Nov 8, 2008

On Rituals

Today I received my first Catholic Rite - the Rite of Welcome.

Thursday I spoke to Fr. Jack Gleason at Church of the Madalene, and yesterday I spoke to Fr. Joe Townsend at Saint Benedict. After both meetings, I knew for sure that I am longing to move from my "inquiry" stage into a new way of living my faith. I agreed with Fr. Joe to attend, today, a day of reflecting upon my call to follow the path of Christian Discipleship. It was somewhat late notice, but I think committing to it was a sure-footed step of faith, and the experience was an amazing trip closer to God.

One of the greatest blessings to me was that my sister-in-law, Laura, agreed to be my sponsor thru my Rite of Christian Initiation. I can't even describe how much more comfortable it makes me to have her accompany me so graciously and sincerely. She's been a model of faith for me and just knowing that she is helping to guide me makes me much more sure of my direction. She agreed on Friday to sponsor me, and just 24 hours later - today - she's already been willing to commit half of her day to me to help me reflect and embark on the call I've been feeling.

The day of reflection was great for me. I think I am a person who strives for deeper meaning, but I usually seek God's truth by studying others' experiences, ideas, and writings. Very rarely do I go deep into *myself* seeking for God's voice to reveal His meaning for me. I think one of the pastoral-led reflective exercise really helped me to open up in this way...

After reading a number of Gospel passages in which Jesus described Discipleship, we all closed our eyes in contemplation of a series of questions our RCIA leaders asked to help us understand how we were to pursue Discipleship in our upcoming commitment. I don't remember the exact series of questions, but over that 5 minutes of contemplation, I experienced a refinement and a fulfilling of my hitherto abstract calling into a more specific prayer:

  1. I know I need something more than myself.

  2. I know I need something more than myself to experience God.

  3. I know I need something more than myself to live for God.

  4. I know I need God to live for God.

  5. I ask God to help me live for Him.

  6. I ask God to help me live for Him in His Body - the Church.

In these 5 minutes I think I culminated the last 5 months of my pursuit of God, and this became my prayer as we broke up for a second, individual, contemplation and reflection. This step, for us candidates (i.e., those of us already baptized), focused on reflecting on what we would ask of the Church. Obviously there's an exhaustive list, but some of the ones I chose:

I ask the Church:

  • To provide holy and committed leaders who will help me find God and serve God well.

  • To provide a beautiful place where I can worship God.*

  • To challenge me to live a life patterned after the Gospel.

  • To help me come to know Jesus and grow in love from him.

  • To help me remember Jesus and live according to his teachings.

  • To provide prayerful eucharistic celebrations - Mass.

  • To help me overcome my sinfulness and to celebrate God's forgiveness with me.

We eventually used these to write out an individual response to a question Father Joe would ask us amongst the assembly of the Church, "What can this community of faith do to help you?" And my response was, "I ask the Church to help me to find and to know God, and to grow in love for Jesus by following his teachings and worshiping him in the sacraments."

After our requests of the assembly, and the assembly's responsive acceptance of our callings, we were in for something of a surprise - at least, we had not been prepared for it during the day. Father Joe came by each of us to seal each of our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross. And after that, our sponsors (my sister!) sealed our ears, eyes, lips, hearts, hands, feet, and shoulders with the Sign of the Cross as well; denoting that we should hear, see, speak, believe, work, travel, and bear the Gospel of Christ. At this point I was feeling comprehensively connected with God, the Church, my sister, and myself. To top it all off, the sponsors were wearing wooden cross necklaces during the rite, and at the end of it, they offered them for blessing from Father Joe, and then gave those necklaces over to us.

Mine is hanging on my monitor at my desk as I write this, and when I look at it, I know I will always remember the sincere and *real* way God welcomed me into His Church.

Today has been the most spiritually revelatory and moving day of my life. I called this post "On Rituals" because I think I used to have a presumptive bias against "rituals." My academic and intellectual journey of the last months had softened that bias, but my experience of a *real* Catholic Rite today has annihilated it.

On Thursday, Fr. Jack had shared some of the wonderful meanings of many of those little Catholic rituals I've always seen but never quite understood - the Sign of the Cross, Genuflexion, and Common Catholic Prayers, etc. I have to admit that as I've been emerging Catholic, I've performed some of these with a lingering hint of trepidation. But now, having experienced my first Catholic Rite, I'm comfortable performing these, but more than that - I perform them with sincere longing to receive the fullness of each of their meanings and effects into my life.

It makes me long even more for experiencing the full spectrum of rites, rituals, and sacraments to deepen my connection with God.

* Remember my post about Notre Dame? ;)


Monk-in-Training said...

Isn't it amazing how including your bodily actions in your worship gives a physicality to your spirituality?

luke said...

Totally. Like I said, before this rite I had felt a little strange performing the Sign of the Cross - like it wasn't really my own worship, y'know?

But now I will remember the prayer and worship expressed in this right every time I make the Sign of the Cross. It's one of the reasons I think God pulled me to the Catholic Church - he knows I'm not a super-spiritual guy and that I need tactile experience to bring it out of me.

Saint said...

Going through the motions has always helped to focus me too.