“For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.”
As the weeks went on, I eagerly attended every RCIA class and looked forward to every Mass I attended. I was totally and utterly intoxicated with the Church. The Mass held my attention in a way that nothing ever has. I had butterflies in my stomach when I would walk into the Church. I just loved all of it! Everything! From the first, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," to the Priests and Deacons genuflecting in unison at the end of the Mass, I was hooked.
The High Altar was of particular fascination to me. It had gotten to the point where when the Mass was over, I would wander around just taking everything in. I would find myself transfixed on the image of Christ on the cross. After a lifetime of thinking of this as just another myth, I was finally in full belief of the reality and in awe of the enormity of what I was viewing: Love.
Thoughts that I couldn't understand were constantly in my head now. Why did God love us so much to sacrifice his son? Why did Jesus let this happen to him? I would reflect on the horrors of the human race and wonder how in the world we could be worth loving and more to the point, worth the trouble of saving. Even more critical were my thoughts toward myself and all the awful things I had put out into the world in my forty-four years.
The only bible verse I knew by heart was the King James Version of John 3:16 and it kept playing in my head: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." When this verse came to mind the automatic response from deep within my soul was simply, "Even me?"
We were already into February and the days and weeks were being weird to me. Sometimes it felt like I had never been anything else but Catholic. Those pesky forty-four years where I lived immersed in the occult seemed as if they either happened long ago...or not at all. The reality of my new Catholic beliefs were planted so firmly in my heart that I couldn't understand how I had ever believed any other way. Yet I had only 'come to my senses' about six weeks ago. Furthermore, no matter how at home I felt in the Catholic Faith, I was still not a Catholic. Not yet anyway.
Fortunately, the Rite of Election was coming up! On this day different parishes in the Diocese would send their catechumens (unbaptized) and candidates (baptized) to the Mother Church of the Diocese to affirm their intention to join the church and lead a life of discipleship. These other parishes would have recently undergone their 'Rite of Sending.' This is where the Godparents or sponsors affirm that the catechumen or candidate is of good character and ready to move toward receiving the Sacraments of Initiation. We had a Rite of Sending too...in a way. As our parish WAS the Mother Church, one of our Priests joked, “This is where we send you to stay.”
Our Rite of Sending was a couple of hours before the Rite of Election where many other Parishes would also be in attendance. During the Rite of Sending, we each get to sign the 'Book of the Elect.' This Book is given to the Bishop at the Rite of Election and shows that those who signed have been deemed ready by their respective Parishes to partake of the Sacraments at the Easter Vigil.
As you may have guessed, my awkwardness had decided to attend this with me, and it was not being kind. Prior to coming into the Church, we had an RCIA class where we were learning how the Rites would go. One lady asked what we were supposed to call the Bishop. Bishops are formally addressed as, 'Your Excellency.' We were told that our Bishop, however, just wanted to be called Bishop. That's easy enough I thought to myself. I probably won't mess that up! Then we were instructed to bow at the altar when it came our turn to approach and sign the Book of the Elect. That's easy enough too! OK, I thought, maybe I'll get through this without any bit of awkwardness. No such luck!
As we were each lined up waiting our turns, I started to overthink how it was that I should bow. When should I bow? Do I bow when I get to the bottom of the steps as I'm just about to go up to sign? Do I bow when I get up to the Altar to sign the Book? After I've already walked up the steps? I couldn't remember what we'd just been told only a short while ago. So, I surmised I would watch and see what those ahead of me were doing. One lady and her sponsor bowed fully from the waist. Another person only bowed slightly. Some didn't bow. Wait ... maybe we weren't supposed to bow here? Oh, my awkwardness was loving this!
Suddenly, it was my turn to go up. As I waited for the person in front of me to finish signing the Book, the Priest quietly said, "Congratulations!" That snapped me out of myself to remember exactly why I was here and what I was about to do. This was a step toward being fully Catholic. This was a step to being baptized and confirmed and to receive my first holy communion.
At last, I walked up to the Book and signed my name. As I am sure everyone who signs this book had done, I did my utmost to sign my name as neatly as possible. When I had finished, I then had to walk to the other side of the Altar, down the steps and return to my seat. I remembered again about bowing. I also realized I hadn't bowed at the altar before going up the steps. Or had I? I truly wasn't sure! Luckily for me this was during a pandemic when things were being recorded and placed on various social media sites, including YouTube. Later on I would have ample opportunity to watch myself...NOT bow at the altar. I think maybe I may have done a little head nod thing but still. I digress.
The Bishop stood up front and asked, "And now, my dear catechumens, I address you. Your own godparents, teachers, and this entire community have spoken in your favor. The Church in the name of Christ accepts their judgment and calls you to the Easter sacraments. Since you have already heard the call of Christ, you may now express your response to that call clearly and in the presence of the whole Church. Therefore, do you wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist?”
No one said anything. It was quiet. This was new. It wasn't just me this time. The entire Cathedral was having an awkward human moment right along with me! Eventually, the Bishop looked around and said simply, "Well you do don't you?" Nervous laughter broke the awkward silence. The Bishop smiled and continued, saying, "This is where you get to use your outside voice." He repeated the question. This time, all of us responded as we were supposed to: "I Do.”
The Rite continued and eventually each parish went up to meet the Bishop. Normally he shakes each persons hand, but during this pandemic, we only got to say hello to him. It was such a neat thing to see and to experience! So many people coming home to Christ. So many people feeling the love of God and seeing the truth and being brave enough to embrace it. At this moment in human history, being aligned with anything having to do with Christ does not tend to make a person popular. Yet, here in the Cathedral that didn’t matter. We all had each other. We were safe and supported and loved.
When the Rite had come to an end and everyone was making their way out of the Cathedral, my husband mentioned that he might want to get back into the Church. I told him he should ask the Priest about it. So he did. The Priest told him that we’d have to get our marriage convalidated very soon after my coming into the Church. Then he would have to go to confession. That was it. I was so happy my husband was even considering it!
I was blissed out for the rest of the day. God’s love and mercy were proving to be ever present no matter what I had done in my past. It flowed to me through the people I was getting to know at the Cathedral. It flowed to me through all the things I was learning about Christ’s Church. I now knew His love was always wrapped around me and I realized, it always had been. Even in spite of all the stupid choices I’d made. Even when I had pushed Him away. I was finding out, that our heavenly Father above truly and passionately loved all of His sons and daughters here on earth. Even me.