Covington is St. Joseph Abbey, where I completed my college and even served a Mass or two. If you can’t invest all that time, skip to the 62-minute mark for a musical highlight—just before the lights come back on.
Amid all the bunnies and eggs and Alexis’ crawfish, also be on the lookout for one more thing this Easter: rain. Not H2O precipitation—I’d actually have to look more than a cloud in advance on my weather app to forecast that—but the candy kind. You see, I have a t-shirt cannon (once upon a time I could write that off as a business expense). For Easter, I like to load it up with candy, and rain down a cavity shower on my nieces and nephew. It’s like this, except with actual candy. Unfortunately, I could never quite justify a helicopter.