Rediscovering Catholicism

Even on the cross, at the hour of death, Jesus’ last words to different people, focused on relationships — forgiveness, love, ensuring continuity of familial bonds, and mostly very human in nature.

Apr 04, 2024

Elect being prayed over during their retreat.

On the fence - Jacelyn Johnson

So, a couple of years ago, me, the ‘hanging-in-there-Catholic,’ met this amazing ‘I’m-Methodist-but-haven’t-gone-to-church-in-20-years-but-my-parents-are-pastors’ kind of man — and we hit it off pretty well, to the point that we got married a year later.

The whole religious (rather denomination) beliefs did not strike a nerve with either side of our staunchly religious families — perhaps because of our wildly old age, there was a nonchalant attitude that something was better than nothing. His dad told us, “as long as you believe in Jesus Christ, it is fine,” so we left it at that, and we had a beautiful Catholic church wedding service.

Throughout our relationship, the topic of either converting to the other denomination was never a point of contention or conversation. I have never once asked my husband to become Catholic, as I definitely did not want to be asked to consider becoming Methodist.

We were both not wildly religious, but my husband was very well versed in Scripture, as he was brought up with the practice of daily Scripture reading. He is more of a spiritual person, and rather knowledgeable about the beliefs and practices of various world religions, particularly Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. He was not a fan of worship sessions, or Sunday service, so he just never went to church, but he did bring with him the practice of saying grace before meals.

I, on the other hand, was simply ‘culturally Catholic.’ I started going to church more often after getting married, mostly because my mom would make plans to meet in church for Mass, or because I had to accompany her to church, or she wanted me to take her for all the feast days in random churches, and we would make a trip out of it. My husband had the option to not come along, but he always chose to come with me. Through this, he got acquainted and accustomed to the Catholic Church, and was rather fascinated with it — he enjoyed the choir singing, and was particularly enthralled when the priest sang the Gregorian order of Mass. He was quite sceptical about all the saints, probably still is, but the whole Mass just taking one hour took the cake.

After every Mass, my husband’s biggest grump was about not being able to receive Holy Communion. He hated that he was not part of this exclusive ‘membership’ as he often put it. He even took personal offence with the projector showing ‘Only baptised and practising Catholics are allowed to receive Communion.’ Apparently, all are welcome to receive Holy Communion at the Methodist church, as there is no consecration. My mom would tell him that he would have to go for this thing called RCIA if he wanted to receive Holy Communion, and I would always brush it off.

Unbeknownst to me, one day, when we had a random dinner with a priest on a Friday night, he just asked the priest —how to become Catholic. And the priest, knowing my husband, just said come join us this weekend, and see how you feel. We went. We were half an hour late for our first class, but we made it, and since then, my husband did not miss a single class.

Through this whole journey, I was still sceptical of what would enfold, because, to me, if at any point he did not feel like it, we would not have to continue. Of course, in my mind, it was him just doing this for me — and I strongly did not want that. But, to my surprise, my husband enjoyed every single class, engaging, questioning and was just excited for each week. And astonishingly, I was enjoying this journey with him, and I probably learnt so much more in these six months, than I have learnt in 10 years of catechism — I mean, I was even a catechist for many years.

My biggest takeaway from this journey was at our RCIA retreat, where the theme centred around the seven last words of Jesus:

To God: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”

To the good thief: “... today, you will be with me in paradise,”

To Mary, his mother: “Woman, behold your son,” and to John: “Behold your mother,”

To God, His father: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

To all: “I am thirsty,”

To the world: “It is finished,”

To God: “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.”

Even on the cross, at the hour of death, Jesus’ last words to different people, focused on relationships — forgiveness, love, ensuring continuity of familial bonds, and mostly very human in nature. As I sat through the day-long session — I pondered on these words and sharing by the facilitators as well as group sharings with the catechumens, it occurred to me that the Catholic Church’s focus and concentration on the importance of family and relationships is what makes a difference to all who chose to come and chose to believe — it is the cornerstone of the Church’s teachings. Yes, it took people who are not yet Catholic to show me what being Catholic is all about.

It was humbling to see and hear of how many are broken inside, and long for a sense of belonging, they thirst for a sense of familial love, ego and pride disguise their sense of humility, and above all, forgiveness — forgiving others, and learning to forgive yourself is an unfamiliar and distant concept to many.

It is a common understanding that Catholics are just not as well versed in their Bibles compared to our Protestant friends, and our formed prayers are pretty structured and repetitive as opposed to free-flowing thoughts. But does this matter? I learnt, rather realised that day, that as a Catholic, the focus is on being Church, being family, being that brother or sister to that next person - and being the embodiment of ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself,’ — and I am pretty proud to be Catholic.

The RCIA journey is not the end, but the beginning of being practising Catholic, and it is a challenge I take on, at least to be that example to my husband, as he begins his newfound ‘membership.’

(Jacelyn Johnson enjoys the occasional religious discourse and says it as it is, in an attempt to diffuse stereotypical observations.)

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