My parents are atheists. My grandparents were all atheists. So, why did I join the Catholic Church when I was 20? Not because, like Thomas, I had a personal encounter with a risen Jesus who asked if I needed to put my hands in his wounds. Not because, like Paul, I had a personal encounter with a risen Jesus who asked why I was persecuting His people. I joined the Catholic Church because one Sunday when I was sitting in Church with my college friends (long story), I felt a quiet whisper of love, peace and home. I knew then that I belonged and, with some trepidation, I started the process of participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) the following September and became a Catechumen.
At our first meeting, we read and discussed the Apostle’s Creed. Father Chilson, CSP, who was leading our group that year, told us it was important we believe everything in the Creed before we became Catholic. Everything else was negotiable, but this was not. If we had trouble with any part of it, he would be happy to point us in the direction of a faith that did not include that particular passage in their Creed. I cannot tell you how relieved I was to hear this. I was not joining a cult that would use guilt and other forms of coercion to increase their numbers, but instead a mature faith community that knew what it believed and wanted to make sure their new members were joining with their eyes wide open.
After six months of intense studying and questioning, it was nearly Easter. On Thursday evening, we had a quiet dinner together and went to the Holy Thursday service. The Catechumens served an important service during the foot washing ceremony by making sure that catch basins were emptied, water jugs were filled, and dry towels were refreshed. We fasted from that point until the end of the Easter Vigil Mass. During the Easter Vigil, I was Baptized by full immersion in the pool on the roof (after watching Father slip and let the woman in front of me hit her head on the bottom of the pool), participated in Communion for the first time, and was fully Confirmed in the Catholic Church.
Yet, it was truly a Confirming, not Transforming, experience because, ever since that quiet moment with my friends, I held in my heart that feeling of love, peace and home. I know we all hope and pray our children will follow us by joining the Church. But, I challenge us not to adopt a cult-like stance and guilt them into joining the Church before they feel the Spirit in their hearts. When will this happen, “of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” I have faith that if we are patient, loving, and welcoming, in time the Spirit will make itself known to all.