5 minutes with Jessica and Christopher Abila: Newlyweds make RCIA a bonding, enlightening experience

March 12, 2012

KATY — This Easter, 2,393 new Catholics will be received into the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

While the rewards of RCIA are immeasurable, the initiation rite requires discipline and diligent schedule management. And for Jessica Abila, this process warranted additional juggling as she and husband Christopher were preparing for their wedding this past February – which, in and of itself, can be a demanding task for two individuals with full-time jobs.

But her conversion experience was shared in-step by Christopher, a “cradle Catholic” who attended the RCIA sessions with Jessica, a candidate who grew up Protestant. Jessica will make her profession of faith, be confirmed at the Easter Vigil Mass and receive Eucharist for the first time on Holy Saturday at St. Bartholomew Church, where they are members. 

Recently, the 24-year-old newlyweds took time out of their still-hectic schedule (responding to questions literally moments after returning from their honeymoon) to discuss RCIA with the Texas Catholic Herald – and how the journey was educational and enlightening for both.

Texas Catholic Herald: When did you discuss converting to Catholicism?

Jessica: Christopher and I talked about Catholicism off and on throughout our relationship. We had dated a long time and through Chris, I was able to grow more acquainted with beliefs and tenants of the Catholic Church. Things such as Ash Wednesday and even priests and nuns were foreign to me. I was Baptist and come from a primarily Baptist family with strong Southern roots. I held on to Protestant beliefs for the better part of our relationship, often posing numerous stereotypical questions and regurgitating stigmas imprinted on me as a result of my Protestant upbringing. Many issues boggled my mind. Why do you worship the Virgin Mary? Why are there so many statues in your churches? Why do you revere the pope? Are Catholics true Christians because they added books to their Bible? Why do you need priests to forgive you for your sins? Chris would answer these questions as best he could but lacked sufficient background to see me completely convinced.

After our engagement I truly began to open up to the idea of Catholicism. I conceded that Chris would not abandon his Catholic faith for other Christian denominations and that, given kids, wanted them raised Catholic. I wanted a close-knit family, homogeneous in faith and in attendance at church together every Sunday. Slowly but surely most of my questions and reservations were addressed. My Catholic education played a large role in this.

TCH: Did you share any of your own experiences growing up as Catholic with Jessica? If so, what did you share?

Christopher: I took Jessica to church with me several times during our last year in college. She was timidly introduced to Catholic commonalities such as nuns, priests and holy water which she had only seen on television and ...um…horror movies. These instances were indeed a little amusing.

Moreover, what I felt I was most able to convey to her was the existence of reverence and profound conviction for the Lord found in the Catholic Church. I would try to share the sense of holiness and sanctity with which I regard the Church, stemming from childhood observances of Easter, Communion and Christmas.

TCH: How has your experience in RCIA formed your spiritual life? What have been some of the things you have learned from the RCIA classes?

Jessica: They say “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” The RCIA program is exceptional at providing information and support and gives me a sense of home. My faith and relationship with Christ has strengthened; I have a deeper understanding and have experienced a renewal of spirituality and moral conscience in my life. I find myself praying more frequently, more passionately and with a higher sense of conviction than before. I try to incorporate what I learn each week into my everyday life. Knowledge is the best medicine for ignorance. One thing about the Catholic Church, in my experience, is there is a historical or worshipful foundation behind all aspects of Catholic faith and practice. You can find answers if you look. The RCIA and Deacon Bill (William Wagner) along with the Catechism of the Catholic Church (book) helped me to see this.

TCH: Christopher, you attended most of the RCIA sessions with Jessica. As a “cradle Catholic,” what did you learn from those experiences?

Christopher: At the outset of RCIA, it was strongly recommended that I attend. I was told that religious arguments between spouses can occur, especially as the enrolled spouse becomes more knowledgeable than the cradle Catholic spouse. I realized I should always be learning about my faith and bettering my relationship with Christ. 

Through RCIA, I have learned how little I actually knew and truly comprehended about my faith and that I must always look for the answers and reason behind articles of faith and worship not understood, as Catholicism is bolstered by education and reasoning. Knowledge strengthens your faith and better enables you to serve as a witness to others and to provide answers to those who might question your faith.

TCH: Were there any enlightening topics or discussions for you during RCIA?

Christopher: Yes. I feel that the class on how Jesus constitutes the new covenant and how through Him we are reconciled with the Father is one that every Catholic should hear and fully understand. I also previously did not truly understand how the Catholic Church’s hierarchy was structured in terms of priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and the pope. Talks on the Virgin Mary and reaffirmation on Christ’s foundation of His Church with Peter and the Apostles were also enlightening. In addition, I really enjoyed the history of the early Church which was superbly supplemented with lectures by Sister Madeleine Grace, chair of the Department of Theology at the University of St. Thomas.

TCH: What role do you want your faith to play in your life as a Catholic family?

Jessica: We would like our family to gather around our faith and have it serve as the foundation for our home and life together. Raising children to know and serve the Lord is most important, as it is the greatest gift we can give them. We understand that in order to do this we must lead by example. Through commitment, prayer and love we hope to achieve this. †