by Gerry Downs, Precious Blood Companion
“These are the new olive plants that surround the altar….
and God is glorified and blessed.”
– St. Gaspar, from letter 1270.
Even though St. Gaspar was not speaking of those who come to the Catholic faith through RCIA, this phrase speaks to me of the journey of the participants and their acceptance by the Church. For several years and in several different parishes, I was privileged to lead those seeking entry to the Church in their pursuit of a closer relationship with Jesus. However, now that my own granddaughter Sarah at age 14 is experiencing the RCIA herself, as well as Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil, I am more appreciative and especially aware of those who seek and find a relationship with Christ through the Catholic Church.
When Sarah was just a few months old, her parents decided not to have her baptized, but wanted some sort of blessing and welcome for her. Together we arranged a date and invited family to be with us. We prayed for her and asked each family member to bless her and to show some sign of support for her. I will never forget how much it meant to all of us to welcome Sarah in this way, and to promise to love her and keep her safe.
Sarah is the 5th of my seven granddaughters, 6th of my eight grandchildren. She was not raised in any religious tradition. My son, her father, was raised in the Catholic faith, is a 20-year member of AA, and believes in a Higher Power, but does not attend any church.
Sarah’s mother, who was raised Mormon, was looking for a place to belong, and became an Inquirer. When I asked Sarah why she decided to become Catholic, she said: “The main thing that helped me decide to be Catholic was my mom. She was looking for a religion to belong to, and I was being really badly bullied at school. I needed a Higher Power to help me through. Mom invited me to Mass, and I fell in love right away.”
I asked Sarah what she liked best about being Catholic, and she replied, “The thing I like most is how seriously we take being Catholic. I love how everyone I know in the Church is so proud of being Catholic.” She has enjoyed her RCIA sessions and her preparation for First Communion, and she truly appreciates her session leader, Louie, who has a passion for helping others find God.
On the first Sunday of Lent, Sarah and her mother went to the Rite of Election at the Cathedral of their diocese and Mom got to do the “Signing of the Senses.” Mom told me that she was so honored to be there with Sarah and so privileged to bless her daughter that she was in tears. If I had been there I know I would have been in tears as well.
I asked Sarah what she was feeling when she received ashes for the first time on Ash Wednesday. “My school’s last home basketball game was on Ash Wednesday. All my fellow cheerleaders were sad that it was the end of the season, or glad not to have crazy schedules. I was excited to go to Mass later that evening. It was an amazing feeling of grace and love that rushed over me as I got ashes for the first time.”
Sarah is beyond excited to be Baptized, Confirmed, and receive Communion for the first time. In her preparation session, she was taught how the bread and wine are not symbols, but that they truly are the Body and Blood of Christ that only appear as bread and wine. The fact she understands this basic teaching of the Church at her age, simply tells to me how mature and ready and open she is to becoming a Catholic. I will be present at Holy Week services with Sarah, and at the Easter Vigil along with Sarah’s Mom and Dad and older sister. I will make sure I have an abundant supply of tissues and will be so proud of Sarah and her Mom. I know God will bless both them and their family as they continue their journey onward in the love of Jesus and His Church.