Easter Vigil, from a Catholic Convert

Tonight is so very special.

Thousands of people will be received into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church at Easter Vigil liturgies around the world.

Some have risked or given up everything to be here: friendships. Careers. Family ties. Others, by their conversion, are joining their family members at the Eucharistic table.

Regardless, the paths are many and the conversion stories are all so, so beautiful, from the most earth shattering, knocked-off-your-horse-like-St.-Paul ones to the simple ones that began with a nudge from the Holy Spirit, a quiet conviction of the heart.

New Catholics, you’ve reached this point because you’ve been so open to what God wants you to do. Despite the things that may have caused confusion or doubt, or the doctrines you struggled with for a time, and despite the ones that still may not totally make sense to you–you’re here because in one way or another you said, like St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life.”

I’ve been in your shoes, new Catholics. I’ve felt the butterflies as 8pm, the beginning of the Vigil, crept closer and closer throughout the day. And I’ve felt the deep, deep longing to receive the Lord in the Eucharist every. Single. Sunday for weeks and months on end as I watched my friends receive and I sat in the pew or received a blessing from the priest. And I’ve felt the startling realization that that which for so long seemed far away–being able to call myself Catholic–was finally within reach.

RCIA is a journey nearing its close for you but tonight marks a beginning. The beginning of a new life in Christ as part of His body, His Church.

It’s a beginning of experiencing all that it is to be Catholic, liturgically speaking. Being able to participate fully in the sacraments and on all the holy days of the year. And it means entering into and learning to accept mercy that is far beyond anything that we can imagine.

I’m a convert, too. And I look back so very fondly on this day which was for me four years ago on April 19. As you look towards this blessed event (or if you’re reading this afterwards) I have a few things I want to say to you, from one convert to another:

You are so loved.

You probably already know this. But you’re so loved by God the Father that He has led you home to His Church and showered you with grace upon grace in the sacrament of reconciliation and soon, the Eucharist. You are here because He called, and by His grace you answered. You are His little lost sheep that He’s bringing into the fold and He has been pursuing you from the very beginning.

Remember this even if and when you don’t feel the presence and love of God–that God not only brought you to His Church but He gives you every opportunity to make things right again when you fall, through the sacraments.

Take it all in.

This liturgy only happens once for you as a catechumen or candidate. Embrace every single second of it. Smell the chrism oil emanating from your skin. Feel the warmth of the Easter Candle. Listen closely to the reverberation of the cantor’s voice singing the Exsultet. If you’re getting baptized, remember what it feels like to be drenched in the holy waters of this sacrament, those that make you a son or daughter of God.

And before you receive Our Lord, His body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist, for the first time, take a second to make sure you’re fully present in the moment. I promise you, the first time you say “Amen” and then partake in the closest communion with Jesus Christ this side of Heaven will stay with you for the rest of your life.

The feelings won’t last and that’s okay.

If you’re like me, you might be feeling pretty emotional. At the very least, you’re hopefully feeling closer to God than you’ve ever felt. Spiritual consolations are almost constant and you feel like your prayers are heard and that God is with you at every moment. At this point in your RCIA journey you probably just feel the love. The consecration of the Eucharist brings you to tears and Confession makes you float on air with joy.

I’m here to tell you that those emotions probably won’t last. And it’s really okay.

There may come a time when you pray, look at a crucifix, go to Adoration, and feel nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s unnerving at first but don’t let it shake you. My spiritual director reminds me often that faith is not feeling–it is fidelity. Some say it’s a sort of mark of spiritual growth: in a relationship, the rush of emotion and feeling is often what brings a man and woman together. As their relationship matures, turns into a marriage, and ages, it’s not emotion and warm, fuzzy feelings that keep it strong–but fidelity. It’s choosing to love–choosing to pray, to attend Mass, to go to confession, to love God and to love others–even when the feelings aren’t there, even when we don’t feel much motivation to do so. Fidelity.

God can handle your questions and your doubts.

You may have had all your questions answered in RCIA–and if so, that’s great! But our faith is so vast, deep, and rich that you’re bound to have more in the future. You may even reach a point where you have feelings of doubt about one thing or another. Speaking from experience, God can handle all of this. Bring it to Him.

He can handle your questions and your uncertainties about Him and His Church. If this ever happens, seek the truth as you did when you first embarked upon your RCIA journey using the many resources available to you, including things like Catholic Answers and your own parish priest. Take it to prayer and ask for God to strengthen your faith and enlighten your mind as He wills. Learning more about the faith through seeking answers to deep questions, I’ve found, teaches one even more about the nature of God and His Church.

But ultimately, make sure you leave room for the mystery of faith. It is of course encouraged that we seek answers to our questions but some things we simply cannot understand fully this side of Heaven. And that’s okay–because not knowing how everything works leaves plenty of room for faith and trust.

You, as a convert, have a gift. Use it well.

You might hear this a lot in the coming months and years: “You’re so lucky. I wish I had your zeal!” I’ve heard it so often, I can’t even recall how many times I’ve heard it since I became Catholic four years ago.

People will notice that your love for Jesus and His Church are unique–I think it’s because we converts didn’t grow up with it. We didn’t grow up with the Eucharist, the traditions of the Church, the saints, the sacraments–so we have an appreciation born of these things not always having been in our lives. We weren’t born into it, we chose to go through this process and be Catholic. It’s like we’ve been brought into the palace, the Church, from the outside. Everything on the inside we admire with a deep love because we’ve seen what its like outside of this palace and we know that nothing outside can compare to the beauty, love, and fullness of truth found inside.

Your conversion story, you’ll find, has more power than you realize. Just hearing that someone is a Catholic convert can stimulate some pretty incredible ways to share your faith with others, whether they are non-Catholics, fallen away Catholics, or cradle Catholics. And you don’t have to have deep theological knowledge or articulate reasons–all you have to do is share your love of Jesus and His Church and how He brought you here. I pray that you’re never afraid to share the reason for your love and your joy.

To those of you who are already Catholic, thank you for your support of me and this blog, and for your prayers during my conversion four years ago. I pray you’ve had a fruitful Lent, a holy Triduum, and that you’ll have a blessed Easter.

To my new brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome home to the Church. My prayers are with you, and I’m so excited for you to become a part of the Body of Christ.

 

+JMJ

 

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4 thoughts on “Easter Vigil, from a Catholic Convert

  1. loveinthefield says:

    This is so wonderfully well said. My wife and I are recent concerts from Protestantism, having been received and confirmed in August of last year. So much of what you said here resonates so deeply.

    Thank you for your loving words!

    Paul

    Like

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