This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2011.
The Catholic Church’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is, ideally, a process lasting many months, during which unbaptized catechumens and baptized but unconfirmed candidates learn from and discern with sponsors and other members of the church community they hope to become part of. My home parish takes this seriously. While the rite is meant to lead to reception into the church at the Easter Vigil, there’s no rushing, no shortcuts, no simply going with the flow. The rigor and probing reflection often make me wish I hadn’t completed my own initiation so young.
From Easter to Ascension, newly-received members (called neophytes, which means “new living things”) wear their white robes each Sunday at liturgy. Like all of us, though far more visibly, they are engaged in mystagogy, forever entering the bottomless mystery of Christ and his people. On Ascension Day, after the readings have been broken open in the homily and just before the neophytes publicly set aside their white garments, one of their number is invited to share some thoughts on his or her experience.
This year, we heard a young father speak from his heart, an unsentimental, moving tale of loss and groping toward the light. What struck me most was his fearlessness in sharing both heartbreak and joy. The details are not so important, except that he took special note of the moment at the Vigil when the gathered community prayed for him and the others, chanting “Veni, Sancti Spiritus,” “Come, Holy Spirit.” I remember being there that night, chanting and praying for them all, and it was a blessing to recall that grace-filled moment.
When he finished his remarks, the presiding priest stepped out towards the congregation, turned, and addressed him: “Look at the table; all its gifts are yours. Look around you at this building; this is your home. Look at these people; this is your community, welcoming you.”
And I thought, “Yes, for you, for me, and for all of us,”: his story, mine and those of my neighbors, gathered together.
It wasn’t Pentecost when these things happened; there was no sudden rush of wind, no fire, no three thousand new members. Still, it had the marks of Pentecost: new life, “Come, Holy Spirit,” a story entered and shared, absence of fear, heart speaking to heart, a gathered people. Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church, a reminder that God’s gathered people shares a history so much larger than our individual biographies.
This side of the grave, few of us will be visited by tongued fire; few will speak to a polyglot crowd and be understood by all. But our quieter Pentecosts are no less transforming.
How and when has the Spirit led you to newness?
How and with whom are you, too, called into the bottomless mystery?