JoyceGan1.jpgJoyce Gan, 26, was baptised in 2004. She is determined that the fire that has been lit will not die out. Here's what she is doing about it.

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Right, Joyce Gan (right in photo) was baptised at Church of the Holy Spirit on Easter 2004. "I felt my soul being torched with my baptism," she said of the event. "That fire gave me vigour I never knew I had and spurred me on to give much more than I thought I could."

I CELEBRATED MY second birthday as a Catholic on Apr 10. I was born through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) at the Church of the Holy Spirit two years ago and to it I returned as a sponsor after my baptism. My celebration this Easter will be filled with thanksgiving, not just for being a Catholic but for still being a passionate one.

God answered my prayer to continue to be "on fire" by giving me the RCIA as fuel for that flame. Being "on fire" doesn't remove the many obstacles that fall a new Catholic's way though. My faith, and that of many converts, is hard-earned.

Many of us come to the RCIA lost and unsure of what it is we may even be searching for. To open ourselves up to strangers requires a lot of trust and courage. To stay on course towards the waters of baptism requires even more effort. The temptations for a catechumen to leave are many and they range from unforeseen problems that crop up in your life to reasons that seem perfectly justifiable to keep you from following through with the RCIA.

Lest I frighten away potential sponsors and would-be Catholics, let me state this - a true convert's faith, because it is hard-earned, will be deeply treasured above many other things in life. And it is well worth the effort. Which is why, for me, there is no way that I will give it up so easily, not before I have done everything I can to hold on to it.

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Reality bites

As a catechumen, I was protected and sheltered. All I saw were the beautiful things about church and the Catholic faith. As a sponsor, I grew a hundred times. I learnt how difficult it is to serve in church without facing politics that exist with any working relationship but my faith

deepened in more ways than I could imagine by giving as much as I could - and to have nothing work out according to plan, feeling lost and helpless only to witness how God puts everything right.

Converts who do not choose to serve may find themselves in a predicament once they are "let out" into the real world where even church-going Catholics can prove to be less than charitable sometimes. Not only are they left to fend for themselves, they may perhaps feel a little disillusioned because the problems come from within church.

However, someone who serves will realise that accepting obstacles allows him to witness how God works through them. If only regular Catholics knew how fearful new Catholics can feel in spite of the fire within them, they would treat them more tenderly and, together, "cradle Catholics" and new converts can work to bring the passion of being a Catholic to new  heights.

Doubting Thomases

If I feel any discouragement, it is more because of sponsors than because of catechumens. Catechumens come to RCIA armed with questions and doubts, which is perfectly reasonable. Some of them question with a need for a better understanding of the faith while others pose their questions as challenges to the religion. Some, like me, just needed to understand the reason for suffering in the world. They aren't the doubting Thomases.

Sponsors who question the need for certain processes in an RCIA journey are. There are many rites and events peppered throughout one RCIA journey, all to deepen a catechumen's faith by giving them avenues to reflect and attest to this Catholic faith. Sponsors are needed to encourage the catechumens to look beyond their fears and doubts rather than to question the significance of it.

The doubting Thomases are also the ones who make careless remarks about the way things work but fail to lend their hands in righting what may be wrong. Often, they do not realise how discouraging their careless remarks can be to people who strive to serve. Preparing for the happenings on a journey is not easy work and it still surprises me how, by and large, such a variety of people can come together and work together with no thought for personal recognition.

How is it we try to make our schedules fit around RCIA, to "sacrifice" our weekend fun and rest to do church work? There is really no big reason to why I serve - it's simply a matter of returning a love that has bestowed me with so many gifts. One of the greatest is peace - a peace that the world cannot give. What, then, can I not give in exchange for this peace?

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Journey of faith

On hindsight, it is so obvious that God had paved a path that led me to him all along. Even though my faith in God had been cemented through a friend's passing away at the age of 15, it took me another seven years, more than two of those spent in weekly Masses, that finally led me to the RCIA.

It really started from the moment I felt a desire to receive Communion so strongly during one Sunday Mass that I actually considered cheating my way into the queue that finally helped me to acknowledge God's soft prompting that it is time I considered the RCIA.

I learnt to trust God on the journey to know that things may get tough but never tough enough to break me if I had God with me. I had also learnt to recognise God's will for me in the last two years. The rule of thumb for me is that, if it is God's will, you will know it.

Last year, several friends of mine noticed CatholicNews needed a writer and because it was several of them who prompted me to, I felt there might be something here in store for me. Up till the day I was confirmed for this position, there were still doubts lingering in my mind. So I checked in with God and I suddenly remembered that I had asked him to let this go through smoothly if it was meant for me. Indeed, this had gone through incredibly smoothly.

What other answer can I have than 'yes'? And as with all of God's plans for me, this turned out to be a wonderful gift too.

My family in Christ

Of course, there are times when I seem to have lost sight of God, and this is when he comes to me in exactly the ways I need him, without me even having a clue as to what I need. Simple, everyday occurrences that don't mean anything to anyone else becomes the exact reassurance that I need at exactly that moment. Often, it comes through my fellow journey-ers on the RCIA. Perhaps herein lies the crux of the magic of this ministry.

We are a community. Having gone through the trials of a journey together, and having cried, sweated and bled together, it is difficult not to be bonded to one another. These fellow journey-ers are friends whom I have not expected to meet or to make, who have grown to be the only family in faith I have.

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My parents are Buddhists and they have surprisingly been most supportive in my choice to be a Catholic. But they will never be able to fully comprehend why their daughter serves at church at the expense of her own time and rest. Only this Catholic family I have understands it.

When I am lost, I just have to look around me to be inspired to carry on. To be there to encourage my friends when they are shaken in faith stands as a powerful reminder of why I believe.

Admittedly, there are times when I am pensive about how my entire faith journey has come to be but most times it just cannot get any better. I have found the journey of my life. I know that because of the peace that lingers in me even during my weakest moments and the joy I feel - one that is completely pure.

I wish the parish community understands how our ministry needs their prayers a little better. Sharing our faith is not easy for either sponsors or catechumens, especially when faced with resistance and challenges to our beliefs. Remaining faithful to God while serving is harder still because I find it extremely easy to slip and to do what I think is best, without checking in with God to find out what he thinks.

Ultimately, nurturing new Catholics is not only the RCIA's job but the entire parish's. So I ask for prayers for the Catholics-to-be, that they may grow strong in their faith as the journeys progress and that we may all continue to be faithful to God in service and in our lives. For me, the fire may burn out someday, but it won't be any day I can foresee. Because although the journeys have not been easy, nothing else has been more rewarding than to witness the joy and bliss on the neophytes' faces as they step out of the baptismal font or to experience all the rejuvenation I need from their transformation.

I hold on to the one moment that still brings a lump to my throat each time I think of it. I had helped out with the coordination at last Easter's baptism and it was an extremely stressful period. I remember standing at the back of the pews, watching the new Catholics process in, all dressed in their nice, white outfits when suddenly the exhaustion kicked in. I gripped the pews and told myself to hold on for a few more hours.

Then the priests went around to don the neophytes in their baptismal garments. Right there, right then, in that one moment, my weariness vanished. I broke down and to this day, whenever I find myself faltering, I hold on dearly to that moment when my thought was so startlingly clear and honest, "It is all worth it".

New RCIA journeys at various parishes will begin soon. Invite someone you know to join in the journey, and be a sponsor. I will again be there to accompany those journeying at the Holy Spirit parish from May 18. Come and See!

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