Reflections of a neophyte

Though baptized Presbyterian as an infant, I grew up without any discussion of, or experience with, Christianity at home. But I always believed in a higher order of things, and had a sense that this higher order was a benevolent force. In my late 20s, I began to understand that having faith in a power greater than myself was essential to my well-being.

When I later began working on a sheep farm, my faith in, understanding of and love for God grew tremendously. I cared for the flock, minding their health and safety, and felt great joy in their wellness, eventually coming to understand what the phrase “The Lord is my shepherd” truly means. What now seems so obvious was a revelation to me then: God loves us and cares for all of us. Just as a ewe cannot understand why I might give her shots or trim her hooves (it would be silly to think she could know), no more can I comprehend God’s plan for me.

Three years ago, I got married and started attending Mass at our neighborhood church with my husband and two teenaged stepsons. I began to enjoy it more and more, but I didn’t really understand what was going on or the doctrine behind it, and I didn’t feel a true sense of belonging. I wanted to know more and to share my family’s faith, and so I decided to become a Catholic.

My RCIA experience was marvelous in every way. The team presented information from perspectives that satisfied my intellect and invigorated my spirit. They shared their own inspirational faith stories and at every turn showed me the face of a gracious, merciful and loving God. Above all, they guided me with loving care toward a full and joyful faith. Since September, my devotion and desire for a deeper kinship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have grown exponentially. I approached Holy Week and my confirmation and first Communion with mounting anticipation.

It was a full week – listening to Archbishop O’Brien pray over the chrism with which we would be sealed; spending the Triduum at the Basilica of the Assumption in prayer, meditation and fellowship with family and new friends; praying the Stations of the Cross; being aware of the Passion of Christ in real time; seeing the empty Tabernacle and feeling the emptiness of the world without Christ – words fail.

But above all was the Easter Vigil: the Easter fire, the beautiful and dramatic readings, the darkness . . . and then, suddenly, the light, the flowers, and the Gloria. The music was transcendental, and I sang with my whole soul, filled with a greater joy than I’ve ever known.

Throughout the sacraments of initiation, I was filled with a joyful peace. I loved renewing my own baptismal promises and watching the catechumens be baptized. I felt such warmth from Bishop Denis Madden as he anointed me, and I treasured the joy on the face of our pastor, Father Jeff Dauses, as we became “his” neophytes. As moved as I was by the entire experience, the tears flowed as I returned to my seat after receiving my first Communion. It was at this moment that I felt the fullness of Christ’s gift and the grace to receive it completely.

Since the Easter Vigil, I have been basking in the warmth of all these blessings. I have sung the Gloria continuously for a week – in traffic, making dinner, driving across fields on a tractor. I have felt more peaceful and less anxious. By Easter Wednesday, the coming Sunday seemed like it would never get here, so I went to morning Mass. It was wonderful to start a work day in full communion with the Lord and with a sign of peace from my Catholic brothers and sisters.

I entered RCIA last September to gain understanding and be unified in faith with my family. On Holy Saturday, I entered the church to gain fuller understanding of Christ’s love for us and unity with Him. At the beginning of the Easter Vigil, Bishop Madden told the congregation that they would be transformed that night – that we would leave different than when we entered. I was, and I am. He also asked us to listen to what God was whispering to us. To me, He whispered and sang and shouted that He is here at my side and that He loves me.

So now I find that Catholicism fits like my favorite slippers – cozy and warm, unpretentious and familiar. I think that maybe I have been Catholic my whole life and just didn’t know it yet.

Sara Hollands was received into the Catholic Church April 3 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.