Reflections from Easter Vigil: Part III

Bringing forth the gifts!
I think I have talked about the "easy" sacraments: Baptism and Confirmation. Eucharist, or communion, involves a whole lot of mystery, beauty, and confusion. Eucharist is the cornerstone of Catholicism in my opinion. It is the core of what makes it different from any other Christian church.

From the very first time I attended mass, at about age 15 or 16, I have been overwhelmingly curious about the Eucharist. The Catholic Church does not have an open table, meaning you must be a Catholic in order to receive. So the curiosity stems from not knowing or understanding what happens when people receive communion. And a deep desire to receive occurs when one cannot do so. If I had to pick one of the three sacraments that I received during Easter Vigil as the one I was most looking forward to it would be Eucharist.

Indeed, if I had to pick one thing I was most looking forward to when going to Italy, Catholic paradise, it would be communion. But, alas, I did not receive communion even once there. But, in a way, communion was brought to me at many of our beautiful meals...

Above is just one example of non-consecrated Eucharist, or literally Thanksgiving, that we received at our meals in Italy. House red wine (so delicious!) and bread (I never ate any :( )... communion is such a part of Italian culture.

At my home parish, I can receive under both species -- bread and wine. My home parish provides a very, very low gluten host for Celiacs like myself. But, when out and about, I can only receive Eucharist through wine for medical reasons. And sometimes, like at weekday mass or anytime in Italy or at a Eucharistic Adoration in Yosemite, I was unable to take communion because... no wine! So I had to simply be OK with simply being in the presence of Christ. It should be enough. But oh that desire. After becoming Catholic, it is even stronger than before.

We Catholics believe that during Mass the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ. It is not symbolic, it is real. There is no doubt that this sounds strange, maybe even cannibalistic, to some people. But in the context of Catholicism, it is not all that strange.

Catholicism is incredibly sensual. We have the smells of incense and oils, the touching of Rosary beads, sprinkling of water, the elaborate sights of art, architecture, statues, and crucifixes, the kissing of sacred objects, and, yes, the consumption of Christ's body and blood. It is a religion where you feel your beliefs. And for me, the core of my beliefs is that God is love.

I used to be freaked out by crucifixes. Maybe I still am a little. But now I focus on the love that God had for us when God laid down God's life for us, God's friends. I think about the friends who were there for Christ, especially Mary Magdalene, as he died. I think about how I am called to be with people through rough times.

When I consume Christ's body, I am consuming love. I am becoming love. With and being a part of Eucharist, I am to go out and spread love, the good news, where I can. And that is from where that desire, that craving, for Eucharist stems. A desire to receive love and to give love to others.

So I think those deep feelings of disappointment when I cannot receive Eucharist are justified by these beliefs. There is something important and transformative when I receive communion. It is not just enough to adore it. In order for me to feel whole, I need to receive it. But I can be sustained through adoration and seeing communion all around me. Every meal I share with another is communion. Now, if only every meal included those delightful house red wines we enjoyed in Italy!


Five Years

The first day of the quarter is tomorrow, marking the beginning of my sixth year in graduate school. I've been thinking a lot about the wonderful experiences I've had in the past five years.

I moved to Davis, California in September of 2009. My mother helped me set up my first apartment and we bonded while building furniture from IKEA and drinking, as always, Diet Coke. The day my mom left, I cried. And cried. And cried. I had never been so far away from home, so permanently. When I got back inside my apartment, after watching my mom drive down and away on A Street, I picked myself up. It was time to get going. To push through. I went to the Co-Op, became a member, and bought some organic, gluten-free delicious foods. Purple bell pepper.

That first quarter of graduate school was hard but I came in with a good group of people. They were immediate family, with support and advice a plenty. But by October, I was so homesick, that my mom bought me a plane ticket to Salt Lake. I went home, made caramels with my sister, and realized that home was still there. My mom had told me that home would always be there. It was a very comforting trip.

I spent the weekend dog sitting for my friend and she let me borrow her car. It was November, the month of the crush. I drove around Napa smelling that incredible, intoxicating smell. This was California. Adventure. Good food with real, fresh, local ingredients. Suddenly even the grapes I drank had a home. Zinfandel. Coincidentally, in my friend's apartment complex were LDS Missionaries. While I was not LDS, they were a little bit of home -- quirky, strange home -- right here in a new place.

Life was school. Worked hard, worked late. I had a lot of camaraderie. Good, good people. But it came time to apply to PhD programs. The decision came down to two. One in far, far away Alabama and the other one right here. While the school in Alabama had some incredible opportunities, I knew I couldn't beat having a great advisor and living in the best place in the world. So I finally decided on Davis. As soon as I told the other school, immediately I knew, I had made the right decision. Knowing where I'd be spending the next 3-4 years of my life meant I could do something I hadn't done seriously in a long time: Date.

My first, only, and last online date was with Sean. And from the beginning it was perfect. Sean figured me out quickly. I need adventure. Not necessarily big adventures but I love experiencing the novel. Immediately my life became frequent trips to the Bay Area, sushi and hole-in-the-wall Mexican, and soon I fell not only in love with Sean, but with the de Guzman family.

I moved here as an agnostic and fell in love with Christ and His strange little church. Two and a half years of learning and discernment, I became Catholic. Which now only seems natural.

I've become a more confident researcher and maybe a better one. I've gathered a good selection of professional experiences. After years of being unsure of what I wanted to do once I got out of graduate school, I now have a plan and the pieces in place to make it happen.

In five years, things have come together for me. I saw it all happen this summer. I worked an internship in sexual health, where they were flexible enough for me to take off for a wedding and honeymoon of my dreams. My Catholic wedding was attended by those friends who made living to California and being in graduate school a pleasure. My family, supportive at every step of the way, was there. We drank California wine, ate avocados, and spent the next day on the beach, toes buried in the sand.

It has been a beautiful five years in California. A lot of hard work but a lot of pure joy too. Good friends, true love, and community. Good food, places to be, and sights to see. There have been rough days, weeks, and months. It has all been worth it to be here and to find myself in this place with my love, family, and my friends. But I still tear up as I think of cooking those purple bell peppers alone, my mother on her way back to my home.


Reflections from Easter Vigil: Part II

"You can see how faith accomplishes a revolution in us, one which we can call Copernican; it removes us from the center and puts God at the center; faith immerses us in his love and gives us security, strength, and hope. Seemingly, nothing has changed; yet, in the depths of our being, everything is different. With God, peace, consolation, gentleness, courage, serenity, and joy, which are all fruits of the Holy Spirit (cf. Galatians, 5:22), find a home in our heart; then our very being is transformed; our way of thinking and acting is made new, it becomes Jesus' own, God's own, way of thinking and acting. Dear friends, faith is revolutionary and today I ask you: Are you open to entering into this revolutionary wave of faith? Only by entering into this wave will your young lives make sense and be so fruitful!" 
-Pope Francis
Before Easter Vigil, we Elect and Candidates would talk about what it would be like after we were baptized and confirmed. We were warned to not expect the Heavens to literally open and for actual doves to rest upon us. Let's just say there was a lot of hype and a lot of surprise. It hasn't made everything better, everything enlightened, everything sunnier or easier. Indeed the hardest task of reorienting myself around God, putting God at the center, is really an on-going task. These are ideas others have shared with me. They're starting to sink in a little bit.

What Pope Francis is talking about isn't a one-time decision. Each day, each moment, I chose to be a more peaceful, kind, hardworking person not for me, but for God and my community. Each day, each moment, comes with a choice to enter into the revolution. It is not as simple as the decision I made and the Sacraments I received on one night.

I've been reflecting quite a bit on confirmation, the sacrament that I was the least concerned about at Easter Vigil. With these thoughts of how "seemingly, nothing has changed," this Sacrament feels like the one that has changed me the most. With an symbol like this, it seems quite obvious...

I probably should have been more concerned about the fire than the water, don't you think?

Through confirmation, I feel strength to convert everyday, to reorient everyday. I hope to remember to draw on and pray for this feeling as time goes on.

Each Sunday, until Pentecost, we neophytes wear our white robes at mass. Mine still has the smell of the Sacred Chrism -- a wonderful reminder of Confirmation. I am going to miss my robe. The Water will still be there, the Eucharist will still be there, but Confirmation will be a memory.


Reflections from Easter Vigil: Part I

This quarter is quickly becoming the craziest one yet. Responsibilities are piling on, quickly overwhelming me. I so much want to sit in quiet and soak up my fresh, new sacraments. Spend more time in prayer. Catch a weekday Mass. But I have a million things on my list. I repeat to myself that God have given me enough time in each day to do what I need to do.

I've been reflecting as much as I can on the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Having family visit us over the weekend added to the joy of everything. I've been thinking a lot about how I've converted, turned over. And Easter Vigil was a night of turning over a new leaf. So much healing happened here:

I read this reflection today in a little book I have of Pope Francis's writings, addresses, and homilies. How he talks about renewal really speaks to me.

"The grace contained in the sacraments of Easter is an enormous potential for the renewal of our personal existence, of family life, of social relations. However, everything passes through the human heart: if I let myself be touched by the grace of the Risen Christ, if I let him change me in that aspect of mine which is not good, which can hurt me and others, I allow the victory of Christ to be affirmed in my life."
-Regina Caeli address, April 1, 2013

It is a new life even though my days are cluttered with things drifting along from the past.


Nine Days!

I didn't have the opportunity yesterday to write a TEN DAYS! post. But it is exciting! I can count the number of days I have left as a pagan on two hands. I can't believe it is coming up so soon! I am so incredibly excited. Just nine days until I am Catholic!!

These past couple of weeks have been intense with research projects and preparation for the Sacraments of Initiation. I spend the little free time I have reading and praying with daily reflections from Pope Francis and two different Lenten books. I do wish I had more time to reflect, relax, and soak in all of the beauty and love around me.

I wanted to share an excerpt from The Little Black Book, a Lenten reflection book...

"What is Lent?

What best describes Lent?
1. ashes
2. baptism
3. fast and abstinence
4. the Passion of Our Lord
5. giving things up
Answer: Baptism.
Explanation: The origin of Lent is the final 'countdown' for those who are preparing to enter the Church through baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. The basic baptismal decision sets it all in motion, and that is why Lent revolves around baptism.
But what about us Catholics who are already fully initiated into the Church?
Lent revolves around my baptism too. It is the final countdown as I prepare to renew my baptismal commitment at Easter. I fast, pray, and do good works right along with those preparing for baptism and full reception into the Church. I do it to support them, but also to prepare for the moment when I will put my hands into the baptismal water on Easter, and solemnly renew my basic commitment to walk in the footsteps of the Lord.
Through that ritual gesture I reach down deep inside myself and re-commit myself to be the Lord's disciple. This touches every part of my life. Everything. No footnotes, no asterisks, no fine print. One doesn't just stroll into church on Easter and do something that powerful. That gesture takes thought, prayer, preparation.
That's what Lent is for."

It's incredible to be a convert to Christianity, and to Roman Catholicism in particular, and to know the entire Lenten season is for, well, me and my fellow Elect. The three scrutiny rites the past few weeks have been for us. The Easter Vigil centers around our baptisms. So much ritual and tradition, so much richness for us converting. I feel incredibly blessed to be welcomed home with such open arms, a la the Prodigal Son.

When Sean and I get married in less than four months (!!!), we will promise to raise our children in the Church. Of course we will, but my heart does ache a bit for our children who will never experience all the preparation as adults for becoming Christians. They will not remember their baptisms. Of course, they will get to have many other incredible experiences. But they will not experience what I have unless they convert to another, non-Christian faith as rich as Roman Catholicism.

Which brings me to this article published this morning about a young Catholic who prays for the faith of a convert. It is quite touching. I am so blessed.


An Elect and Some Reads

Last Sunday, I attended the Rite of Election, where the Bishop of the Diocese, on behalf of the Catholic Church, gave the official "OK" for me to receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. In reality, it was just the Catholic Church recognizing God's call for me to join the Christian Community.

It was beautiful.

With each day, I am getting more excited to finally be welcomed at the table. This weekend we went to a Saturday mass where I sat through the whole thing. It is so hard to see and feel what is happening with the Eucharist, but not be able to join! Fortunately, I feel the Eucharistic Minister could sense my hunger, and spent extra time and extra effort in blessing me. It is going to be some marvelous to finally receive Holy Communion.


I've been filling up my free time with prayer and reading. Here are some books I've just finished or am currently reading...

Daily Prayer and Reflection:

  • Sacred Space for Lent 2014 by the Irish Jesuits
  • Through the Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections by Pope Francis and Kevin Cotter

Both of these are really great. I love the little Lenten and Advent books, so the Sacred Space for Lent fills that void. And the book of daily reflections is nice and short but with a good amount of meat. Pope Francis is just so great with his words. Easy to relate to him.

Books, etc:

  • The Writings of St. Francis from Acheron Press
  • The Woman's Bible edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton
  • Exploring the Nicene Creed by M.R. Hyde

The Woman's Bible is a real treat. I recommend it for anyone regardless of faith. The critiques are written from well-educated women (Bible scholars and the like) from the 1880s. They were fighting for suffrage and to be considered human, not property. Their perspectives sadly ring as true today as they did back then. The critiques are much more in line with Protestant and LDS beliefs than Roman Catholic, but it is still a fascinating read. And it's in the public domain!

The Writings of St. Francis is a little dry so far, like the laws for the Friars Minor. But interesting. And Exploring the Nicene Creed was pretty neat. It just goes line by line, what do Catholics mean by "God" and so on.

I am always looking for book recommendations! I even enjoy historical fiction, a la The Red Tent. Please share some!


Give us this day our daily love

The first time I was exposed to the spoken Lord's Prayer was in middle school when I attended a United Church of Christ service with some close friends. It says so much so simply. 

Being someone who leans on the side of long-winded, I appreciate the short reminders and prayers. "Fear not." "God is love."

This St. Valentine's Day, Pope Francis spoke to around 10,000 engaged couples about marriage. I've read his remarks a few times these past two days and I absolutely love his idea for a prayer "Give us this day our daily love." Daily love. Something we all need.

I've been reflecting a lot on what has happened in the past year. I am so grateful that my family is alive and healthy. I am so grateful to have another niece, who I cannot wait to meet and hold this Friday. I am grateful for Sean and for all the growth that we've had in our relationship. 


In other news, my catechesis is officially over as of Thursday night. It makes me a little sad but I am looking forward to this period of enlightenment coming up in March. I have a gigantic Easter candle (I'm not kidding! It's 18 inches tall!) to decorate as well as a panel for my confirmation robe. I feel some crafting coming up in the near future!



"Surprise! I'm becoming Catholic!" -Me today to me circa 2009.
"LOL. Wait. Are you serious? What?!" -Natalie 2009 to Natalie 2014.

That's pretty much how the conversation would have gone. I was agnostic and I knew the following about the Catholic Church: patriarchal hierarchy, obsession with Mary and her virginity, I think we all liked JPII?, Mother Teresa was cool too, child sex abuse, the Inquisition, Henry VIII, and on Ash Wednesday Catholics walk around with ashes on their foreheads.

So I am not surprised when family and friends like darling Kayla say they are surprised. What is it about the Catholic Church that speaks to me? Why am I called there? Why am I, a feminist, skeptical, pro-marriage equality woman joining a body that at least on the surface seems entirely at odds with my very being? Well, it isn't all that it seems. The cover does a poor job of reflecting the book. I think Pope Francis is helping redesign that cover but still, Catholicism isn't what it appears.

In March, I'll be sharing my faith story with my fellow catechumens, sponsors, and the team that has helped us learn about the Catholic faith. Being a developmentalist, I want to start from the very beginning, maybe even before my birth or LDS baby blessing. Start with my parents or even my grandparents. Give a nod to the culture and context in which I grew up. But the truth is that my faith story didn't really begin there.

I wish I could say it began with something more dramatic than it did. An angel appearing or God speaking clearly, directly to me. Instead it happened in a parking lot in a heated debate with an agnostic (me) and an atheist versus a nondenominational Christian. The subject was if the world's existence and our existence and experiences were truly random, truly chaotic or if there was something sort of holding it all together. It was brutal. Fortunately, we are all still friends. But while I argued with my Christian friend, it planted a small seed. She is brilliant, skeptical, a scientist. And she has faith in something greater than humanity.

A few months later, another friend (brilliant, skeptical, scientific) told me that God wasn't an actual male being on a planet out there in the universe. She encouraged me to think outside of that LDS box. She didn't believe that God was a noun. No, God was a verb. The verb to love. "Hey, it's even in the scriptures." Little seed planted.

And sometime during all this, my younger sister visited Europe on an art history tour. She brought me back a bottle of rosemary olive oil from Italy and a charm of St. Francis of Assisi from the Vatican. He is the patron saint of ecology. We are good friends.

Then I got a message from a cute guy on an online dating site. He is Catholic and it said so right in his profile. I was agnostic. It said that too right in my profile. He wanted to go on a date with me. Something was different about that. I fell in love with him. We watched a season of Dexter that involved Colin Hanks bringing about Revelations. I asked this guy I was dating if he thought Revelations was literally going to happen at the end of time. "Of course not! It's about the Romans." He went on to share some unorthodox, even for "liberal" Catholics, thoughts.

I fell more in love with him. My mom suggested that I learn more about the Catholic Church if things were going to get serious. It was good advice. So I downloaded Catholicism for Dummies and read it over winter break. My younger sister and I went to Midnight Mass in SLC and talked about the anti-materialism message from the priest. She told me that she replaces Jesus with love and it works for her atheistic view of the world. I wondered if the belief in love and the idea that love will conquer all is the same as the belief in God. For me, it really is. Sometimes my connection with God during a day is as simple as a hug from Sean or a phone call with one of my sisters. It's that warmth and love. That's God.

I liked Midnight Mass and the Catholicism for Dummies book only piqued my interest. I searched online more about the Catholic Church and found out that they had classes for people interested, called Inquiry. Six weeks of meeting with Catholics and asking them questions. I searched for a church that started these classes as soon as possible. I found St. Francis of Assisi Parish. Inquiry was awesome. They would answer any question I had and they answered the questions honestly but with some real world perspective. And that continued on as I decided to discern my joining the Catholic Church.

Every so often, I find myself hungry for more information, and I've turned to Catholic radio, EWTN, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic.com. I think the perspective found in those places mirrors what most people believe about Catholicism. But judging Catholicism by Catholic radio, by whatever the USCCB has said this week, is like thinking everyone in the United States has the same opinion as those on Fox News. Yes, watching Fox News can sometimes give you perspective or at least something to think (or get angry) about. And yes, a lot of Catholics are like the ones who share there perspective on Catholic radio, etc. But you only hear some parts of Catholicism emphasized by the USCCB, etc. I've had to dig deeper to find organizations like Catholics for Choice, news provided by National Catholic Reporter, and the Madeleva Lecture Series from St. Mary's College. It's not that these are anti-Catholic or "disobeying" the Vatican. It's that they emphasize different aspects of the Church, like social justice. The Catholic Church is not the Vatican. It's the people in the parishes. The hierarchy, the USCCB, and Catholic radio can be helpful but they are not the Church. When you hear or read something about the Catholic Church, pay attention to the messenger and know that regardless of where it comes from, it's only a piece of a large, rich religious tradition.

My faith story doesn't begin with a visit from an angel or the clouds parting and God announcing Her presence. God has already done that. It began with my community of loving people showing me a different way of seeing the world. Believing that love or God rules here and when we take part in that love and God's plan, the world gets better. I realized a few weeks ago that Jesus's conception was announced by an angel while Jesus's resurrection was announced by a woman. I've been thinking a lot about that. I believe now that Jesus is among us, angels are no longer God's messengers but we are messengers of love to each other. By becoming Catholic, I am taking on that discipleship for life. I am called to share God's love with my fellow human beings. I have a community and soon a partner for life to help me do this. That's a big piece of what becoming Catholic means to me and that's why I am called to the Catholic Church.


If time allows, I'll update my blog with thoughts as Easter Vigil approaches. It's nice to share what's been going on internally during these past few years.


One Hundred Days

In 100 days, I will be joining the Catholic Church. I am so incredibly excited.

I read this is in my Little Blue Advent and Christmas Book and it perfectly fits how I am feeling right now...
What makes the Church my home?
It's not a perfect place . . . but no place is.
There may be some painful memories . . . but there are in every family.
What makes the Church my home is hard to put into words. There is something deep inside calling me there, drawing me homeward.
To be more accurate, there is someone deep within calling me, and this is what makes the Church home. I am called by no less than God. Because of this call deep within, I sense that this is where I belong. It is home.
The call comes in many ways. It doesn't come just once, but keeps coming. Some people were originally called through their parents at baptism. Some were called when they got married. ...The call keeps coming and I am drawn to this Church by something deep within that tells me that God is calling me here. 
I have been feeling this pull, so strong it almost feels physical, to the Church the past few months. It's truly unlike anything I've ever felt before. It is this pull and the way God's love seems to have transformed so much in me that feeds my excitement.

Thank you, God.

One hundred days.