This Easter Vigil will mark five years since I entered the Catholic Church on April 23, 2011. It is one of those events that you treat as a kind of birthday, and you keep track of the number of years that have passed since. Becoming Catholic is the best thing I ever did. The year I was in RCIA, and the couple of years that followed, I lived at high pitch; and I have seen that same high pitch in other converts who came into the Church after me. I know the emotion they feel.
Though: for all I learned and all I absorbed in my year in RCIA, there were three things I could not have been taught, and no one could have prepared me for, which I had to learn in the years that followed.
1. Why Did God Bring Me Here?
Briefly in RCIA, we talked about charisms. Everyone has one. “Maybe my charism,” someone ventured, “is to be the guy who eats the donuts after Mass.”
On Easter Sunday in 2011, in the coffee shop after Mass, I was asked: “So now what? That’s the exciting thing: What did God bring you here for? That’s what you need to find out.”
About a year after that, one of the RCIA team leaders said to me, “You have a knack for explaining apologetics topics in a straightforward way. Have you ever thought of starting a blog?
So I did. The rest took its own course after that.
New converts: Each of you has some gift, and it comes from God, and God means for you to use it in service to the Church. That is why you are here. The hand can not say to the leg, I have no need of you. You are here because God has need of you. What will you give?
2. How Will I Be Tested?
At the closing Mass for RCIA in 2011, Fr. George Schommer looked at each one of us during his homily and told us: “You will be tested. That is the only thing I know for sure.”
Being Catholic is not easy. Being faithful is not easy. It only seems that way, at the beginning, for those who take the leap with joy. But “way leads on to way,” as Robert Frost once put it. It gets harder.
And your battle with Satan does not end at the Easter Vigil; it begins there. Be ready. Go in with the Rosary and the Prayer to St. Michael. They help me.
And remember, as the great coach Vince Lombardi said: “It is not whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get up again.” The Sacrament of Reconciliation is always there for you too.
3. How Long Before The Excitement Goes Away?
New converts: This joy you feel as you approach Easter Vigil, and when you receive the Eucharist for the first time, as though there is no ground beneath your feet and you are seeing beyond the veil: It does not last. You need to know that now. Enjoy it while God gives it to you—for way will lead on to way.
I hope it will not diminish your joy to know that you will not have it all the time. There will be long stretches of dryness when it has left you; and then suddenly, it will seize you again unawares. And then it will go again. Knowledge of this should cause you to treasure your joy all the more. It is a glimpse of the Beatific Vision. Treasure it while it is yours.
Annie Dillard put it this way, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: “The literature of illumination reveals this above all: Although it comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, a gift and a total surprise. … The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it.”
Be on fire while you burn, and when the fire dims, know that it will catch you by surprise one day and burn again, and go again, and burn again. It is how you live your Catholic life in those middle parts that counts. Will you remain faithful, or will you drift when the days feel dull?
At those times, take refuge in the Sacrament—at Mass, at Eucharistic adoration: and know that, even when you do not feel His Presence, Christ is there, and he is the one who brought you here, and he is the one who will sustain you.
Welcome home, dear brothers and sisters.