Well, that was a rush of a Holy Week and Easter weekend. If you missed out on the news, I am officially Catholic now (losing my title as the unofficial-official-converting-Catholic). It's taken me to this point to be able to sort out all the various feelings involved (lots of those) but I'm ready to throw out some thoughts on it all.
On the Easter Vigil:
This was the big ceremony of the year from what I was told and it lived up to its billing. There was a fire pit (with fire ... and lots of lighter fluid ... and wind), there were candles, tons of incense and singing, and lots -- lots -- of people. I was given an entire pew of my own for me and my guests (assumed to be my family, but they're all in Alabama and very much NOT Catholic), which looked pretty empty for the entire four hours before the ceremony.
I arrived there at four in the afternoon to walk off my nervous energy and just sit and contemplate. The church where this all went down is a beautiful place, with many quiet areas just to have a seat and think. Which think I did.
This was the culmination of about two years of work. From my initial investigations, to meetings with my priest friend, to moves from Ohio to Virginia to Alabama to Virginia once more (just a week before) and many, many Masses inbetween. My thoughts were all about the time spent thinking about this day, wanting this day ... and here I was.
It was all surreal, really. By 7:15 I was in my pew, awaiting my best friend (and sponsor) to arrive and being profoundly aware that I was the only one in a very empty pew. If you ever want to feel lonesome, sit in a pew in a Catholic church as people are starting to fill up the pews around you. Catholic families are usually on the larger side and they come in bunches -- this night was no exception.
At 7:30 my best friend arrived and took a seat beside me; we just went on about many things. The two of us tend to tangent off into many subjects. I was dressed in a suit (of all things) and she thought it looked nice (which was nice to know, suits are so constraining) and she was dressed nicely, too. It was the Easter Vigil after all.
Eventually our conversation turned to the event at hand: I was about to become Catholic. She asked if I was ready. I didn't exactly have an answer then, nor did I have one in the coming days (I would see her again on Sunday and Monday).
Was I ready for a completely life-changing event, one that I'd been working towards for two years, one that was set in motion nearly four years before?
I have an answer for that question now: yes. On the surface that looks like a rather trite answer, especially considering the gravity of the question. But I've been doing my best to live like a Catholic for a little over two years. It hasn't been easy, it's been a massive adjustment (going from Baptist to Catholic is like learning how to do everything with your left hand when you're right handed), but it's been worth it.
The Catholic Church -- and Catholicism -- gives me a peace I don't have anywhere else. I frequent my church because of that peace that's there ... sure, I have the ability to go to any Catholic church in the world and receive the sacraments, but I like my church. It's a nice benefit though.
So, yes, I'm ready to be Catholic, to live Catholic, and to function as Catholic; does that mean I'll be perfect at it all? Not in the least. Remember, this is the beginning for all this. The two years I spent preparing for this moment has led to joining the Church.
Back to the ceremony, which was a sight to behold. I was confirmed via the profession of faith, my best friend behind/beside me, and with a pew full of my Catholic friends watching. That, in of itself, earned a variation of this once it was all done:
But that wasn't the moment I was most looking forward to. No, that moment would be receiving the Eucharist for the first time.
For over two years, when it came time for people to get in line to receive the Eucharist, my place would be standing outside the pew, letting people pass me, and then I would take my seat back in the empty pew. I can count the number of times on one hand when I wasn't the only one in that pew.
For two years I watched people get it. For two years I waited, kneeling, and had to endure being left out. I simultaneously loved Mass and hated it; loved it for what it was and hated it for what I could not experience. It just grinds you down, being denied over and over something that you want.
And I did want it. Badly. On Holy Thursday, I was at the last Mass before the Easter Vigil, where we took all the things for Holy Communion out of the church and put them in an open place for people to adore it quietly till midnight. I didn't stay till midnight, but I certainly knelt down on the hard, wooden floor and stared at it.
You know what I was thinking?
I'll see you on Saturday. Be ready.
I was looking so forward to it. Getting the Eucharist after all this time, after all the denial (self-inflicted, to an extent, because I could have easily gotten in line once and gotten it ... but I wasn't Catholic and that would have broken the rules and I didn't want to do that -- I had researched it, I understood what it meant), was the high point. I was fairly certain I was going to cry -- I nearly did thinking about it all kneeling on that floor Thursday night.
We come back to the Easter Vigil, where we're now entering the familiar territory of the usual Mass. I'm in now, I'm official, but it doesn't feel like I'm in ... not quite yet. The Eucharist still awaits, the final part of this completely insane journey of mine. Arriving at the Eucharist seemed to take longer than usual, but that was likely because of how much I was looking forward to it.
But we did get there. And, for the first time in over two years, I didn't have to stand outside the pew and watch people walk by me. I got to get in line. Now, I had been watching people receive the Eucharist for that time carefully, trying to figure out what I was going to do. There are multiple ways to do it -- everyone has their own little combination.
I decided to keep it simple for my first time and merely knelt before receiving it.
It was the best tasting thing I've ever had. THE BEST. The best. Best. Ever.
I've had the pleasure of knowing many great cooks in my life -- my best friend would qualify easily for this title -- and I've experienced many a great tasting thing. Cheesecake to die for, steaks to savor, bacon to break into spontaneous applause about ... and not a one of them separate or combined was as good as the Eucharist.
Now, admittedly, this probably has roots psychologically and religiously; I've been looking forward to this for two years and it's been very much on my mind during Holy Week. Rationally, I understand the taste associated with it -- it was lightly sweetened, I know that much.
But that doesn't lessen it in the least. I can come up with a thousand rational reasons as to why it tasted so good, but the truth is that it tasted so good because it is that good. It is, by its nature, good. The best good you can have.
Once the Eucharist was had by all and I managed to blink away a few tears (hopefully stealth-like), we closed out the Mass and that was it. Nearly 2.5 hours after the whole show began, we had reached the conclusion. 29 of us, in total, joined the Church and, at least for me, the night will remain burned into my mind.
What It Means:
The analogy I came up with is pretty straight-forward. I'm a huge Star Trek fan; I know more about that than just about anything else in my life. Joining the Catholic Church, after two years of waiting and more getting to that point, is like joining the crew of the Enterprise (I'll take the original, please).
It's that momentous a thing, it's that big -- I worked to get here, I am here, and this is just the beginning of it all. The Enterprise is the best ship in the fleet, the thing that saves the universe time and time again. And the Catholic Church may not fight the Borg or prevent a whale probe from destroying Earth, but its mission -- similar to the Enterprise -- is to save the innocent. To foster peace and understanding, to explore strange new worlds, to be unafraid of the future, and to boldly go where no one has gone before.
I just joined the best ship and crew in the fleet. I might be a lowly redshirt (maybe I'll get transferred to the science department), but I'm here.
The best is yet to come.
Thanks for reading folks. God Bless.