I am home!!! My Easter Vigil experience ... comments can be made on this blog entry.
I wrote this on Easter Sunday 2004 to a general audience ....
Yesterday my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church at the 8pm Easter Vigil along with approximately 20 others at Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Baton Rouge Louisiana.
I wanted to recap the events of yesterday because God demonstrated some things to me that transcended the intellectual journey that brought me into His Church. It just goes to show that the small thing I thought was the faith part of it, was actually the biggest reason I became Catholic. Without faith, all is for naught. You cannot prove Christ and you cannot prove Catholicism, but in taking the leap Christ reveals Himself and as you step into His Church He reveals so much more.
Saturday began with a retreat that was scheduled for 8:30am. The morning began with breakfast on the patio and preceded to the library where a small prayer service was conducted. Following that my wife and I went into the sanctuary, where it was being prepared for the Easter Vigil. We were there to meditate on our journey but both of us were a little worked up about what we were really there to do. Father Mike was scheduled to hear confessions. Earlier in the week I had had the pleasure of learning a little about Eucharistic adoration as I had managed to stop by a perpetual adoration chapel in order to spend some time in prayer. I found that I had never in my life had such clarity in prayer as I had in front of the Blessed Eucharist. My wife and I decided after that wonderful experience that we would perform our examinations of conscience in front of the Eucharistic Christ. I spent my time in front of the Blessed Eucharist in order to perform a thorough examination of conscience on Thursday night. This proved to be particularly symbolic as Christ took on the sin of the world in His crucifixion. By examining my conscience then, and writing it down, I was carrying representation of my sin as notes into the Good Friday service and towards my confession on Saturday. Confession was a beautiful experience. As I confessed my transgressions to Father Mike, I felt the shame of the past person I was being revealed not only for God, but for me to clearly to see. Hearing those words "Your sins are forgiven" was like the burden of the world lifted from me, and sure enough God performed a miracle of healing in my life at the moment I completed my penance. I had felt the burden of those sins for many years. I physically felt a knot in my stomach that has always been there. After that moment, that knot was removed from my life. The first sacrament of my day was completed and already I had felt a remarkable change in my life, even physically. In all my days of repentance and prayer before the Lord, I was never able to receive the grace that I experienced in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God had shown me what only my faith had told me before. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a very real and tangible thing. I felt the burden of a lifetime of sin cleansed from my life. I felt free.
After returning home, I burned the notes that I used for confession. My wife did the same. My sins were forgiven and I needed no reminder of them. I was beginning to find that sins I had a hard time forgetting about all of the sudden were hard to remember. Praise God for the gift of His sacrament. Little could prepare me for the continued movement of God that was to come.
After a quiet afternoon outdoors with our children and my mother-in-law we scurried together all necessary items and headed for the church. This was the big moment. Much planning had been done and things were well organized. Instructions were read and I felt a little overwhelmed. We lined up, the fire was started and we began the service to complete our journey home.
The Vigil was beautiful from the awkward pause to begin the service all the way through to the final tap of holy water on my shoulder while exiting the church. The procession was particularly meaningful as this was the culmination of a long journey, like an Olympic marathon runner making his entrance into the stadium. All of the symbolism and the "smells and bells" that frighten so many away from the Catholic faith had made themselves manifest. Candles, incense, flowers, colored adornments ... the whole nine yards. Every little thing had a purpose, either real or symbolic, but all to enhance the depth of understanding of what was going on. Every doctrine I questioned and accepted intellectually, and eventually by leaps of faith, became readily apparent as to their purpose. The Litany of the Saints made present to me the feeling that I was in this with others, who lead the way by their example and who are there to go to bat for me by their intercession. They are rejoicing at my beginning this new step in my journey. They UNDERSTAND the path I am about to take. The Catholic Church is a large family, a Christian family, that we are all part of. I felt a kinship with the saints listed off just as I felt a kinship with the older man in front of me who was, at his advanced age, being baptized. The communion of the saints became real to me at that moment in a way that could not have been apparent as I was standing outside the Church peering in through the key hole. I am walking through the door and the things I could only intellectually perceive were becoming real in a way I could not have ever imagined.
The service then moved to our being received into communion with the Church and the sacrament of Confirmation. As Father Mike marked my forehead with a chrism and announced my being marked with the Holy Spirit all of the sudden I felt purpose within the communion. I now have a call, a desire and longing to see this through to the end. God wants me to be part of the big picture. He calls me to have my name added to the Litany of Saints. I felt complete and whole in a way that I never had before.
The service continued into the normal Mass and I became overwhelmed with the thought of receiving Christ. For the first time I will not be crossing my arms to merely receive a blessing. I will not be watching scores of others receive Him without me. I will be taking part in something that I have always believed with all of my heart was true; That Christ is as substantially present in the Eucharist as is possible. I believe that with God all things are possible and that in some way Jesus is present completely. I have always believed that, even when not a single person in the church I was attending did. It was a matter of course. The Bible says so, in such clear language but that discussion was for an earlier time. The intellectual fiddling was over. No more symbolic bread, consubstantiation, theory A, theory B, pages and pages of explanation as to why this or that is true. Nothing comes close to it really being Him. God is capable, so I believe He CAN. Body, soul and divinity. Transubstantiation was not another theory ... It was completeness. The risen Christ. Present. For real. Now I was moments away from receiving the sacrament in the Church that teaches as my heart has told me true my whole life. Jesus Christ is here and I can receive Him and it will be real. As I walked to the front my every thought was being flooded with expectation and joy. I genuflected out of reverence for Christ and then I heard: "The Body of Christ" ... After a brief pause of amazement for being so close to Him, I could only affirm the truth. "Amen." Not the canned response but the honest assessment of my heart. I believe this and God has rewarded all of my faith by showing me it is so. I was overwhelmed with joy. I received the bread of life. I received the cup of His precious blood. I was so struck with joy I didn't even know where to begin to give thanks for this precious, precious gift. I offered praise to God for His glorious ways. That He woos me and calls me to Him. That He pursues me with such fervor, not to scold me, but to love me even more deeply. Finally it dawned on me. The Catholic Church is God's Romance. If the Bible is God's love letter to us, then the Catholic Church is the box of chocolates, the roses and the jewelry. It is the tangible heart that He presents to us. I can smell it, like the incense. I can touch it like the holy water. I can taste it, like the precious Blood. The reality of the Church, the traditions ... they all make perfect sense now. I am in the door. I can see the completeness and there are a million lifetimes worth of things to explore. More to learn about God, so that I might love Him more deeply. Christ swept me off my feet with His Church.
At that moment another amazing thing happened that was totally unexpected. I sat next to my wife. I felt something. Something that I had never felt. Something had changed in our marriage. I felt closer to her in that moment than I ever had. I felt like I was at our wedding again. I felt just as giddy holding her hand as I did the very first time I held it. My wife and I have always felt that God has blessed our marriage, but little did either of us expect that He can do more with it. At that moment I realized what was happening. God was accentuating the sacramental nature of our marriage. He was reinforcing that bond. He was drawing us closer together because we were closer to Him. Over the course of the entire evening God revealed to me the startling reality of Sacrament. I received or felt a renewal in four of the seven sacraments. Reconciliation, Marriage, Confirmation and the most blessed of them all, our Lord, Jesus Christ, present in Holy Communion. As I left, and our friends, sponsors and relatives trickled away from the Church and away from our house afterwards, I was left with one fleeting thought. "Well done my child. You have answered this call. I have renewed every facet of your being with life." ... My response to that is "Tell me, please O' God, how can I give it more fully to you."
I cannot give this gift to you. I cannot make you believe that the Catholic Church is this fullness of truth that, as human beings, we all seek. Only He can. Now, going back to something I mentioned at the very beginning of this. How did I know faith was the biggest reason I became a Catholic? I trusted something would happen to me last night. I trusted that God would change me. I had no idea if what my intellect was telling me was going to happen would. I wanted to believe it would. I wanted God to be every bit as big as the Catholic Church claims He is. I wanted real Eucharist. I wanted Sacrament. God honored the things I accepted on faith, not the things I learned and the things I reasoned out. Any doubt I had about the other things I have accepted on faith; Mary, Indulgences, difficult moral teachings, is now gone. I realize now why the Catholic Church has made it this many years, through so much adversity and challenge. It is simply true. I pray to God that every human being will answer this call, and walk down that aisle and proclaim "Here I am Lord" .. and continue on and on saying "Christ is Risen indeed!!!" .... He showed me.