On Easter Sunday, 2001, my wife and daughter and I entered into communion with the Catholic Church. We had been attending RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), led by a very gifted Benedictine nun since September of 2000. The following is an essay that I wrote during that process.
Writing in the Margins
by Charles Kinnaird
Not long ago I read a commentary by Roger Rosenblatt in an old Newsweek magazine. The title of the article was “Marginalia.” The article talked about the common practice of writing comments in the margins of books that one is reading. In some cases, the author pointed out, it is annoying, in other cases interesting to read the comments someone has made in the margins of a book. At any rate, Rosenblatt points out that marginalia alters the nature of the book. What was set in print with the idea of being permanent, becomes dialogue and perhaps impermanent with the reader’s comments, either questioning or affirming the printed text.
Since I am in the process of converting to the Roman Catholic Church, it occurred to me that Protestantism has served as marginalia to Catholicism. Certainly, the Roman Catholic Church would not be what it is today without having had to respond to the comments and questions of Protestantism. Catholicism has had to make itself accountable for its teachings and practices. As a result, it seems to me that the Catholic Church, while remaining constant, is not as stodgy, not as ethnic, not as unbending as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Vatican II is a great example of the Church responding the world around it. Consequently, it is more universal, more relevant, and more dynamic.
Looking back at my pilgrimage from Baptist to Episcopalian to Catholic, I have never felt that I was turning away from anything. Rather, I have been moving toward faith. I have been responding to that same faith that was nurtured from the beginning in my parents’ home. All of my major moves in life (including school, marriage, and career changes) have come with the sensation of stepping into a broader place -- a sense of opening up to wider views and greater possibilities. It is the same with the process of coming into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. I am tempted to say that I am moving from the marginalia of Protestantism to the complete text of Catholicism, but in the whole scheme of things, I know that it is all marginalia. (February, 2001)
[Note: in the almost ten years that have passed since I wrote this brief essay, I would not want to imply that all has been sweetness and light in the Roman Catholic Church (you may have noticed some of the headlines in the news). I find that among thinking Catholics, there is a lot of tension (which I see as a healthy tension) in terms of how to respond to authority and in reactions to Vatican decisions.
Moreover, I am not evangelistic about the Roman Catholic Church. I would never say that Catholicism is for everyone. There has to be a place for everyone. There must be room for many expressions of faith and practice so that everyone can find a meaningful community. You have seen and will continue to see in this blog favorable comments about exemplars of other faiths as well as criticisms of some occurrences within the Catholic Church.]
For anyone interested in reading more about the Catholic faith, I would recommend Practicing Catholic, by James Carroll and Why I Am a Catholic by Gary Wills (Carroll is a poet and Wills is a historian). You won't find any schmaltz or schluck in these two volumes, but you will see how thinking individuals can experience faith and doubt in the modern world. Carroll's book is a memoir that gives the reader a view of developments within the Catholic Church from WWII to present day, with particular emphasis upon Vatican II. Wills' book tells his own story and also provides valuable information about the history of the Church, the Church Councils, and other important documents of faith.
And until next time, everyone please continue to write in the margins!