My parish, like many others in the Orlando Diocese and elsewhere, conducted the annual Catholic Charities Campaigns. Last week I reported that my parish’s assessment was around $550,000. It turns out I was wrong; the precise figure is around $650,000, or three-quarters of a million dollars. I must commend our pastor, however, for his unflappable and optimistic demeanor during the “Appeal portion” of our Mass. The presentation was delivered on video by Bishop Noonan, interspersed by many clips of ministry throughout the parishes. The video was not offensive or ham fisted in any way, though I had to chuckle from time to time because nearly all of the charitable ministries captured on tape featured good works presently funded by parishes from their respective operational funds. In addition, whenever it was humanly possible to put a nun in habit in the production, the opportunity was not missed. The habit may not make the monk, but it appears to make the bucks.
I digress here, but National Catholic Register is carrying a story about a major capital campaign, not an annual Catholic Charities appeal, that will probably have every pastor and every bishop in the country studying the Pittsburgh Diocese and its remarkable bishop, David Zubic.
But back to Mass last night. After the campaign appeal about fifteen persons of all ages were received into the Catholic Church and confirmed. All of these candidates were baptized in another Christian tradition. This was a new experience for me, as during my years as pastor we had included all of these folks in the Easter Vigil rites along with the unbaptized, though the rite marked a clear difference between the two groups. I definitely needed to research this. The USCCB site makes clear that the initiation of the previously baptized must maintain a separate identity from that of the unbaptized. Catholic Law recognizes the sacramental nature of baptism in any Christian Church that uses the Trinitarian formula (that is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) This certainly makes sense, but I wondered if there were was a unified national policy about when to receive the previously baptized. The USCCB was unclear; dioceses that discussed this issue on websites (and not very many did) expressed a preference for a Sunday reception rite not associated with the Easter Vigil. My guess is that the decision rests with the local bishop. However, those of you in ministry may want to check your local practice and if you have time, let me know what you find out by posting or email.
The occasion of the Easter Vigil and the Church initiations such as last night’s in my church always raises for me thoughts about the experiences of each candidate: what led them to our communion? While volumes could be written here, last night’s rites at least suggested that the conversion process is motivated by the local church as much as the universal one. The constant welcome of congenial pastors and associates, the enthusiasm of present members, family influence, spousal influence, the community’s good works, a healthy Catholic school where they exist—I believe these buttress the mysterious inner call to conversion and change.
The Catechism, in its opening chapters, makes the case that man can come to some kind of natural knowledge of God exclusive or prior to formal initiation; this assertion has been a staple of Catholic philosophy and theology since the earliest days. But the Church was born to put flesh and bones on these indescribable hungers of the human heart. This creates an added impetus for those of us, the baptized, to do all things well—in the church context, in the home, and in the public arena. Yes, we provide answers, but first and foremost we provide templates of Christian living. Perhaps this is a thought to take into Lent: how our personalities lead others to approach the saving waters of the Easter Vigil.