Thursday, 20 September 2012
Reception of a Convert
We are a most blessed people, because to be Catholic is to have received the greatest gift God can ever give. It must be the thing we treasure most; above all people, places and things, because Catholicism gives us God Himself from whom all the people, places and things we love come to us.
We might be called to this gift of Faith when baptised into it as babies, or we might be called to it as an adult: the eldest person I’ve seen received into the Church was in her 70’s. We might be called to Catholicism from atheism to Faith; from another religion to Christ, or from another Christian denomination. It doesn’t matter how or when we get here, as long as we get here. We receive the call to the Faith when God wills. We simply rejoice that we have been called at all, because none of us deserves it -who can deserve to receive the forgiveness of their sins in Confession, or receive the very Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion?
Why would we choose to answer the call? Why choose to be Catholic? I’d like to suggest four good reasons.
First, because Catholicism gives meaning to life. We can give our life a purpose: such as preparing a good life for our kids; contributing to world peace; advancing science. But purpose is simply what we will do with our life; the meaning of life goes beyond what we hope to do or contribute: the meaning of life is to know and love God in this world so as to reach heaven to be happy with Him forever.
You know, everyone in the world will suffer dark days: the break-up of a treasured relationship; finding ourselves in an abusive relationship; the loss of a job or a loved one –or worse, the death of a child. Our Faith tells us that all this evil, all this suffering, comes from the fact that Adam and Eve, as the pinnacle of creation, said ‘no’ to a loving, obedient relationship with God, and so lost creation’s share in God’s life, happiness and peace, gaining instead all the opposites: sorrow, trouble and death. But our Faith also tells us that Christ came into this suffering dying world as one of us; came to suffer and die, then do something we could not do: rise again to destroy death and restore life. Now, for all those who faithfully suffer and die with Him in this world, there is eternal life, happiness and peace with Him in heaven.
A second reason to be Catholic is that it is the One True Faith. As Vatican II reminded us, “We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God.” (Unitatis redintegratio 3)
A third reason to be Catholic is that in this one true Faith, God has given us all the helps we need to endure our suffering and stay united to Him: these helps are called the Sacraments:
In Baptism He unites us to Himself;
In Confirmation He seals us with the Spirit of Pentecost and commissions us as His witnesses;
In Holy Communion He feeds us with His own Body and Blood as our daily bread for strength in adversity.
In Confession He restores us to union with Him when we have turned away from Him by deliberate sin;
In anointing of the Sick He heals the soul –and sometimes the body- so as to prepare us for heaven. It is also a living sign of His desire to restore us to the fullness of life.
In Marriage He blesses our love and unites the couple in His eternal, indissoluble love.
Finally, to stay with us as our Good Shepherd who keeps us safe in the truth and supplies our needs by providing sacraments, He gives us the priesthood, especially the episcopate and supremely, the Pope.
In each of these sacraments God is with us in every turn of the page as we write the story of our life and journey towards Him.
A fourth reason to be Catholic is that the Church promotes the culture of life and stability while the world around us promotes the culture of death and non-life-giving sexual experience. Let us be clear: the world promotes death by abortion, euthanasia and sexual experiences that preclude life. The Church promotes life by protecting the unborn child, the terminally ill and sexual experiences that generate life. She proposes care, not killing, as the answer to human suffering, and by promoting sex as sacred to marriage for the union of the couple and the stability of the home and society. This pro-life, pro-family stand can make us an enigma to people; even those closest to us. They might see us as judging them, when in fact we never judge people, only actions, and opinions. The Church is a spiritual NHS who warns people of the dangers of their actions and opinions so as to save them from harm.
How important is Holy Mass in Catholic Life? It is central; it is its core; it is essential.
Holy Mass makes present the very Sacrifice of the Mass which saves us: as St Paul says, “every time you eat this Bread and drink this Cup you are proclaiming the death of the Lord” (1 Cor.11v26). Surely we all want to be saved? Can we sincerely expect to be saved if we wilfully and continually turn our back on the very act that saves us?
Holy Mass also makes present the very Lord Himself in His Body and Blood: “I am the Living Bread that comes down from heaven. He who eats this Bread will live forever, and the bread that I shall give is My Flesh, for the life of the world. He who eats Me will draw life from Me” (John 6). Since Our Lord is Risen, Ascended and present on the altar surrounded by the angels and saints, then we are at Mass we are in heaven. As I often say to folk, “You don’t have to die to go to heaven; you only have to come to Mass, for Mass brings heaven to earth”.
How important is prayer and a life of good deeds? Again, it’s essential. Prayer is conversation with God; in prayer we speak to God and stay silent to listen to God. Silence, remember, is not the absence of prayer; it is its core, because in silence heart speaks to heart without use of the lips. Like lovers who look into one another’s eyes across a table, or the wife holding her husband’s hand as he passes from this world to the next, words are not needed; a look says it all. To gaze silently into the face of God is to know God and love God. Remember too, that just as when we stop speaking to someone we lose our friendship with them, so if we stop praying to God we lose our faith. On the contrary, to speak to someone is to get to know them, and to pray is to get to know God: we pray not simply because we believe, but in order to believe.
Tonight N., is called by God into His Holy Catholic Church; called by Him into His holy family; called by Him to be bound to Him by a covenant made in the Blood of His own Son, offered on the cross as made present in the Mass. Tonight n. stands as a witness to God’s culture of life and stability; tonight s/he gains access to all the Sacraments that will sustain N. In the journey to home to heaven. Tonight, for the first time, s/he will receive Him in Holy Communion; for the first time she will respond to the call of the angel of revelation; “Happy are those who are called to the wedding banquet of the Lamb!” (Rev.19v9). Tonight, N.takes a full part in the banquet of heaven on earth.