Tangible, Physical, Personal: Hundreds encounter sacramental grace as they join Church at Pentecost

by Susan Moses

North Texas Catholic

June 3, 2020

Fr. John Robert Skeldon confirms Samuel Stroud
Father John Robert Skeldon confirms Samuel Stroud on May 30 at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth. (NTC/Kenneth Munyer) See all the photo gallery here.

FORT WORTH — Samuel Stroud said, “I’ve been waiting to get into the Catholic Church for four years. What’s another 50 days?”

Stroud and more than 1,000 others entered the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Fort Worth on the weekend of May 30-31, the Feast of Pentecost — 50 days after they were originally scheduled to join the Church at the April 11 Easter Vigil Mass. Parishes around the world were closed at Easter to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The former Protestant took the delay in stride. “I have my health. I have my faith. We have a civic duty to be as safe as possible, and I knew I’d get in eventually,” he said. Baptized 26 years ago in the Baptist faith, he received the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation at a Pentecost Vigil Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth.

In his 31 years, he never stepped away from God, but he grew more and more attracted to the beauty, reverence, and tradition of the Catholic faith. Stroud observed, “When you watch the priests and deacons, you can see how seriously they take it. It’s real, it’s tangible.”

After four years of attending Mass and asking questions about the faith, the new Catholic hopes to sponsor future RCIA participants.

Pentecost People

Father John Robert Skeldon, rector of St. Patrick, presided over the two-hour Pentecost Vigil Mass, which was limited to the 26 catechumens and candidates who would receive the sacraments, plus their sponsors, friends, and family. The priest said, “Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. And this is a birthday [that] you who are to be baptized and confirmed will know so deeply in your hearts, year after year, as the Feast of Pentecost comes around.”

In his homily, Fr. Skeldon spoke of the life that the Holy Spirit brings. “With the Spirit, we realize we are not competitors with God, but people invited to His dwelling place, His mountain, to enter into a life-giving, loving relationship with Him forever,” he said.

Father John Robert Skeldon baptizes a new member of the Church at the Pentecost Vigil Mass on May 30. (NTC/Kenneth Munyer)Father John Robert Skeldon baptizes a new member of the Church at the Pentecost Vigil Mass on May 30. (NTC/Kenneth Munyer)
Father John Robert Skeldon baptizes Devin Hernandez while sponsor Jeff Hedglen stands behind him at the Pentecost Vigil Mass on May 30. (NTC/Kenneth Munyer)

Mike Waldon, who coordinates RCIA in his role as the cathedral’s director of catechesis and evangelization, said the Pentecost Vigil is a wonderful time to enter the Church.

Sunday readings during the preceding weeks include the Acts of the Apostles, so the candidates and catechumens have reflected on the early Church.

Waldon said Pentecost “shows the beginning of the Church. The Holy Spirit is sending us out from this point. [Joining the Church] is not an ending point, this isn’t what you’ve worked up to, then stop. This is . . . the beginning of your life in the Church as fully initiated Catholics in the faith.”

Jesus’ disciples received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost then went out to proclaim the Gospel. Waldon explained, “This is the same Holy Spirit. When Confirmation happens, it’s the same Holy Spirit that’s being sealed, it’s conferring Baptism. . .. This is the Church going forward.

“The Church is alive. . .. People are still choosing to come into the Church. People are saying ‘yes.’ That’s what the Church is about – saying ‘yes,’” Waldon said.

The Journey to Pentecost

The Church’s unbroken tie to the Apostles helped draw Matthew Oliver into Catholicism. He was raised Protestant, but he began attending Mass with his girlfriend, Meghan De Amaral, and appreciated the tradition, the symbolism, and the welcoming community.

Oliver described the RCIA journey that led to joining the Church as “phenomenal. It allowed the opportunity to ask questions that you typically aren’t comfortable asking. You feel the welcoming presence of the Church as well.”

From left, Matthew Oliver, Isabel Longoria, and Polly Maxwell after they joined the Church at St. Patrick Cathedral.
From left, Matthew Oliver, Isabel Longoria, and Polly Maxwell stand outside St. Patrick Cathedral after joining the Church at the Pentecost Vigil Mass, May 30. (NTC/Kenneth Munyer)

Oliver had never been baptized, so at the Pentecost Vigil he was baptized and confirmed with De Amaral as his sponsor, then received Holy Communion. Despite coronavirus precautions including masks and social distancing, Oliver said the Mass was an “incredible experience,” and receiving the three sacraments of initiation was “meaningful and personally overwhelming.”

As Oliver grows in his faith, he plans to return to RCIA to assist others on their faith journey and ask a few more questions himself.

Another newly initiated Catholic, Polly Maxwell, described herself as a lifelong seeker. She grew up in a military family and was a military wife, so she experienced frequent moves and a rotating cast of friends and acquaintances, which made her family bonds especially strong.

She attended several Protestant and non-denominational churches through the years, but she felt something was missing. A feeling of emptiness grew after the deaths of her parents and two sisters.

Visits to a Catholic Church left her feeling “comforted when I am there. I know even when I am alone, God is with me.”

Catholic coworkers at her job as a legal assistant with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office encouraged her to attend RCIA.

During the stay-at-home order, RCIA converted to video conferences, so the Pentecost Vigil Mass was the first time she saw many of her companions on the journey in person. She said, “I was so happy to see the others in the class.”

The symbolism of the Holy Spirit in the red garments, the incense, and the scented Sacred Chrism was meaningful to Maxwell, as well as the opportunity to receive Holy Communion after a long period of preparation.

The Presence of God

Waldon, the RCIA director, compared the longing of catechumens and candidates for receiving the Eucharist to the feeling many Catholics had during the weeks that Mass was celebrated sine populo, without the people. The faithful could join in the Spiritual Communion of Mass but not receive the Body of Christ.

“Being sacramental people, those tangible aspects are very much a part of what we’re about — those human elements, those physical elements, the personal aspect,” he said.

Receiving the Body of Christ — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — was the apex of Isabel Longoria’s journey into the Catholic Church.

Father John Robert Skeldon sprinkles Holy Water Father John Robert Skeldon sprinkles Holy Water
Father John Robert Skeldon sprinkles holy water during the Pentecost Vigil Mass. (NTC/Kenneth Munyer)

For most of Longoria’s childhood, her mother did not practice the faith. But when her mother was confirmed in 2016, Longoria began attending Sunday Mass with her mother.

A year later, Longoria left home to attend college and stopped attending Church. “I missed that peace that I had. I was yearning for peace constantly and I wasn’t getting it anywhere,” she recalled.

Longoria began RCIA last year “to grow closer to God, to get the peace that I was missing,” and she began going to daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.

Adoration felt a little awkward for Longoria at first, “until I realized that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. He’s there. I know He hears me, and sometimes I don’t have to say anything for Him to understand me. It’s a peace that I get.”

Isabel received the three sacraments of initiation at the Pentecost Vigil Mass at St. Patrick. Afterwards, she said elatedly, “I’m so happy. I cannot believe that Jesus is inside of me right now! This is really happening.”

She plans to continue attending daily Mass, “But now I can receive the Eucharist! I’m really excited about it.”

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See the photo gallery of the Pentecost Vigil Mass.

Fr. John Robert Skeldon baptizes Devin Hernandez

FORT WORTH — Samuel Stroud said, “I’ve been waiting to get into the Catholic Church for four years. What’s another 50 days?”

Published (until 6/3/2036)