It was incredible to sit in a room of strangers who came to a bright room on Belmont Avenue seeking the same thing. Baptism. A sacred moment in our contemporary busy, rushed lives. In the weeks that would follow, these people became like partners on a quest, a journey to root our hearts in an ancient tradition.
I was elated to finally be able to question, and have truth revealed to me, in a non-judgmental space. I had heard about scandal associated with the Catholic church through news or other media- however, popular media leaves out the story of thousands of men, women, and children that are saved each day by the hands of Catholic Charities world wide. What could be more in keeping with the message Jesus left us with so long ago? What can be more awesome than that? Who wouldn’t want to be part of such a legacy?
My father is a US diplomat, so I grew up in these developing countries witnessing epic poverty. In the midst of the red West African dust and clouds of mosquitoes I saw un-wavering compassion extended by the hands of Catholic men and women. In the tropical heat of Africa, watching Catholic brothers and sisters teach, feed, and clothe homeless children was my first introduction to Catholicism.
My father did not attend church, or speak about God, unless I asked. So as a child and teenager, I visited several different churches with friends from school. I was happy to attend. Praying as a little girl on my own in my room, carried me through the trials in my young life, in ways I could not know at the time. I did not know what I was doing, I just prayed, because it felt like a natural thing to do.
You see, not only did I partially grow up in Africa, but my biological mother is from Africa. I know very few facts about her, but one thing I do know is that she was Catholic-and when she fell on hard times, she became one of the people touched by the compassion of Catholic brothers and sisters serving in Central Africa. So being in a Catholic church for some reason makes me feel close to my mother, whom I was separated from before I was even old enough to remember her. When I became an adult, I found myself wanting to define my spiritual life in more specific terms, and associate myself with the Catholic church in a closer more personal capacity by becoming baptized. Then I would belong to the same church my mother did when she was alive and I would receive a most holy ritual of baptism.
As I stood on the grey steps of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on my first day of RCIA, I thought of the humble and joy filled Catholic brothers and sisters serving in Africa from my childhood and I thought of my mother.
There I was on the brink of a new life, engaged to be married to a man who was indeed baptized in his childhood. He was given spiritual roots as a child, and I wanted to claim my own before I could move forward with my life. Catholicism always called to me as a global church of the world, and the place where my mother perhaps found some peace during a lonely time.
So I met Razia, Tom, and many others who were so generous and kind with their time. I will never forget them, and I probably never thanked them properly. They were my mentors, and coaches as I learned all about the many holy Catholic traditions and values that I hold very dear. They were my teachers during a special time, I am deeply grateful for them.
Today, six years after my baptism, and RCIA journey, I see I have much more to learn about the practice of being Catholic. I think that is the glorious point about any religion, it gives us something to work on internally, develop, and learn. The same brown pews I sat in seeking baptism, I now sit in mass with my own family. I am not alone. I look to my side, my son is trying to sing, and my husband is trying to keep our 16-month-old daughter out of the aisles, or from wiggling out of control.
To anyone pondering the RCIA process: it is a spiritually intimate quest with no finish line. Questions will be answered, some will not. For me, in these months- intense joy wrapped itself around me like a sacred hug and has been holding me ever since. I pray this feeling never ends, that I don’t ever do anything to ruin this relationship to God I have found, and if I do-I pray to be forgiven and always brought back into the joyful embrace. With gratitude, I venture through my life, honored and humbled every time I walk past our beautiful church home in Lakeview. I smile at the grey steps, brown doors, and find comfort in belonging.