My parents converted to Catholicism only a year or two before my First Communion, and I think they believed that I would learn everything I needed to know about it in my CCD classes. But the first time I learned that Catholics believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, I was close to graduating from college. I had lectored at the 10:30 A.M. Mass all through high school; I had played my cello with the church choir; I had taught a Confirmation class to kids only two years younger than I, and won a “Spirit of Youth” award from the Archdiocese, and I did not know this basic teaching of my faith.
It’s no wonder I fell hard when I went to college. In a secular, hard-partying environment, without the richness of the Sacramental life, or any understanding of why the Sacraments are so important, I had no well from which to draw.
It wasn’t until I went on a retreat with Regnum Christi, the lay arm of the Legionaries of Christ, that someone took me to the Adoration chapel to sit in front of the Eucharist. There, I began to understand the True Presence.
“Go in there and ask Jesus what he wants from you,” she said. And I thought, “Whatever. God doesn’t talk to me.”
But I went nonetheless, and God didn’t talk to me, but I sat there for a long time, and people came and went, and they knelt down on both knees, and they gazed at the Eucharist in the monstrance. And I thought, “That’s an awful lot of hullabaloo for a piece of bread.” I’d probably heard the teaching on the Eucharist by this time, but had never seen anyone acting like they actually believed it.
When I think about people who most helped me develop my Catholic faith, I think first of my parents who took the risk of searching out and converting to Catholicism when I was a kid, and then I think of the people who helped me deepen that conversion when I was older.
Without a doubt, the first gift of faith my parents gave me would not have lasted without adult reinforcement, and for that I find myself in the position of offering my gratitude to a Movement that has been mired in controversy since its founder, Father Maciel, was proven guilty of sexual abuse, fathering children out of wedlock, and living a double life.
A distinction must be made here: I am not thankful for Father Maciel’s transgressions.
Clearly he committed evil acts that destroyed the faith and innocence of many people, while leading thousands more to donate their lives and their livelihoods to building up his religious movement. He was a duplicitous and confusing person, and its unclear if the Movement he founded will ever be purified of his negative legacy.
But to those good people he deceived, I owe my debt of gratitude. Because they were faithful in their vocations, because their first love was Christ and his teachings, because they believed in the wisdom of the Church and her ritual and traditions enough to pass them on to the poorly catechized (like myself), because they gave me sound spiritual direction, a refuge from a life of sin, and opportunities to live out my faith in service– my faith survived a period of intense testing.
I was a member of Regnum Christi for a very long time. I joined in college. Later I was a co-worker, which is a lay position, in which an unmarried person can commit up to three years to working full time for the Movement. I met my husband through Regnum Christi. We were married by a Legionary Priest. Some of my closest female friends, I met through the Movement. After marriage and kids, I continued to participate, up until shortly after the allegations against Father Maciel were confirmed. And then I couldn’t participate any more.
In trying to understand duplicity and the darkness that led Father Maciel to commit grave sins, my sister-in-law made an excellent point:
“I think it might be easier to contemplate the reality that duplicity reigns in the hearts of most men. The difficulty is exposing it to light. Then you face the true question for contemplation: “Do I change or not? If not, what are the consequences?”
Maciel’s transgressions have forced me to root out the sources of my own darkness and duplicity, to see the contradictions in what I believe and the ways I sometimes behave. I cannot take my sins lightly, particularly as I am now one of the heads of my own little movement of Christians, being the mother of (almost) six children. The faith of my children, to a large extent, depends on my faithfulness. If they sense any lack of authenticity in my belief or practice of my faith, I have given them tacit approval to disregard this tremendous gift of faith that I want to make possible for them.
It’s a lot to ask of people to associate themselves with a Movement that was founded by such a remarkably fallen personage. It’s humiliating, like wearing the scarlet letter that stands not only for sin, but for gullibility as well. And yet, I still do not doubt the presence of God in the hearts of the members of the Regnum Christi. I can see the goods that God made possible in spite of the evils committed by his followers–the love God continues to pour out to counter our own failures to love.
In the course of a long salvation history, God has worked almost exclusively with broken instruments. The fact that our Church still stands, that the Body of Christ bleeds on in spite of our failures, is a testimony that all things work for the good, that God can still glean something from even the most wicked among us.