I extend a very happy “Welcome Home” to all those who will be received into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Saturday evening. As an RCIA team member, I have listened to the emotions of new Catholics, after the Vigil, as they recalled making their first Eucharist. In them there is one feeling, unmistakable and common to them all: joy, often to the point of tears that would not be refused. I have not met, in my years working with RCIA and after, the Catholic convert who does not experience that same joy. Nor have I met the convert who, even after many years, does not get a glimmer of that same joy in their eyes when recalling their own conversion story.
When I received the Eucharist for the first time, a brand-new convert, on April 23, 2011, I had no clue what I should pray when I returned to my pew to kneel. I had heard the stories of converts who broke down in tears of joy; I had heard the stories of converts who had gotten lost in profound meditation. But at the moment I had no tears nor profound meditations; I merely gave in to the irresistible urge to whisper “Thank you” over and over again. I think it was Meister Eckhart who said, “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is Thank you, that is enough.” So I trust that my first prayer as a Catholic was enough.
For a while afterward, whenever I would return to my pew after receiving the Eucharist, I would have no specific prayer, but I would meditate on Galatians 2:20: “Now it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” I didn’t realize it at first, but it struck me eventually that there is a great deal of Eucharistic theology in those words of St. Paul’s. St. Paul understood the Real Presence.
So I say it as well to those converts new to the Catholic Church this year: Easter Vigil, and the days and weeks and months after it, will forever be an unforgettable peak experience in your Catholic life. You have come a long way, and many of you have sacrificed greatly, to be where you are now. It is right, it is fitting, it is proper, to have the joy that you now have. It is right to give way to tears when you take Communion. It is right to look forward to the shivers of being enthralled by the Real Presence. Take this peak experience, as long as you have it, for the gift from Christ that it is.
God’s blessings, new Catholics, on being received into the fullness of the faith.
But permit me to caution you. Though your Catholic life is new, and just now on the mountaintop, your Catholic life and faith will not be sustained there. The shivers go away. The fire gets dimmer. You return from the mountaintop to the flatlands. In a very important sense, it is right that this happens; for otherwise, your persistence as a Catholic would depend on your feelings at any given moment. And the Church is not about feelings but about Truth. Feelings come and go, and come again, and go again. But only truth is lasting. It is truth that must sustain you.
Well, look. If you think it is about your feelings, then what are you going to do when all of a sudden the homilies are boring? Or when Fr. Soandso says something in the confessional that grates you? Or when—as inevitably does happen—you return to your pew after the Eucharist and can only think, “Well, here I am”? These disappointments can—unless your eye remains firmly fixed on truth—ultimately ruin your Catholic life.
But I hope that none of you have become Catholic because it feels good, or satisfies some emotional need, or because it is convenient, or helps you accomplish some goal. I hope you have become Catholic because the Catholic Church alone possesses the fullness of truth. Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft put it best, starting with a quotation of C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity:
“Above all you must be asking which door is the true one, not which pleases you best. The question should never be, Do I like that kind of service? but, Are these doctrines true? Is there holiness here? Does my conscience move me toward this?” Now, that’s very simple, but that’s the essential advice to give in making any honest choice. There’s only one reason why anybody should honestly believe anything: because it’s true. If you think differently than that, let’s get that settled before we do anything else.
If I would impress anything upon your minds, it would be that Truth alone matters, and Truth is not an emotion (however beautiful it may be) but a Person. When everything else has gone, it is Truth alone—it is Christ alone—that will sustain you. Here is the fundamental difference between the Catholic Church you have just joined, and all the tens of thousands of other Christian ecclesial communities: The rest talk about Christ; but the Catholic Church has Christ. For He is present in the Eucharistic sacrament, and you may encounter Him there, every day if you like.
The Real Presence matters. It is the one thing that sets us most apart. When the good feelings and the peak experience start to fade, find refuge in the sacrament. Find refuge in the Eucharist; find refuge in Adoration. These aren’t magic bullets that will suddenly make you feel a surge of euphoria, but they will keep you focused on the one thing that matters: Truth; for Christ is Truth.
Euphoria does come. But I have learned in my five years as a Catholic that it is unpredictable, and comes and goes without warning. I am grateful for the euphoria when it comes. But I can not, I must not, rely on it. In Christ alone is the Truth that will sustain us through the ebb and flow of our unpredictable feelings.
So here then, to all the new converts to the Catholic Church, is my prayer for you: May truth always sustain you.
Welcome home, dear brothers and sisters.