Start with Prayer

By Harry Baker

On Holy Saturday at the Easter vigil 8th April 2023 the anticipation by night of the resurrection, we had, what appeared to be a bonfire blazing inside the front entrance foyer of St Hilda’s Church.

What health & safety would have made of this I’m not quite sure. The church was in complete darkness, illuminated only by the glow from the fire and hand held candles.

To say it was atmospheric would be an understatement.

Three great symbols introduce the Vigil Mass: the blessing of the new fire and the Paschal Candle lit from it; the blessing of the baptismal font; and as climax to the Vigil liturgy, the baptism of converts and infants, with the renewal of our own baptismal vows. Pius Parsch tells us that it was Saint Patrick who christianised the age-old Irish custom of holding a fire service on the hill of Tara at the first full moon of spring. Brought to Rome by Irish monks, this custom of blessing the fire on Holy Saturday then spread throughout the Western Church.

The Paschal Candle, or Lumen Christi, is a figure of Christ, its five grains of incense symbolizing our Saviour’s transfigured wounds. The Candle is lit from the Easter fire, blessed and carried in procession through the dark church to the sanctuary where the glorious Exsultet, remembered for its lyric beauty, is sung to announce the mystery of this holy night and the resurrection of our Saviour.

Next, the baptismal font is blessed and the Lumen Christi is plunged into it. Then comes the baptism of converts and sometimes of infants, and the renewal of our own baptismal promises to quicken the grace of that sacrament in our souls. The Vigil Mass is then celebrated, heralding the full glory of the feast day on Resurrection morning.

The pews inside the church were taken by friends family & congregation and what I could see, closer up than most, was joy and anticipation of being welcomed into full communion with the Catholic church after, in some cases, a lifetime of indecision and in all cases weeks & months of preparation.

One catechumen to be baptised and four candidates would confirm their faith and enter into full communion for the first time that night.

Everyone’s sojourn is different, but for me, the Easter vigil was more a beginning than an end, it has been a trial of grace. I was brought up a Christian in an Anglican Church school in London, however, church attendance for me had lapsed & I did not envisage church becoming an important part of my life again.

I have, however, maintained a keen interest in matters of the spirit & explored spiritual growth through other philosophies & spiritual disciplines. I find similarities and truth within all spiritual paths, religions & faiths.

To become Catholic was not something I planned or even considered. I had never in my life set foot inside a Catholic church until 3 years ago. But at Easter 2020, at the beginning of lockdown & after a series of life changing circumstances I came into contact with a Catholic priest (Fr Pat Keogh) while walking on the west cliff in Whitby. He handed me his business card.

The churches were all closed due to social distancing restrictions but through this apparently chance meeting I gradually I felt myself drawn towards the catholic faith & three years later at Easter again, I stand at the doorway of a new spiritual life and confirmation of my Christian baptism & faith.

Pray constantly

You may be more primed for prayer right now, but the eagerness can wear off. Even then, St. Paul does not let us off the hook from praying without ceasing. Prayer is the start of an honest Christian life.

Memorize prayers. People don’t memorize much anymore, can you even remember a phone number? The effort here is worth it. Aim for 10. Some obvious ones, some short, some long; some joyful, some penitential. Add some hymns to that as well. Then recite them to God and yourself whenever you can, when you are walking or waiting with the kind of devotion that is sanity in God’s eyes.

Also, pray your own words. Catholics can be bad at this. We rely so much on official liturgies that we do not practice speaking with God ourselves. Do it alone, with friends and in public. Make sure that if someone needs you to pray with them for what they need in that moment, you know how.

I start with prayer because, trust me, you are going to need it.

The church, as Pope Francis put it, is a “hospital for sinners.” Being a Catholic, including a Catholic priest, does not make anyone good. You will see lots and lots of evidence of this. Christianity is a way of declaring we want to be more worthy of what we know we will never deserve in this life. It is a commitment to strive after holiness and to help others do the same. Have no illusions. Hospitals are full of sick people.

There are living saints among us in this church. They are not perfect either. Find them, accept their peccadilloes, learn from them, and walk away if you need to. You will probably find them in places you least expect.

There are many churches in one

What makes the Catholic Church catholic that is, universal, is its ability to hold together diverse cultures and diverse ways of being Christian. Among them all, find the communities and charisms that call you, that suit your talents and challenge your shortcomings. You might find your calling in the church, for instance, through a particular religious order or through a lay movement or through a way of praying or a way of serving. Make sure it is a path that is in full communion with the Catholic, of course, but do not be scared away by who think there is only one kind of true Catholic.

When you find your place and your people, do not forget about the rest. If you feel at home in a certain small group, go to Mass with people of many groups. If one church seems to speak your language, go from time to time to one where a different language is spoken.

Through our small-c catholicism, God teaches us about God. Sometimes God comes to us as familiar and tender, but God is also the truth that feels strange and foreign while being no less true.

Honour different paths, in the church and in yourself

As you find your place in the church, also be prepared to honor the ways of others. If you feel tempted to denounce some order or path within the church, consider what purposes it serves. Consider how it travels to people and places where your path does not go. One reason for this kind of forbearance is that you never know how your life will redirect your calling.

Argue in charity

Some Christian communities encounter disagreement, this means we have to create spaces where debate and argument can persist without tearing us apart.

We are a family, and families need to argue so the truth can come through. Some of the greatest saints, people now portrayed as benign servants of Rome, were courageous reformers in their time, challenging received beliefs and entrenched power. But a family argument only turns out well when we remember we are a family. Remember, Catholics believe that we are going to be stuck together for eternity.

This is not a private faith

It is fashionable nowadays for people to think and talk about faith as a private matter, as something solely between themselves and the divine, as a quiet way to begin the day or a personal journey that is nobody else’s business.

This is foreign to the Catholic outlook. If Jesus had kept to himself, there would have been no cross. He promised to be among us when we gather. He knew that we need each other. You will see. Your prayer life will deepen when your Christian community life is honest and vibrant. Sometimes our interior faith carries us more, and sometimes the community carries us more, but one cannot stand on one foot for too long without losing balance.

Be Catholic in public. Not just Catholic, God made you to be more than your piety. Present yourself, to yourself and the world, as a human being made more human by your faith.

Know the poor

Christ and the prophets speak with one voice: God dwells among the poor. We must know the poor because we are the poor. Even the most privileged among us have poverty in our souls, and we forget this when we blind ourselves to the crucifixions happening all around us. Some people hide from these in mansions. Some hide in addictions and endless therapies.

Some hide in social-justice proclamations, which can be as effective as riches in masking the lived reality of poverty. You should know it when you see it: Even while enjoying the splendours and wonders of this church, know the poor.

Welcome whatever challenges life brings your way, there will be plenty & each is a possibility for learning and spiritual growth within your church & daily life. Be aware of every little thing, how does it affect you, your mood and pray for answers.