Dear Elizabeth, Sarah (who laughs) and Augustine,
Well, you made it. The journey to the threshold of the Catholic faith is finished and on Saturday evening, at the Great Vigil, you stepped over.
I always have a moment of panic as Ester Vigil approaches. In part because there is always SOMETHING that comes up and threatens to derail the process at the last minute for one of my “chicks.” And in part because there is always so much more I want to tell you before you take that last step. I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve seen fledgling Catholics take flight and soar to great heights. And I have seen them fall from the nest, too. I realize that this (even the falls) is all the work of the Holy Spirit, but headstrong woman that I am, I can’t help thinking that if only I’d done more, said this, modeled that, it would have turned out differently, better and the way God wanted it (which is, remarkably, always just like I would want it…)…..For the record, I am still working on the sin of pride. Even in offering myself as a channel of God’s grace as your guide in the RCIA process, I can’t help wanting to overthrow the Boss and do it MY way. Fortunately, God is pretty tolerant and I haven’t yet racked up that final written warning for insubordination….
As I watched you take your first communion, I realized there really is a lot I didn’t manage to cover this year. The actual mechanics of how to take communion for starters…I guess that’s a risk of living in the rafters, trying to think in terms of theology and relationship instead of nuts-and-bolts, and trying to see the bigger picture for most of the year. Sometimes the details get left out. I’m guessing I skipped a lot of details.
But as I watched you standing with your spouses, about to receive our Eucharistic Lord for the first time, I thought to myself, “They’ll figure it out.” And you did and you will. There will always be someone standing beside you who loves you and can help you with the details.
Saturday was not the end of your journey but the beginning. You’re now part of a great, big, sometimes crazy, sometimes vexatious Catholic family. Each of us has a story, each of us has a relationship to Jesus, the Risen Lord, and we all see the same great Church and its great Truth from a slightly different angle. You’ll add three more perspectives to the mix. I hope what we talked about and prayed about (and those unceasing forwards from New Advent) will come to mind as you now start living your life as a Catholic.
For Catholic is not what we do or where we worship, it’s who we are. It colors how we look at life and how we live it. It shapes our every day as much as it shapes our Sundays and Holy Days. Remember my oft-repeated question: What did you do differently today because you are Catholic? I hope that you’ll keep that in mind, and I know that you’ll find yourself answering that question in different ways as you live out your calling in the Church.
It’s not always easy because life isn’t always easy. There will come times when it all gets very hard and doubt sets in and even going to mass is a trial. Everyone has those times. Everyone.
So now, I get to add one piece of parting advice to you as you begin to explore the wonderful treasures of the Church. I get to do this because I’m a mom, and for the last few months, you’ve been my adopted kids, and because I’ve reached that age wherein all of us garrulous older folks believe that we have, by sheer dint of perseverance, something valuable to pass on to those behind us in the queue.
Here’s my last and parting shot: When difficult times come, it’s important to remember the great gift of the sacramental and communal life of the Church. Difficulty isn't a sign that we've made the wrong choice in faith--it's a sign that we need it all the more. We were made for community and in community we live and in community we ultimately find our salvation. The great gift of the community that is the Church is the sacraments and the entry into grace that they gain for us. Always stay close within the family, keep close to the sacraments, develop a regular prayer life….and the harder it is, the more important it is to do it. One thing I have discovered is that much of Jesus' work in our lives takes place outside our knowing. It’s a bit like the 30 years in Nazareth, the hidden life of Christ, where He lived and worked outside the public eye. I think in the same way, He lives and works in us without our knowing it, when we stay close enough to Him, in the family, in the Church, in the sacraments (especially in the Eucharist) and in prayer, even when we don’t feel it ourselves. Then, like Easter following Lent, one day the reality becomes blazingly apparent, seemingly out of nowhere. But it isn’t out of nowhere at all. It’s out of the moment-by-moment, day-by-day decisions we have made to keep close to that which we know to be true, even when we couldn’t see anything coming of all that effort….so keep close to home. And eat at the family table as often as you can.
As for the rest—you’ll figure it out.