Tuesday, December 10, 2013
My Journey as a Catholic So Far, Pt. 7: Baptism and First Holy Communion
In the meantime, I took a course in Catholic Catechesis from Newman Theological College, hoping that it would provide me with some more "solid food" in line with what I had been studying. I was gravely mistaken - in fact, while I didn't like the approach or class discussions so much in RCIA, the teaching itself was far better than what other Catholics have told me they had to suffer through. In my Newman courses, demythologization of the Scriptures was en vogue, and if anything was brought up about the ancient faith and practices of the Church, it was met with "this is too complicated", "we've changed and grown", or (what was arguably the highlight of it all), the idea that we had complicated things too much from the days when we apparently used to relax in the fields and break bread together. It was the antithesis of anything I had studied beforehand, and though I am glad I obtained my certificate, it was even more painful than RCIA; so much so, that like RCIA, I learned to simply keep my mouth shut and not question things - just go through the process, grin and bear, and finish it up.
Eventually, the time came around, and I learned that I was up for baptism. Finally! Four long years of hell, conversion, stumbling blocks, watching everyone go up for Holy Communion while I sat in the pew - it was all coming to an end! Ironically, in order to prepare for my baptism into the Catholic Church, I read an Orthodox work entitled Turning the Heart to God by St. Theophan the Recluse. Orthodox Christianity had, by this point, become a major interest for me, but a source of pain as well. At this time, all I could do was admire the beauty of it all and lament the schism. In my earnestness to keep exploring it without feeling badly, I came to the conclusion that it was the same Church, all things said and done. I kept going - I had come so far, and finally, FINALLY, I was at the doorstep.
The day of my baptism was one of endless anticipation - I simply could not wait to enter, to be washed of my sins, to become what I had fought so hard and so long, through so much hell, to become. The rejections, mockery, misunderstandings, inner anguish - all of it was coming to an end, even though my becoming Catholic meant that a cross would be placed upon my shoulders.
The ceremony was beautiful: the entire cathedral was lit only by candles, the music was traditional and without instrumentation, we wore white robes and carried our lit candles down the aisle in near darkness. It felt ancient, and I felt as though outside of the church was a 3rd century world, rife with the threat of martyrdom.
As when anyone is steeped in anticipation and excitement, it seemed as though the ceremony itself went on forever. The bishop's words seemed endless, and all I cared about was those two penultimate sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. I never claimed to be a patient man, and here was no exception.
As the waters of baptism were poured over my head, at long last, I felt 28 years of sin, hell, depression, despair, failings, and interior death all wash off of my soul. I felt reborn. I even counted the minutes in my mind that I was free from any stain of even the slightest venial sin, watching my every thought. I think I lasted about ten minutes, but it was an amazing feeling. My wife and mother hugged me, and I felt at long last that I belonged.
Going up for Holy Communion was even more intense - it was as though Christ Himself were at the end of the line, and I was going to meet Him. I recieved His Precious Body and drank of His Precious Blood, and trembled. It was such an intimate experience, and I kneeled in a state of deep prayer until the Bishop told everyone to stand once again.
I received the usual hugs, congratulations, and pats on the back that I think are par for the course in such cases, and drove home, thoughtfully pondering what had happened, and the new beginning I found myself experiencing. The words rang out in my mind of what one young man said to me who was one of the better RCIA teachers said - "I don't think you realize what really happened here tonight." He was greatly affected by seeing me baptized, especially after seeing the angst I had gone through during the last few years.
A new journey had begun.