Easter 2018 will always be the most memorable. I was confirmed into the Catholic faith that I have practiced in a limited way many years. At St. Benedict Church in Anchorage, my best friend since childhood, Dotty Arima, stood with me as my sponsor at the end of our six-month journey.
Like others gathered before the altar from our Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults class, the months had built profound closeness between candidate and sponsor. Some were there to enter the church for the first time. Others were there after years away from their early faith. I was there because I didn’t want to continue to abstain from Holy Communion. As a marginal “Catholic,” I had loved the rituals at Gonzaga University where I graduated. At weddings and funerals for Dotty’s family members, I experienced my first glimpses into the mysterious, ancient church. My reasons for not entering the church felt small, by comparison.
At the Easter vigil, when Father Tom Lilly traced the cross on my forehead in chrism oil, Dotty and I had experienced so many turns in this mysterious church. Our faith had deepened. Since we grew up together in the Jewel Lake area — just blocks apart — being at Dotty’s childhood parish, St. Benedict’s, felt like home.
Yet, my initial exposure to religion wasn’t a positive one. My family attended a fundamentalist church where a preacher’s face turned red as he spoke (or yelled) at the congregation. I recall crying in my mother’s lap. It felt traumatic to go to church, not because of the words spoken but because of the visual impression, watching the preacher’s angry face.
Eventually I didn’t go to church or want to hear about the God to whom I’d been introduced. Being on the Catholic sidelines was comfortable. Through the decades I attended Mass but not regularly. I memorized prayers but not many. I wrote Catholic stories and interviewed priests, parishioners and students for Catholic publications, all as an outsider. But I was definitely more stirred than when I was covering events for other secular newspapers I worked for at the time.
In joining RCIA I knew I had much to learn. I kept thinking I needed to read more about particular topics. What is faith? What are the steps to grow spiritually closer to God? What does it mean to be Catholic in respect to specific beliefs on marriage, daily actions, political matters?
But I didn’t want to read to figure it out. I caught myself setting aside half-read chapters. Father Robert Whitney’s talks to our class, topics broached by RCIA directors Marci Adkins and David Mitchell, were hitting me where my spirit — not my mind — lived. The far-ranging talks etched meaning and purpose in my growing realization that this was the path I’d always craved.
Attending Mass as often as we could supplied other ways of learning the faith. Mass struck me as the sum total of a million important pieces — the priest raising the host over his head, each careful bow before the altar, the joy of giving peace to fellow parishioners.
Finally, on Easter, I felt good for reasons that are difficult to communicate. I had carried out a commitment made the previous year to enjoy, more fully, the church that had given me joy for a long time now. Doing this in our childhood neighborhood, with my best friend of 42 years still at my side, felt Catholic somehow. Layers upon layers of meaning are wrapped in the Easter Vigil of March 31, 2018.