Moving a step closer to full membership in church
By KARA KOCZUR, Globe staff reporter
For 27 catechumens and 134 candidates, March 1 marked the next step on their journey in becoming full members of the Catholic Church.
They came from across the diocese and gathered at either St. Mary's in Storm Lake or Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.
“You’ve entered into the final and most intense period of purification," Bishop R. Walker Nickless told the catechumens in Sioux City. “You promise to spend the rest of your lives living out the commandment to follow Christ."
He reminded both the catechumens and candidates that the sacraments will change their lives forever. At the Easter vigil, the catechumens will receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist, while candidates will receive the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist, as well as reconciliation prior to the vigil.
“You have been and continue to be on a journey of conversion and transformation," Bishop Nickless said. “You too have heard the call of the Lord, . . .to look deeper and to move more deeply in your understanding of Christianity. God is calling you to be Roman Catholics.”
Reflecting on the Gospel reading from Mark about Jesus being tempted in the desert, the bishop warned those preparing to enter the church that they too will be tempted.
"You are becoming holier and there’s nothing the devil hates [more than] holy men and women," he said. "You too will be tempted, maybe with doubts. Maybe you will be tempted to give up the hard work of praying and learning and studying. I urge you to be strong, be faithful."
In encouraging them to resist temptation, the bishop noted that the universal church is praying for them, as well as their parish, relatives, friends, priest and him, their bishop.
"Just as the angels came and ministered to Jesus, so too God will send you angels to protect you and care for you on your journey," Bishop Nickless said.
During the ceremony, the catechumens were called forward one by one and presented to the bishop, after which they signed their name in the "Book of the Elect" and became the elect.
Following the newly elect, candidates also came forward one by one and were presented to the bishop and congregation.
The ceremony has stuck with candidate Larry Mitchell of Fort Dodge days later.
“I've thought about it quite a bit,” said Mitchell, 73. “I've thought, 'Gee, this is really important,' and it really feels good."
Mitchell, who attended the ceremony in Storm Lake, said his Catholic wife never pressured him to join the church, though it was important to her that he have his first marriage annulled so that they could have their marriage blessed by the Catholic Church. So when he told her he wanted to become Catholic, it caught her a little off guard.
"She was a little surprised and pleased, and of course she's my sponsor so it's been kind of neat that we go to these classes together," said Mitchell, who was born a Presbyterian and later became Lutheran.
He said he’s attracted to the depth of the Catholic Church and has been surprised by what he calls its flexibility and understanding, finding it to be a lot more human than he thought. Come the Easter vigil, Mitchell said he is most looking forward to feeling “at home.”
The elderly man joked that he’s joining the church just in time to “receive last rites.”
“I told [my wife], 'Now I'm not going to do anything to get excommunicated because I don't want to try this all over again,’” he said, laughing.
Alisha Webster, 28, was one of the elect in Sioux City. She credits experiences over the past year, her involvement at Briar Cliff University and being surrounded by Catholic people as leading her to the Catholic Church.
Webster, formerly a reformed Protestant, said becoming Catholic is a very important step not only for her sake, but for her daughter's as well. She said Catholicism allows her to worship with others who believe the same things she does.
“I feel like there’s a lot more respect for God in the sense that the way the Mass is conducted and the way priests conduct themselves and treat the things of God,” said Webster of Immaculate Conception in Sioux City. “It’s very uplifting to see.”
Candidate Tom Kress of St. Joseph Church in Salix also attended the ceremony in Sioux City. Kress, 44, said one of the reasons he’s becoming Catholic is to worship with the rest of his family. He added that he’s attracted to the ritual and community of the church.
Kress, who was a Protestant, said he’s most looking forward to the sense of belonging he’ll feel as a Catholic. In his RCIA classes, he has found the history of the church to be the most interesting.
“When you go to Sunday School as a kid they don’t really focus on that part of it – as far as the role the church plays in the development of the world,” he said.
Josie Hough, 31, also credits her family with her decision to become Catholic. Hough, who was born and raised Lutheran, married a cradle Catholic and sends her kids to Catholic School.
A candidate from Sacred Heart in Spencer, Hough said she had planned to convert to Catholicism eventually, but wanted to wait until the right moment and do it on her own time. However, God had a different plan. Last summer, as tornadoes came through Spencer, Hough was huddled in the basement with her family when her then 7-year-old son asked if he could start praying and began to say the “Hail Mary.”
“It was just kind of this powerful movement that came over me and I thought, 'This is God speaking to me, I think it's time,’” she said, adding that in her studies she has been most interested in the tradition of the Catholic Church and the history of relics.
Hough said she found the ceremony in Storm Lake to be impressive.
“I was pleasantly surprised with the number of people who are making the same choice that I am,” she said. “It was moving to be able to shake the bishop's hand. Not ever having that expectation in my life before and then to meet a man like that, it was just like 'Wow.'"
One thing that stuck out to her from the bishop’s message, she said, was that she was welcomed in the faith.
What is Hough most looking forward to at the Easter Vigil?
“Just being able to sit with my family and receive the Eucharist.”