“It’s overwhelming sometimes — God’s love and compassion for us and how He fights for us to come back to Him.”
Amanda Cheely stood in the undercroft of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City, trying to process everything she was experiencing.
“God told me I had to be here today,” she said. “I couldn’t tell you why, I just know I have to be here.”
Her grandfather, who died two years ago, was a Catholic immigrant from Ireland. He and his family settled in a community that had no Catholic church, so they became members of a local Protestant congregation.
“So I’ve always had Catholic roots, and now it’s time to go home,” said Ms. Cheely.
She is one of 117 catechumens, 94 candidates and 27 uncatechized Catholics who joined Bishop W. Shawn McKnight at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion on March 1, the First Sunday of Lent, as part of their preparation for Easter sacraments of initiation.
At the Easter Vigil in their home parishes, the catechumens hope to be baptized, and they and the candidates hope to be confirmed and receive their First Holy Communion.
“I just feel so joyful,” said Ms. Cheely, a candidate from Holy Rosary parish in Monroe City. “This has been the most awesome experience, to come in here and feel His presence and to see how many of us are doing this together.”
She is preparing to make her Profession of Faith and receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and First Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil.
She grew up in a Christian household and accepted Him as her savior when she was about 8.
“But I diverged,” she said. “I turned My back on Him and chose to make selfish choices in my life. Even so, I know He never left me.”
A serious car crash when she was 19 wound up sending her to prison.
Her minister visited her every week and sent her numerous Bible studies.
“I couldn’t get through them fast enough,” she said.
She started working with the prison chaplain and getting closer to God.
Several years after she finished her sentence, God placed a calling on her heart to start looking into the Catholic Church.
She resisted. Only after enrolling her 5-year-old son in Holy Rosary Pre-School did the call begin to reassert itself, often overwhelmingly.
“He’s my biggest blessing,” she said. “He comes home from school and says our prayers at dinner and he reminds me if we miss any, and he keeps me honest.”
As she watched seemingly insurmountable obstacles fall aside, she realized that now is the time for her and her son to become Catholic.
She now hopes the positive changes God has been helping her make will convince the people she loves that she’s making the right decision.
“I want Jesus to help me witness to others and bring my friends and family into the faith and to the fount of salvation,” she said. “I want to be with all of them in heaven!”
Her son loves being Catholic.
“When you can see in your own flesh and blood that you’re doing the right thing, that this is going to bring him into a fuller future, that he is going to Jesus’s love and he’s not going to be separated from Him — it makes all of this so easy.”
Ms. Cheely asks for prayers for God to continue having mercy on her soul and leading her to Him.
“I just want to be closer,” she said. “I want Him to remove any resistance in my heart. Whenever I ask Him to show me the real things, things that are eternal, He does. And then He lets me choose.”
Held in cathedrals throughout the world on the First Sunday of Lent, the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is a significant milestone in the process of preparing to receive the Easter sacraments and become committed, active members of the Catholic Church.
The candidates and catechumens have been preparing for several months — some for even longer — through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
The RCIA is a restoration of the catechumenate, the communal process through which people were prepared to become Christian in the early Church.
At part of the ceremony in Jefferson City, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight accepted the catechumens’ names into the Book of the Elect and urged the catechumens and candidates to spend the rest of Lent pursuing repentance and deeper conversion with the support of the Church.
“God is always faithful to those he calls,” Bishop McKnight told the catechumens. “Now it is your duty, as it is ours, both to be faithful to Him in return and to strive courageously to reach the fullness of truth, which your election opens up before you.”
He likened these final weeks of preparation to the 40 days Jesus spent praying and fasting in the desert before embarking on His public ministry.
“This period of purification and enlightenment prepares your soul by clearing from it all the enticements and attachments to sin, so that you can open yourselves up completely to the will of God and the gift of His Holy Spirit,” said Bishop McKnight.
He said that the entire local Church welcomes the candidates and catechumens and rejoices that they have encountered God in the world in spite of the evils that are present in it.
“We celebrate that you, too, will become another light of Christ in a world so desperately in need of Jesus’s love,” he said. “And we look forward to you experiencing the joy of receiving Holy Communion for the first time at this Easter Vigil.”
“That ‘something’ is faith”
Gordon and Nikki Beier were impressed to see so many people from different parts of the diocese take part in the Rite of Election.
“One of coolest things about Catholicism, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, is that someone else is doing it, too,” said Mrs. Beier.
“It’s something that’s being shared all over the world,” she said. “And there in the cathedral, you see people going through the same steps you’re going through and they’re at the same point in their journey.”
The couple got married last August, bringing together five children under age 6.
Mrs. Beier was living in Springfield when it was time to send her oldest to school. On a friend’s advice, she visited a Catholic school and decided to send him to kindergarten and his little sister to pre-kindergarten there.
“They would come home from school and I could see that they were growing into good people and were talking about everything they were doing in school,” Mrs. Beier recalled.
She started going to Mass with them on Sunday.
The couple moved to St. Robert when they got married. Mr. Beier is a U.S. Marine who teaches a heavy equipment operators’ course at Fort Leonard Wood.
The Beiers became members of the Sacred Heart Catholic community at Fort Leonard Wood and enrolled their children in Sunday school.
They entered the RCIA last fall.
“I wanted to raise our children to have strong faith in God,” said Mrs. Beier, who previously served in the Marines.
“When you enter the military, you are surrounded by all different types of people from all backgrounds and parts of the world,” she said. “You meet some good people, some not so good people, some who have had religion all their lives and some who have none at all.”
“Not having that comfort zone like you had at home makes you want something you may be missing,” she said. “And I believe that “something” is faith.”
Mr. Beier had grown up with no religious affiliation but was open to what his wife wanted.
“I’ve had to work through some doubts,” he said. “A lot of the things I heard about Catholicism and many other religions, didn’t make sense to me. Being an engineer, I essentially need proof for why things are the way they are. That’s just how my mind works.”
Through the RCIA, he has studied actual documentation for the claims of Christianity.
“There’s historical evidence for all of these things that have taken place through history,” he said.
He’s becoming more comfortable with the fact that some things cannot be proven on this side of eternity — “specifically, what happens after you pass away from this life.”
“That is where I’ve really had to make the leap and believe that this is the right thing to believe,” he said.
Mrs. Beier said she’s impressed with how the RCIA helps people learn the fundamentals of Catholic Church teaching before they are initiated.
“Rather than having you jump head first, they give you all that knowledge to make a sound decision,” she said.
The couple hopes to celebrate the convalidtation of their marriage in the Church on their first wedding anniversary.
Both are seeking annulments for failed attempts at marriage.
“Something obviously wasn’t right and didn’t work out,” said Mrs. Beier. “But we’re together now, and everything happens for a reason. And this time, I want everything to be right. And I think putting God at the center of that is what was missing.”
The Beiers asked for prayers for the motivation to continue learning and growing in their relationship with God long after they receive the Easter Sacraments.
“We don’t want to become complacent,” said Mrs. Beier. “We want to continue on our journey and keep following that path.”
They’re amazed at how many people are drawn to the Church by the needs of their children.
“Everybody wants something better for their kids,” said Mrs. Beier. “And it’s amazing how when people think about wanting something better for their kids, they lean toward faith.”
All Catholics are encouraged to keep the candidates and catechumens in prayer through these last, most intense weeks of preparation before they’re received into full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil.
The symbols of fire, light, water, oil, bread and wine will be highlighted in a Liturgy filled with some of the Church’s richest traditions and rituals.
Neophytes, as newly initiated members of the Church are known after the Easter Vigil, will continue meeting regularly through Pentecost, celebrated 50 days after Easter.
That phase, called Mystagogia, is a time to “savor the mystery” of Easter and to experience a full and joyful welcome into the community.
“We’re so amazed at how God brings people to Himself and to His Church,” said Paul Kelly, a member of the RCIA formation team at Fort Leonard Wood. “My wife and I are so happy to be a part of the process of helping people learn the truth and beauty of the Catholic Church.”