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Evansville, Indiana
January 8, 1988     The Message
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January 8, 1988

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2 Faitt Today Supplement, The Message, Catholic Diocese of Evansville, January 8, 188 First steps By Father David K. O'Rourke, OP NC New8 Service or man)' years I have V been a part of people's entry into the church. Like many priests I have followed up on that first, casual comment or answered the first phone call or responded to a timid knock on the door that seems to be a part of many an adult conversion. What is going on in their lives when they make that first contact? Because the answers vary so much I want to respond by describing two quite different people and what they seemed to be going through. In every situation, what I have witnessed is as personal and in- dividual as the people themselves. I I I I Maddy came to see me because she wanted to have her new baby baptized. She was not Catholic but her husband's family was nominally Catholic. "And he would like his little boy baptized," l commented. "I guess so," she said. "But I'm the one who really wants it. I think that I want to become a Catholic myself." Then she looked at me and burst into tears that quickly became sobs. "I've been through a lot," she said by way of explanation after she regained her composure. She went on to describe a troubled past she'd suffered much physical abuse growing up -- that had left many human wounds. "So," she concluded, still in tears, "I want to become a Catholic." IIIIIIIIII 1 think she wanted to put that past behind her and develop a per- sonal wholeness that would somehow equip her to take care of her new family. But that is inter- pretation on my part. All I knew was that there was a baby, a woman in pain and in tears, and a request for baptism. Jack came to see me because he wanted to marry a Catholic girl. He was a quiet, scholarly individual who was married before. Though Jack was not a Catholic, he was obviously Well versed in the teachings of the church. For him, religion had been on a back burner since his early teen-age years. His life and his first marriage had been typically non-religious. But the prospect of a possible marriage to a strong Catholic re- quired that he make sense of his first marriage and come to terms with his own faith or lack of it. Religious matters could no longer be ignored. Sleeping questions were going to have to be answered. As we were looking into his mar- riage situation he told me that he wanted to become a Catholic. What I've provided here are some details from the lives of two people whose situations, with in- dividual variations, are repeated over and over. In each case. the person seems to reach a turning point. Something has to change. But what was going on deeper in the lives of each of these people? I don't know. I suspect that, pushed for an explanation, they might not know either. We all agreed that their request was authentic. Their faith, while still taking shape, was real. But more than that we could not explain. People like Jack and Maddy come to the church for their own reasons. Why did Jack become a Catholic rather than settle for an annulment that would allow him to marry a Catholic? Why did Maddy enter the church rather than just have her children baptized? I don't know. But in the Catholic tradition we don't need to explain conversion. The church offers Christ's hospitali- ty and provides a ritual of welcome and an open door. Jack and Maddy are only two ex- amples of people who reached that point at which conversion occurs. I know other people who made their first steps toward the church for reasons as varied as a wedding,kJmon, a TV movie and the example of a kind Catholic family. But no matter where the in- dividual begins, what the church seeks is to turn those tentative steps into a lifelong pilgrimage. (Father O'Rourke teaches pastoral theology at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.) By Jane Wolford Hughes NC News Service T he hall was empty after the retreat except for a young woman rummag- ing through her bag. I knew she was stalling for time to see me alone. Finally she approached me and haltingly explained that she sometimes felt very distant from Jesus. "If he is the vine and I'm a branch, I don't feel connected. What can I do? Where do I21d him?" The woman said that when times are bad, she turned to Jesus "to beg or blame. When things are really super, I sometimes thank him but most of the time I'm too busy celebrating my good fortune. My consciousness of his voice is muffl- ed by so many other sounds." She and I sat sipping the last of . the decaf and talked about the common human experience of searching for and discovering God. 1 tried to tell her stories to s .h her that she was not alone in lier discomfort, that other people also go through a similar process, often again and again. Steve and MiUie are such a cou- ple. They had reached a point in their faith life which felt like a long winter with no sign of spring. They admitted that listening to the Sun- day Scripture readings was like sit- 'Our he By Father John Castelot NC News Service aul was in jail again. p this time at Philippi. During the night a severe earthquake, quiT common in that region, made a shambles of the prison. "All the doors flew open and the chains of all were pulled loose" (Acts 16:26). The jailer was terrified. If the prisoners escaped he would be held responsible, earthquake or no earthquake. In a panic, 'he grabbed his sword and made as if to com- mit suicide. Paul, however, shouted at him, "Do no harm to yourself; we are all here'" (Acts 16:28).  The disciples' integrity so inl- pressed the jailer that he was mov- ed to ask, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Then Paul "spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his-house" (Acts 16:30,33). The point of the incident is that people are motivated to learn more about God and Christ for many dif- ferent reasons, and not just when disaster strikes. The jailer did not turn to Paul to I III I I II ! ? / 00!:ii00:;?i!iii?:00ii!iii:iii!00il;00i00:00il 7 ..... ..... : L