By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — When it comes to evangelization, there are very few, if any, things better than a welcoming parish.
Garrett and Lynn Smith had tried other Christian churches in their search for a spiritual home for their growing family. Then they went to Mass at St. Thomas More Parish in Kansas City.
“I feel at home there,” said Lynn, who is expecting twins to join the couple’s two children, Jaxson, 6, and Kaelee, 5. “I didn’t feel like an outcast.”
“From the first day we went there, you were so not an outcast,” Garrett added. “We didn’t feel judged there. So many people came up to us to welcome us.”
The Smiths were among 240 candidates and 231 catechumens who were registered for one of the three Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion liturgies, two on March 12 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, and one March 13 at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in St. Joseph.
Candidates are those who have been baptized into another Christian denomination that recognizes the trinity of God — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They will be confirmed and receive the Eucharist at Easter Vigil in their new parish communities.
Catechumens are those who haven’t been baptized. They will receive Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist at Easter Vigil.
The Smiths said that the warm welcome they received at St. Thomas More Parish encouraged them to come back. As they learned more about the Catholic Church, they knew they were home.
Garrett said that his paternal grandparents were Catholic. When he was growing up in Nebraska, the Catholic Church was the only church he attended and that prompted he and Lynn to give St. Thomas More a try.
As they learned more about the Catholic faith, they knew they had found the spiritual home for themselves and for their children.
Garrett said he was especially drawn into the church’s liturgical seasons — Lent, Easter time, Ordinary time, Advent and Christmas.
“It’s not just Christmas and Easter,” he said. “We want to raise our children in an environment where we can celebrate Jesus year-round. We believe the Catholic faith is the best to do that.”
“I love the pageantry of it all,” Lynn said. “There is always a purpose for the whole thing, for everything that is done.”
Every candidate and catechumen is seeking full communion with the Catholic Church for their own reasons.
Sixteen-year-old Sierra Bixler said it was the example set by her parents, Christina and Frank, who went through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and were received into the church last year at St. John LaLande Parish in Blue Springs.
Set on spiritual fire by that experience, her parents volunteered this year to do it all over again as members of the parish’s RCIA team. They brought Sierra along without pressuring her to commit.
“I was going because I had to at first,” she said. “Then I decided I wanted to.”
Even though she was young, the RCIA team at St. John LaLande quickly made her part of the group.
“It was more friendly that I thought it would be,” she said.
Sierra said she quickly embraced the teachings of the church, especially the teachings that she will soon be in communion with a tradition that spans centuries, and with all the faithful living and dead.
“I like what the Catholic Church teaches, and I like the idea of the whole Body of Christ,” she said.
One of the most common reasons for a catechumen or candidate to seek full communion with the Catholic Church is a Catholic spouse and children who are raised in the faith.
Beaming with pride, Lori Stark held tight to husband David’s arm throughout the Rite of Election liturgy. It had taken David 23 years of marriage and two teen-aged children before he responded to God’s call to join his family in one faith tradition.
“I’m doing it to be close to God and to participate in the faith of my family,” David said. “I had to do it for myself, and it just took me this long.”
Lori said she couldn’t be more proud.
“It’s the last piece of our relationship that we can share together,” she said.
In his homily just before the catechumens signed the Book of Elect and he greeted both catechumens and candidates individually, Bishop Robert W. Finn said it was a “blessing to have so many called by Almighty God” that it required three Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion liturgies to welcome them all.
He reminded them that as they are entering into the fullness of communion with the Catholic Church, those who are entering from another Christian tradition are leaving nothing behind.
“Know that the gift of faith you received at Baptism is not discarded or diminished by your entrance into the Catholic Churh,” Bishop Finn said. “The faith that has been given to you by your parents, family, teachers and friends is a great gift for which we are all thankful. It will only be deepened as you take the next step on the journey by which Christ calls you to a fuller communion with himself.”
Bishop Finn urged all who will be received into full communion to accept the gifts of the sacraments that Christ gave to the faithful.
The catechumens will be cleansed in the waters of Baptism. The catechumens and candidates will be filled with the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. And all will receive the Eucharist for the first time at Easter Vigil.
It is exactly what Christ wanted for his faithful as he gave up his life on the cross for the salvation of humanity.
“He comes to us. He gives himself to us,” Bishop Finn said. “He longs for an ever-deeper relationship with each of you. He calls us and invites us to put all our trust in him.”
Like the parable of the branches and the vine heard in the Gospel reading for the liturgy, those who are cut off from Christ will wither and die, Bishop Finn said.
“Connected in a lifeline to him, we not only live, we can begin to bear fruit that will last,” Bishop Finn said.
“Your deeper longing for Christ has brought you to this time of preparation and instruction,” the bishop said.
“You will receive the most intimate gift Christ gave us on this earth,” he said. “You will partake of his body and blood in the Holy Eucharist.”
And, as Catholics, they will be bonded to a communion of saints through the ages who will intercede for them in heaven.
But most of all, as members of the Body of Christ, they will be bonded to Mary, the Mother of God.
“I pray that you come to see in Mary, the poor virgin of Nazareth, a great friend, a consoling mother and a patient and loving teacher,” Bishop Finn said. Mary will pray for us, as Catholics ask in prayer, at the two critical moments of life — “now and at the hour of our death.”
“Christ calls you to the fullness of life in his one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church,” he said. “May God who has begun a great work in you bring it to fulfillment.”