A lot of people are surprised when they find out that I am not Catholic (yet). My husband’s family is Catholic, and most of my family is Catholic. My mom even entertained the idea of becoming a nun. Both of my siblings were baptized Catholic and raised in the Catholic church. What a lot of people find more surprising than the fact that I am not Catholic is that I was never baptized. Like I said, my mom wanted to be a nun! My siblings were both baptized! But when I came along, my parents decided not to have me baptized, and we didn’t go to church.
In 2014, I decided that I wanted to start going to Mass regularly. I always attended Easter Vigil and Christmas Mass with my husband and his family, but after going to our great niece’s baptism I decided that I wanted to really give this Catholic thing a fair chance. Wanting to become Catholic was not a new concept to me. I had entertained the idea since I was in middle school, but back then I had absolutely no idea about what it meant to be Catholic or how to become Catholic… honestly, I had no idea about much of anything back then. I had close friends and boyfriends that were Catholic. Some of them made me more interested in the religion. Others… not so much. When I started dating my husband, I got a little more serious about going to church. I learned about RCIA (The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). When my husband proposed, I wanted to become Catholic and have a Catholic wedding. It didn’t work out, and now that I am where I am and that I know what I know, I realize that it was for the best.
I clearly remember the day that acknowledged feeling the Holy Spirit. I am sure that I had probably experienced the Holy Spirit before in my life, but the day that stands out to me is when I went to Mass for the Baptism of the Lord on January 12, 2014. It was the first Mass that after I had told my sister-in-law that I wanted to start attending Mass with her and her family. She told me to meet at her house, and my brother-in-law drove with me to the 10:30am Mass. On our way over to the church, my brother-in-law was asking me questions about my faith and upbringing. He asked me if I had ever been baptized, and I told him no. He knew that my family was Catholic, so he wondered why. I told him that I wasn’t sure, but that I had always thought it was a “social experiment”. My siblings that were raised Catholic had both left the church. I was a late in life child (my brother is 14 years older than me and my sister is 18 years older than me) and I thought that maybe my parents were thinking “Hmm, well, we tried with the other two and they left the church, so let’s not push religion on this one and let her make up her own mind about it.” My brother-in-law laughed at that idea.
For my readers out there that have never attended a Catholic Mass, there is something called a homily. This is the part of Mass after the Gospel reading (for those who have attended Mass but don’t know exactly what that means… that’s the part after everyone stands up, sings “Alleluia” and then the priest reads to everyone) when the priest tells a story with a moral or purpose tied to the readings for that day. I will be honest… I don’t really remember most of the homilies that I have heard. There are a special few, however, that really stick out in my head. One was Father Jim’s homily at Christmas (or was it Easter?) when he mentioned the Big Bang theory and I was like “Say what?” because I had thought all along that Catholics believe solely in creationism (and boy, have I learned how wrong I was since then). Another was the homily that Father Steve gave at the funeral of a family friend where he brought out a ruler as a prop and talked about the importance of the distance from your head to your heart. But one of the most memorable homilies for me was the one that Father Steve gave on January 12, 2014 at the Baptism of the Lord.
His homily was about baptism and how important of a decision it is for parents to make for their children. That is isn’t just something you check off a list… okay, got the stroller, painted the nursery, bought the diapers, baptism, check! Choosing to have your child baptized means that you are committing to raising them a certain way, the Christian way, and that you will be there to guide them in their journey to knowing God. It is a huge decision!
He went on to tell a story about when he was a Chaplain in a hospital. He was called in to see a woman who had just had a stillborn child. The mother was in so much pain and was overwhelmed with tears. She was so concerned that her baby had not been baptized and she questioned Father Steve, was her child with Jesus in Heaven? Father Steve told us that although sacraments are meant for the living, he knew that this mother needed comfort, and the only way she could receive that comfort was an outward sign that her baby was in Heaven. So Father Steve wiped a tear from the mother’s face and used her tears to baptize her child in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. She wept and hugged him; he had given her the comfort that she needed.
I was in tears listening to his homily. I finally realized how big of a deal baptism was. That it wasn’t just a symbolic pouring of water and ::ding!:: you’re saved! This was so much bigger… I didn’t know exactly what it as, I didn’t understand it completely at that time, but I was closer. Every time I tell the story of that homily I cry… at first it was tears of sadness for the loss that the mother experienced. But now it is tears of joy because God is so good!
When we left Mass, my brother-in-law looked at me and said, “Well, I think Father wrote that homily just for you today.” I smiled and agreed. Although I had never doubted my parents’ decision not to baptize me as a baby, I realized that day that I had the reason for not doing it completely wrong. It reinforced the fact that they had made the right decision for me. Although it would have been wonderful to have been Catholic all of my life, I know that I would not appreciate it as much as I appreciate it now. I am so glad that I will be able to remember my baptism when I experience it as an adult. And I hope that sharing my story will bring joy to other people, and maybe even help reassure others that aren’t sure about the path that they are on.