Monday, April 09, 2007

I'm Catholic, Yo

Saturday was the Easter Vigil, the service where I was baptized, confirmed and received my first communion. Saturday morning dawned in a rather tense way; the RCIA was supposed to meet up at 10:00am for prayer and reflection, and Jacelyn was supposed to be at an Easter egg hunt at 11:30. The original idea was for Michelle and Joe to come over, get Jacelyn ready, and then drive her and Brian's mother out to the egg hunt while I was at church. Then Brian announced that he would be in town, so plans changed. Brian was supposed to come in late Friday night and he would do the driving, and Michelle and Joe decided to stay home. I spoke with Brian twice Friday night, and both times he assured me he was going to be there. I ended up staying up late, until almost 3:00am, doing laundry and cleaning and getting all the stuff done I wouldn't have time to do over the busy weekend.

I woke up around 8:30 Saturday morning and discovered Brian wasn't there. His mother was all aflutter, I was annoyed. I spent the first hour of my day trying to arrange transportation for Jacelyn and Brian's mother. Finally I heard from Brian; he was on his way in. Whew. By this time it was 9:40; twenty minutes until I had to be at church. I took a load of clothes out of the dryer and folded and put them away, then I hastily dressed and was getting ready to leave when Brian's mother announced the heater wasn't working (it was quite cold over the weekend). So I rushed outside and messed around with the breakers until there was heat again, then sped off for church.

The clock in my car just clicked over to 10:00 as I pulled into the parking lot. Deacon Wulf directed me to the rectory, which is where the parish priests live. I knocked on the door, certain I was the last to arrive, and entered the house (and what a freaking house! they're living good, but I think they probably deserve it, what with dedicating their lives to God and all) to discover...I was the first person there. Whew again. Stephanie and Mrs. Wulf were waiting, and asked me how my morning had been thus far. I just answered, "I think I need the prayer and reflection". Shortly afterwards another student showed up, so while we were waiting for our other two members we scoped out the house. Very, very nice. Huge. Amazing, really. Beautiful woodwork. Nice porches. Very high quality toilet tissue. I was impressed.

We opened with a prayer, and then did some readings and had some time in the chapel (what a chapel!). After that we headed off to the living room where we answered some questions about our experience thus far on paper and then some of us shared some of our answers. Then we said the rosary together, which was actually quite nice. I had a rosary already, since my incredibly thoughtful and generous sponsor gave me quite a beautiful one the day before. I was a little nervous about the rosary thing, and while I don't know if it's something I will do regularly, it was quite nice. Meditative, contemplative, kind of a lulling sensation. Very calming. After the rosary we ate lunch with Father Casserly, Father Viet, Deacon and his wife and Stephanie. Father Casserly served us our food and drinks and we had a very pleasant lunch. Father Viet joked that he was going to leave the priesthood to become a mailman, and kept us all laughing the whole time. I can't describe how nice it was. It was almost like eating with family. Better than eating with family, in some cases.

We left the rectory around 1:15. I spent the rest of my day feeling anguished over some family stuff that was happening. Got dressed and headed to the church to be there at 6:20 for pictures outside. We took pictures, did a dry run of the baptismal process (credit for the dry run joke goes to Mike - it was very funny, maybe you had to be there but take my word for it, very funny), then headed off to the cafeteria for name tags. Mine had 'Valerie' at the top and the saint name I chose, "Francis De Sales" at the bottom. I put it on and then reconsidered its' location later, realizing that Father would have to stare at my chest to come up with my saint's name for confirmation. Name tag crisis averted, we sat down to wait.

The vigil really is a stunning service. Everyone was seated inside, but then directed outside, where a fire was lit. I amused by the missalette making certain to note that the fire should be in a suitable location. The Paschal candle was lit from this fire, and then someone lit their smaller candle from the Paschal candle and then lit the candle of the person behind them and so on and so on. We entered the church, where all the lights had been turned out and the only lights were from the candles of the congregation. Gorgeous. A lot went on, which I won't delve into here because not everyone cares, but suffice it to say it was very moving. Then came time for baptism. We were called to the front, where we stood in front of our sponsors and/or Godparents, and there were prayers and then the Litany of the Saints.

That is a beautiful prayer, or song, or whatever you want to call it. I mean, breathtaking. I started crying at that point, because I was utterly moved. The song/prayer (I don't know which it is!) is ancient, and as I stood there, listening, the thought occurred to me how many people it has been sung over, for how many years, and that, somewhere, most likely multiple somewheres, the same song was being sung in the same setting at that same moment and the scope of this faith that I have decided to follow snuck up on me all of a sudden. It was an amazing moment. Words cannot describe it. I can't do it justice. Then we were baptized, and presented with our baptismal candles from our sponsor/Godparents, and a white garment (think a small shawl or wrap) that we had to try and not set on fire with our candles.

We returned to our seats and had a moment to rest while two others made a profession of faith or statement of intent or something, I don't remember quite what, then it was back up to the front again for confirmation. Our heads were anointed with oil and father said a little prayer, after which we said "Amen", then he said 'Peace be with you" and shook our hand, and we came back with, "And also with you". I was confirmed with my saint's name, Francis, so Father, as he was supposed to, called me Francis instead of Valerie. I remember my 'Amen' and my 'And also with you'. Father moved on to the next person, and I was exhilarated. I caught Michelle's eye, and she was making a frowny face and mouthed the words "He called you by the wrong name!". I sort of waved and shook my head, hoping to get across that no, it was fine, that was what was supposed to happen. When we got back to our seats Mike called me Frank and made me laugh. Immediately after this I noticed my (red!) bra strap poking out of my sweater and anxiously wondered how much of the evening I had spent with my underclothes hanging out. In my frustration I said, "Sh*t!". In church. I did whisper it, it was very quiet, but still highly inappropriate. I had just washed away all my sin with baptism, and then started immediately piling it on again.

Then came time for communion. The choir booked it up to the front, as they usually do, and Father shooed them back so we could receive first. I don't know if I can describe that, or if I really want to try. By the end of mass I was in tears. The whole thing was very beautiful. Very touching. I know that I tend to joke, to make light, to poke fun at myself and others. But I'm serious about this whole catholic thing. I resort to jokes when I can't express the emotion, so I joke, but I mean this, and I mean to stick with it, and do as much as I can to take it as far as I can. Not in a crazed, fundamentalist kind of way, but in a reveling in the glory of my faith and God kind of way. And I don't think there's much more I can add to that.


Jen said...

You go, Frank. :) I'm proud of you!!

TX Jen said...

Congratulations to you, Frank! It sounds like it was a very beautiful service. :)