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9-BAPTISM

The joys of Catholic conversion should be shared

God is in the small things as well as big deals and major life events SALLY FRASER says

“I was going to say something,” says a little girl, maybe eight or nine years old. “It was about waiting, but I can’t remember.”

“Don’t worry,” says Fr Martin. “If you remember it just put your hand up or give me a shove.”

“I remember now,” she says. “I was painting my nails, and the nail polish was taking a long time to dry. So I prayed, and it dried much quicker.”

That’s perfect, we all say. That’s wonderful. Because as a group of adults we had gone around the room answering Fr Martin’s question: “How has God been for you over the last few months?”

I am tucking into my second slice of chocolate cake and thinking about how quickly time has gone since Easter. We are already having a cup of tea and a catch-up with our RCIA candidates, and it only seems two minutes since their Baptisms and Confirmations at the Easter Vigil. Or since I was standing in the chapel with them at the rehearsal, teaching them to join in the Litany of Saints.

“Now, if you tell me the names of your Confirmation saints I will sing them too,” I said. “But please don’t take that as an incentive to pick the saint with the longest name you can think of.”

As it turned out, ‘St Faustine Kolowska’ was a real mouthful, but it was worth it to stand round that font together, with everyone all eager eyes and excitement.

The whole experience was such a privilege. There can be few times in the Church where the spirit seems so visible, so in-your-face obvious as when new people join the Church as adults. I am very aware that we must support them without hijacking their journeys for our own needs, our own reassurance. But I wish more people could have the opportunity of sharing with people in the process of conversion.

Because after all it is not a process limited to a handful of people on a Thursday evening. I challenged myself lately to stop using the word convert to describe myself and I have noticed a real difference in my outlook, after all the relationship between the words we use to describe ourselves and our identities and attitudes runs deeper than we are generally aware.

It wasn’t so much because I wanted to move away from a ‘them and us’ type attitude, or to stop seeing myself or being seen as some kind of second-rate Catholic or the perpetual work experience kid, although that might have been part of it. But it was more that I felt the term implied some kind of completed process, a plateau, a cul-de-sac that doesn’t seem appropriate.

Because sitting stuffing my face on cake I am conscious that God has been new and exciting over the last months, and if I take part in next year’s RCIA he will be completely different for me again.

I see things completely differently than I did a year ago, and my prayer would be that my relationship with God has changed this much again by this year’s, that there will always be a newness to the spring that follows the winter; the Easter that bursts forth from the Lent.

We are all converting all the time, always turning, always learning more about God and ourselves. Although I am mindful that there is a difference between those who grew up with Faith and those who didn’t.

For myself, God has largely been in the good bits. As I look inside the cover of my first Bible I received in my 20s, I see I have scrawled Psalm 16 in biro pen: “He rescued me because He delights in me.”

I must be mindful that for so many people I spend time with, God did not step in—He was always there and may well have been in the bad bits as well as the good. Indeed, in the cases of so many people who had difficult experiences at Faith schools or with strict upbringing, He may be even seem intrinsically linked with their pain and suffering.

I must be sensitive to the fact that the loving God of my adulthood may be at odds with the stricter, more punitive one of many people’s childhoods, or the one that offers the strength for endurance rather than deliverance to places of safety.

My hope is that by sharing together the God of all our experiences will lead each of us to new places, new joys. Certainly, the older members of the RCIA team, the sponsors and leaders rather than the candidates, spoke of getting to know a kinder God, a gentle one, of one who could be prayed to on bus journeys (the number 49 in particular). And that is the kind of everyday God I might enjoy finding more about.

A God who doesn’t just turn up for the big deals and the major life events, but doesn’t mind helping your nail varnish dry a little quicker; a God who is just happy to be held close.

– Sally Fraser is a pastoral associate at St Mary’s Star of the Sea in Leith, Edinburgh. She converted to Catholicism in her 20s and is married with two small children.

 

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