This Saturday, at the Easter Vigil, I will become a member of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. At the age of 17, I will no longer be a catechumen and will stand alongside the 1.3 billion baptised Catholics around the world.
Why did I choose the Catholic Church? I had always considered myself to be Christian from a very young age. I went to a Church of England primary school and occasionally attended my local Cof E church as a child. But I was never baptised.
I was always interested in biblical stories, especially the parables of Jesus and Old Testament narratives such as Cain and Abel. However, I regarded myself as a non-denominational Christian.
When I was at secondary school I rarely went to church. But I vividly remember that when classmates would describe the Christian faith as a bygone relic during Religious Education lessons, I would always take issue with them.
My discovery of Catholicism began when I was 16 and studying for a GCSE RE exam. I was revising the topic of “evil and suffering” when I came across GK Chesterton’s classic Orthodoxy, in which he explains why he became a Catholic. I was struck by his clear intellect and, in particular, this comment: “Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.”
This quotation stayed with me because it touched on the crucial question of where moral norms come from. Chesterton argued that God is the best or only explanation, and that therefore God must exist.
Chesterton introduced me to the Catholic way of thinking and he has had a huge influence on my conversion. Chesterton is a genuine hero of British Catholicism, and I truly thank him for opening me to the Catholic faith.
After reading Orthodoxy and flicking through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I emailed my local Catholic priest in September last year. I later enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) programme. This was the best decision I have ever made.
I am experiencing the true beauty of the Catholic Church through RCIA, guided by my priest, and my RCIA class has offered me support as I explore the faith. We have been working through Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series, which really captures the heart and soul of the Church. Learning more about the Gospel, saints and sacraments each week has filled me with joy and faith. RCIA won me over because it goes beyond moral and philosophical arguments. For example, we have learned about Dorothy Day’s conversion, a story which I think would truly resonate with our postmodern society. Her journey from being a young bohemian to running the Catholic Worker Movement is astounding and helped me on my journey as a catechumen.
Two months into RCIA, I was invited to attend my first Mass on Christmas Eve. There is nothing like walking into a church at Christmas, hearing the songs I have known since my primary school days, and then suddenly realising it’s all true. The Mass was simply beautiful, and I felt the body of Christ present throughout the church. It was a feeling that I had never felt before. Everything suddenly clicked. I will never forget the beauty of my first Mass as a catechumen.
Another factor in my path to Rome is the humanitarian mission of the Church. Catholic social teaching has had a huge impact on my politics, and is a real hidden gem of the Church. I stumbled upon it in the Catechism when I was in my initial research stage as a non-denominational, cultural Christian, and it filled me with joy as I learnt more about the mission of the Church.
The Church’s social teaching has been a beacon of hope and guidance for me as I reflect on what I should strive to do as a Catholic convert in the world today.
The Church has, of course, been challenged by many scandals, and this is a crisis point in its history. The abuse issue has plagued the Catholic Church, which I will be joining tomorrow (April 20).
However, Catholics must put forward the message of the Church in a positive light. What I have discovered through my reading about the Church and through RCIA is a message that society desperately needs to hear.
As church attendance is in decline, we really must attract young people into the Church. We can do this by sharing a positive vision of the sheer beauty of Catholicism and what it actually means to be a Catholic.
I am now proud to call myself Catholic. Please pray for us catechumens coming into the Church at the Easter Vigil.
Jack Payne is a student from Bristol and can be found on Twitter @jackpayner