Published April 20, 2006
“Am I a Catholic now?’ The question was so honest and stark that I must have appeared a bit incoherent in my response—“Yes, you’re a Catholic now!” As the lady left the cathedra on the Easter Vigil at Christ the King, with the Chrism still glistening on her face, she was indeed a Catholic—professed and confirmed. Later during the Mass she would receive her First Holy Communion and her membership within the Family of Faith would be complete.
When do any of us become Catholics? I still cannot help but think about that profound question.
We certainly are members of the Church when the waters of life are poured over our heads at Baptism. Every baptized infant is a Catholic. We reaffirm our Catholicism with each Eucharist, and we are sealed by God’s own Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation. But we also are Catholics in the everyday moments of our lives—at work, in school, at the office, on Georgia 400 (admittedly perhaps a greater challenge under those circumstances!). Our Catholicism is something that we bring with us and reaffirm each moment of our lives—especially as we live by the teachings and moral principles of our Faith.
I can only suppose that what was most refreshing about that question for me was witnessing the joy that it brought to her eyes as she achieved membership in the Church on that most Holy Night of the year. She clearly wanted to make sure that I acknowledged that indeed she was now a Catholic—and gladly—although perhaps with some astonishment did I affirm her membership within the heart of the Church. It was obviously very important for her to know that clearly—at that moment—she was a Catholic. I wonder how important it may be for any of us at any special moment to reaffirm our membership within the Church.
There is a specialness about those who join the Church from other religious traditions. Generally, they are people who have followed another faith as adults. They come with life experiences, histories and an obvious openness to God’s Grace in their lives. They are quite mature in their religious decisions. They choose us because they feel that the Holy Spirit has chosen them for membership within the Church. This response to God’s invitation is made plausible in the welcome that we who are already members of the Church offer to them during their preparation for and celebration of their Sacramental entry into the Church. When the 58 men and women were all confirmed as the assembly was about to begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I invited all the members of the Church to welcome our newest members and the Cathedral erupted in sustained applause. It was clear that we all felt very Catholic at that moment as we experienced the grace of God that had brought these men and women into our Family of Faith.
At that moment, I hope and pray that the wonderful woman who had earlier asked the profoundly simple question realized in her heart how truly Catholic she is! The Archbishop certainly felt completely Catholic at that same moment.
After the ceremony, as the procession of concelebrants and servers walked back to the sacristy, one of the servers, who had been close enough to have heard the original question, told me, “I’ll bet that your column next week will mention her question.” He too realized what a wonderful reflective moment she had provided all of us.