|Catechumens who will receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil Mass are presented to Bishop David Choby during the Rite of Election on Feb. 22 at St. Henry Church. Approximately 140 catechumens and 335 candidates from RCIA programs in Middle Tennessee parishes will enter the Church in the Diocese of Nashville next month, joining tens of thousands from across the country doing the same. Photo by Andy Telli
For those preparing to enter the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, the last weeks of Lent are a time of intense preparation and anticipation. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), the formation process used by the Catholic Church to educate and initiate non-Catholics into the Church, culminates this time of year.
Approximately 335 candidates and 140 catechumens from RCIA programs in Middle Tennessee parishes will enter the Church in the Diocese of Nashville next month, joining tens of thousands from across the country doing the same. Those preparing to join the Catholic Church in Middle Tennessee include students, doctors, immigrants, soldiers and many more. Here are a few of their stories.
‘Given a tremendous gift’
Dr. Reid Longmuir had thought about joining the Catholic Church on and off for years, but, he said, “I let my schedule get in the way too much. I never seemed to make time for it.”
Last summer as he, his wife Susannah and their two young children were planning a move to Nashville from Iowa, he told Susannah he wanted to get serious about going through the RCIA program.
Then, the entire family suffered from a virus; all recovered quickly except for Longmuir himself, who became extremely ill, ultimately spending three months in the hospital, including over a month in a coma. At one point, his doctors were concerned there was no hope for recovery and began discussing a palliative care plan for him.
As Longmuir lay in the hospital bed, a priest anointed him and people in his community and beyond rallied in prayer for his healing. One day in September, he deliriously awoke and began a long, slow recovery.
“I survived something that very few people survive,” he said. Speaking as a physician, Longmuir said he felt that medicine alone did not heal him. His recovery took “some kind of special help, and I knew I’d had it,” he said. “I’d been given a tremendous gift.”
When he was well enough to make the move from Iowa to Nashville, Longmuir joined Susannah, also a physician, and their children in Nashville to continue his recovery and begin the RCIA program at St. Henry Church.
Longmuir was too weak to make it to the meetings for the first six weeks of the program, so his sponsor came to his house to work with him. When he was able to join the group, he continued to soak up the lessons, especially those about the sacraments.
Longmuir was raised in the Lutheran church, but said after he moved away from home and on to school, he became “spiritually lazy” and drifted away from a formal faith practice. However, his wife, a lifelong Catholic, and daughter, a student at St. Henry School, helped draw him toward the Catholic Church.
Years ago, “I started asking questions, and knew sooner or later I’d do RCIA,” he said. Now, with his on-going recovery and forced break from work, “it makes me wonder if things weren’t put in place for a reason. … I feel so fulfilled by the whole experience,” he said.
His advice to those considering learning more about joining the Catholic Church and going through the RCIA program? “Give it a shot right away. There’s no reason to wait. I really should have done it a whole lot sooner.”
‘Why am I not Catholic?’
The more nursing student Amanda Bush immersed herself in the study of medical ethics and moral philosophy, the more she realized that her favorite thinkers, like St. Augustine, were Catholic. Even though she was raised Southern Baptist, later became Presbyterian, and attended a Baptist college, “my understanding of medical ethics is all Catholic-based,” she said.
Bush, who holds one bachelor’s degree in ethics and is working on another in clinical nursing, said as she began to examine herself and her theology more closely. “I started wondering, ‘Why am I not Catholic?’ It was clear that God was calling me to the Catholic Church.”
As Bush began the RCIA process at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Hendersonville, she began to learn more about “the questions that as a Protestant could keep someone from being Catholic,” such as the Catholic Church’s teaching on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. The real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, “the biggest truly theological difference between Catholics and Protestants, I’m willing to accept by faith,” Bush said. And the role of Mary “adds a rich element” to the Church, she said.
Bush, 27, said she has found a welcoming and pastoral home at Our Lady of the Lake, and has enjoyed the “intentional time of discernment” provided by RCIA. “It’s a serious decision to commit to a faith,” she said. “It’s not to be taken lightly.”
Like many RCIA candidates who were raised in a Protestant faith, Vanderbilt graduate student Deborah Osborne was drawn to the Catholic Church for a variety of reasons, including its structure and unity. “It’s comforting to know that everybody in the Church is doing the same thing. I’ve felt unity (in the Catholic Church) that I don’t think I’ve felt in another church setting,” she said.
Osborne, who was raised in a non-denominational Christian home in Louisiana, said as she lived in different cities, she “struggled to find a church where I felt I was truly meant to be.” After moving to Nashville to study school counseling at Vanderbilt, Osborne befriended and even dated some Catholics, and her interest was sparked.
She went to nearby Christ the King Church, which immediately appealed to her as a former art history major. Attending Mass, listening to pastor Father Dexter Brewer’s homilies, “encouraged me to think deeply about the word,” she said. But she also liked the structure of the Mass, that the homily doesn’t dominate the entire Catholic liturgy the way it does in some Protestant churches. There’s ample time, she said, “to just be in the presence of God, and contemplate your own relationship with God.”
Osborne said she appreciates that the structure of both the Church in general, and Christ the King’s RCIA program in particular, “is so academic, in my comfort zone.” But, she added, “they help you figure out ways to make it personal, true to your life.”
The time Osborne has spent in RCIA learning more about the Church she will officially join next month has “encouraged me to be more consistent in communicating with God” and helped her feel like she is part of a unified community. At Christ the King, located near Vanderbilt and Belmont universities, “there’s a big intellectual community,” open to “wrestling with the word and figuring out the direction of the Church,” which is right up her alley, she said. “It’s really cool.”