Last Sunday at the 12 o’clock Mass we celebrated the Rite of Acceptance in the RCIA programme (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and welcomed three people from Yaoundé in the Republic of Cameroon into the order of Catechumens, which means that next Easter, after a journey of exploring and deepening faith, they hope to celebrate their initiation into the Christian faith through Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. When I spoke to them before Mass they seemed a little frightened and nervous, but I’m told by their catechists and sponsors that when they were sent forth from the church, after being signed with the sign of the cross; sharing with us at the table of God’s Word, being presented with the symbols of their journey – a bible, a catechism and a crucifix - and also having been given a very warm welcome by the congregation, they were just beaming with joy and enthusiasm.
I’ve made this journey with people a few times before, once in Prestonpans with a lovely group of Scots ladies, and twice in Mount Argus in Dublin. The first of the Mount Argus journeys was with a beautiful girl from Hungary and a widowed lady from Australia who ended up marrying her sponsor. They settled in Australia and the record of their marriage directly led to the sponsor connecting with a sister he never knew he had, both of them having been adopted in infancy. It was an extraordinary turn of events that brought untold joy to both of them. Whether God’s ways are just mysterious, or God was writing straight with crooked lines, I just never cease to be amazed by the workings of Divine Providence.
The second Mount Argus journey was with a group of 21 people from China. My Chinese is a bit dodgy so I had to work closely with a Chinese chaplain and a Chinese catechist. The catechist had spent 27 years in jail in China for refusing to recant her Catholic faith and she said they were the happiest 27 years of her life because she had absolutely no crisis of identity; she knew exactly who she was; she was a witness for Christ, and every day when she was questioned, and even tortured, was another opportunity to bear witness, and she would gladly have given up her life for Christ if that was what was required. She was the most extraordinary, wonderful lady, and I feel very privileged to have known her, and very humbled still when I think of what she suffered for her faith. The spectacle on the altar at that Easter Vigil when 21 people, together with their sponsors, filled the whole sanctuary to receive the Sacraments of Initiation, was one that I, and all who were there, will never forget.
I think we cradle Catholics need to be reminded sometimes of just how beautiful and wonderful our Catholic Faith is, and even how beautiful and wonderful our Catholic Church is, for all its human frailties. I have never found this better expressed than in the words below from the Italian monk, the late Carlo Carretto, a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus:
“How much I must criticise you, my Church, and yet how much I love you. You have made me suffer more than anyone, and yet I owe you more than anyone. I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal, and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure; more generous, and more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face, and yet every night I have prayed that I might die in your arms. No, I cannot be free of you, for I am with you, even if not completely you. Then too…where would I go? To build another Church? But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects; and again, if I were to build another Church, it would be my Church, not Christ’s Church. No, I am old enough. I know better.”