During the Rite of Election last week, people from all walks of life affirmed their readiness to embrace more fully the Catholic faith. The catechumens and candidates came from north, east, south and west, celebrating with Archbishop Peter A Comensoli, friends and family. We share a few of their stories as a way to nourish us on our Lenten journey. Lent is the season of conversion, after all, a time to return to the Lord with our whole hearts.
Of course, no conversion is the same. Each reflects the individuality, beauty and dignity of the person converting. Each person’s journey home is marked by the Holy Spirit in distinct ways, as the following stories show.
Rory, 22, from St James the Apostle at Hopper’s Crossing, describes his upbringing as one that was contemptuous of Christianity. ‘When I was younger, throughout high school and university, I was very hostile to religion,’ he says. ‘I despised religion and felt that religion and faith were responsible for a lot of the world’s problems and suffering, especially Catholicism. It got to the point I would look at people who were religious with disdain.’
What changed? ‘As I got older, around 20, I often felt that I was missing something and I started to slowly change my mind on there being a God. I became agnostic. It was around 21 I realised that what I was missing was God and his love in my life, and that my hate towards religion, particularly Catholicism, was misguided. That God’s love was eternal. From there, in 2022, I began researching and discovering what faith was right for me and the right path to follow, and I firmly believe that the Catholic faith is that one.’
Rory has felt deeply supported and encouraged by the community at St James, and he is looking forward to spreading ‘the love and truth of the Gospel to people close to me’.
Joanna, 36, is also from St James the Apostle, and she describes her upbringing as having been marked by a restless searching.
‘When I was growing up, I wanted to have answers to the bigger questions in life: Why are we here in this world? What is our purpose? As I grew older and started working, this question diminished. I was earning a fairly comfortable income, but I felt spiritually empty,’ she explains. ‘I did not understand why, and I was constantly trying to fill that emptiness through earthly comforts. It was only when I started going through a difficult time in life that I decided to ask a few friends about their Christian faith, tried attending Mass and started seeking my own journey.’
The RCIA process was one she describes as being deeply transformative. ‘With every passing week, I felt more attracted to knowing more about God, and before I knew it, I was spiritually transformed. The emptiness I felt was filled.’
There’s still the final stretch, though, and Joanna is looking forward to receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. ‘I look forward to Holy Communion and putting God’s way of life in mine, following his will and giving back to the community,’ she says.
Sometimes the journey of conversion begins with remarkably simple experiences. Sometimes it comes through the witness of our children.
Gillian, 55, comes from St Benedict’s in Burwood. Baptised as a Lutheran when she was a teenager, Gillian says for a long time she never practised her faith; her husband was a ‘cradle Catholic’ though, and their kids were brought up to receive the sacraments. It was this that sparked something in her mind.
‘Seeing our children receive the Eucharist motivated me to seek more knowledge of the Catholic faith,’ she says. ‘It has been a deeply enriching experience in many ways, led by a wonderful RCIA team at St Benedict’s.’
Along the way, she felt free to wrestle with some of the hardest questions. ‘I have felt absolutely able to question and challenge, always responded to with honesty and love. The RCIA process is much more complex than I had imagined, but each step feels part of an important journey.’
The experience of the Rite of Election filled Gillian with hope:
I feel hopeful for the world, seeing all those people becoming Christians and wanting to confirm their faith.
Two other catechumens reported the influence of children in their conversion. Both Rob, 36, and Roger, 41, said that becoming Catholic was motivated by a desire to be an example for their kids, to be a ‘role model’ to the family.
Kim, 43, is a catechumen from Hampton Park. Although her mother was Catholic, her father was not, and her mother didn’t have his support to baptise any of the children. Their baptism was always a missing link in their faith. Kim describes her conversion as becoming ‘part of a beautiful family now, and safe home’.
‘I feel that this journey is where we needed to be,’ she says.
Vanessa, 50, from St Benedict’s, also speaks about baptism as a missing link in the faith. ‘As a child I was brought up in the Baptist Church,’ she says. ‘I can’t recall a time that I didn’t attend church at this early stage of my life. My faith and relationship with Jesus have been present my entire life.’
As their family moved, however, their faith did too. ‘From the age of around 8, my family relocated and we never found a new church, so I stopped attending.’ Still, the desire for baptism lingered.
My entire life, I have always wanted to be baptised, and after speaking with a number of different churches when exploring baptisms, I was overwhelmingly drawn to Catholicism. The RCIA initiation process was so spiritually meaningful and the parish so welcoming.
Vanessa describes the Rite of Election as being ‘a very special, spiritual experience’ that ‘instilled a strong sense of belonging to [the] wider Catholic community’.
‘I felt moved by the sheer beauty of the Cathedral and so privileged to be taking part in an ancient ritual with my parish and fellow RCIA participants by my side.’
Please keep Rory, Joanna, Gillian, Rob, Roger, Kim and Vanessa in your prayers, along with all those preparing to enter the Church, as they continue their journey towards the Easter Vigil.
Melbourne Catholic28 February 2023