In Your Midst

I Just Want to Be Baptized!

March 2007

The Elect preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil talk about their experience of RCIA and look forward to the great days ahead

In Your Midst:  What brought you to the Catholic Church?  To St. James?

Sarah Leingang, Elect:  I married into a Catholic family but did not make any transition to Catholicism.  I used to come to church every Christmas with my husband (to make his mom feel good).  Then all of us—my son Taylor, my daughter Justine, and my husband Greg—felt this calling.  When we came here on Christmas Eve in 2005, I knew I was home.  And we’ve been here ever since.

Kathleen Leingang, Sponsor:  I prayed for fifteen years for this to happen.  I used to say to the Blessed Virgin Mary, ‘you’ll really be getting four people, because you’ll be bringing my son back to the Church, too.’  And I’m so excited that they’ll all be receiving communion.

IYM:  So the children are coming in at the same time?

Rite of Election at St James
Shanna Lisherness inscribes her name in the Book of the Elect on February 22, 2007, while her sponsor Elise Gruber and Helen Oesterle look on.  

Sarah:  Yes, it’s all four of us, because I had never been baptized either.  It was strange that all of us, at the same time, had individual experiences that brought us to this decision.

Kathleen:  That’s the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Sarah:  And now I’m so excited.  I’m ready.  I want to do it now!

Landy Manuel, Elect:  I started attending five or six years ago on a regular basis, and just fell in love with the liturgy and the music here.  Then I started coming much more regularly when my wife joined the women’s Schola about three years ago.  I guess I’d been thinking about it in my heart and my head for fifty years and finally decided it was time to get on with the really important things in life, the things that really matter.

IYM:  Mike, you’ve been a sponsor for a long time.  What’s special about being a sponsor?

Mike McKay, Sponsor:  To see the individuals accepting the Catholic faith for what it is.  They accept it and realize that this isn’t just something to jump into and then jump out.  This is something that’s for a whole lifetime.  Sometimes those that come in later in life accept the faith more whole-heartedly than those who were baptized as babies!

Janie Teston, Elect:  My mother, my grandmother, and my aunt were all from France, and they were all Catholic.  My mother married an Army officer, and later divorced.  As a result she was excommunicated so I was never raised Catholic.  My mother would go to church on her own, but she always had this unfortunate sense of being an outcast.  So I never practiced anything; I basically stopped believing there was a God.
    Then, here in Seattle, I met a wonderful man—from Tokyo, but raised Catholic.  I told him, I want to go to this wonderful church that looks like a little St. Peter’s (I saw Rome when I was fourteen).  So we came here to St. James.  The second time I came on Christmas Eve.  The procession was lined up in the back of the church and the Archbishop came right up to me and said “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year”—he didn’t talk to anyone else!  I thought, hmm!  So we started coming here on special occasions like Palm Sunday and Easter.  I always sat next to a particular statue because she reminded me of my grandmother.  It turned out to be Mother Cabrini.  I’ve carried a relic card of her in my bag for years!
     Even after my friend and I separated I still wanted to continue coming to St. James.  Eventually I joined RCIA and began learning about prayer and believing in God.  Which is really, really great!  I’m really happy and excited.  And so many friends, even Jewish friends, are coming to my baptism.

Santos Cardenas, Elect:  I kind of grew up Catholic, attending Catholic schools.  Becoming Catholic is something I’ve always wanted to do.  When I got to college I got caught up in being young and free and now that I’ve grown out of that stage this desire to become Catholic came back to me.  It’s like God is telling me to do it now, to move forward.  I’m also getting to a point in my life when I’m thinking about starting a family.  Receiving the sacraments, and being able to be married in the Church, is important to me.  I don’t know how I ended up at St. James!  I called around, I spoke with Helen, and it’s been a really good fit.  I’m glad I chose to stick with the program here.  This has become a home for me.

IYM:  For the catechumens, what’s been the most surprising part of the process—maybe something you were expecting but didn’t encounter, or something you encountered that you weren’t expecting?

Janie:  For me it was learning how to pray.  I say learning because I never believed in prayer.  After all the tragedies in my family, people passing in cruel ways, divorce, I honestly couldn’t believe in prayer.  But now prayer has become a natural process for me.  When I called my aunt, my mother’s sister, and said, “Well, what do you think [about me being baptized]?” she said, “Meme would be so happy!  Her prayer was answered.”  (Meme is my grandmother in heaven.)  I said, “She was praying for this?”  So there you go—you never know!

Sarah:  I can relate to that.  I can remember at twelve years old rejecting God, and saying, God doesn’t exist.  I knew that my mother-in-law prayed the rosary every day.  At church I would watch my husband go through the motions.  For me the biggest learning has been that I don’t necessarily need to know everything in order to pray.  I can just speak to God, and that is prayer.  I’ve seen the blessings come as a result of prayer—and that’s really strange!  I just have to open my heart.  I don’t have to know every word of a particular prayer; God is still going to get it.

Santos:  The unexpected thing for me has been the community here.  I wasn’t expecting the kind of welcome I’ve received.  I guess I always expected it to be a private thing:  this is for me—this is what I’m doing—this is between me and God.  And it turns out to be more of a community thing.  It’s nice to know that there are other people there who share the same faith.  It’s still personal, but it’s also shared.

Landy:  For me it’s the bonding, the love that is shared with the group—sponsors, fellow candidates and catechumens.  And it’s always on your own terms—you’re not pushed or rushed or asked to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.  I really like that.

IYM:  Let me ask the sponsors:  what is your job, your role in helping to guide a catechumen through all these rites to Easter?

Kathleen:  Actually, as a cradle Catholic, the process has been very good for me.  I went through Catholic school, but that was at a time when just about everything was a sin!  I think just being available, keeping my hand open, telling Sarah, “let’s talk about it, let’s take a walk, let’s see where you’re at,” but never pushing it.

Sarah:  And she has never, ever done that.  It’s amazing!  She has just been a great example of what the Catholic faith is.
Mike: You don’t push.  Each person accepts the faith at their own level.

IYM:  Let’s talk about the future.  What are you most looking forward to in the next few weeks?

Sarah:  I just want to be baptized!

Landy:  As Helen was going through the calendar earlier, I was thinking about how splendid and momentous the next few weeks would be. I should keep a journal of this time, because it’s going to go by really fast and I want to hang on to it somehow.

Santos:  I’m most looking forward to actually going through these sacraments.  I’ve watched so many other people, go through this, so I know what happens.  I just don’t know how it feels.  That’s the biggest thing I’m looking forward to.

Janie:  I’m just looking forward to my baptism!  I started this in April of 2005, and I just want to see how all these celebrations unfold.  I’ll just see what comes to me, what new surprises.

IYM: What do you tell your friends who ask you why you are becoming Catholic?  What is it about the Catholic Church that grabbed you the most, that you want to share with others?

Sarah:  For me being Catholic just makes sense.  I remember coming in and asking Helen all these questions.  I was determined to have it not make sense and not be a fit.  So when people ask me, I tell them it’s not because my husband is a Catholic, because I could have done it many years ago.  It’s just because it makes sense.  I just felt a calling to be a Catholic.

Janie:  For me it was St. James, honestly.  When I came here, I loved the community and people.  Call it eclectic, but I loved the combination of all the different cultures and races.  I also liked the way I was accepted when I came in.  And then meeting Helen, and beginning to read about the history of the Church, there was just a wholeness.  If you had told me four years ago that this would happen, I would have said, ‘you’ve got the wrong person.  Not a chance.’  But the combination of study, the people, the parish, and understanding the faith has brought me in.  I have to laugh, because of all religions, honestly, this was the one that was like, “no way!”

Sarah:  Sometimes people ask me, isn’t being Catholic about feeling ashamed and guilty all the time?  And I haven’t had that experience of the Church at all.  I tell them no, no!

IYM:  Do you find the year-long process a good thing?  Or is it really hard?

Janie:  It felt right!  This is the first time I’ve made a commitment to something just for myself.  And it will have been two years.  That’s impressive.  If I had been told when I started, you have to do this for two years, and then you’ll be done, I would have said, I don’t know about that.  But it’s really flown!  And that commitment is helping me now, in making other decisions.

Santos:  I really think the year-long process helps develop a community, it helps you understand the faith, and share it with other people.  It’s really a privilege and a gift to be baptized.

Sarah:  I think the wait is great because I have learned so much in the past year.  When I look back to when I began I realize that I had put up so many walls which have gradually been broken down.  My faith has grown, and I have a clearer understanding of what this is all about.  This isn’t a commitment for a day, this is a lifetime decision.  I needed the time to process, to understand.  I didn’t know much about Jesus or the Bible or any of that stuff.  So I needed the time.

Kathleen:  I have to say that as Sarah’s sponsor when I heard that the process would take at least a year I thought to myself, a whole year?  But it has been wonderful.  I said to my husband when I was leaving tonight, the time has gone by so fast!  I can’t believe it’s almost here. t



RITE of ACCEPTANCE. In this rite, those who have never been baptized state their intention to respond to God’s call to follow the way of Christ. They become members of the order of catechumens (a Greek word meaning ‘hearers’).

DISMISSALS. Each Sunday, the catechumens are dismissed following the homily at the 10:00 Mass. With a leader, they go to the Cathedral Rectory where they spend time in meditation and prayer on the readings of the day. This immersion in the word of God is a primary part of their preparation and formation.

RITE of ELECTION. Gathered together in the Cathedral with Archbishop Brunett, Father Ryan, and the catechumens, pastors, and RCIA teams of many other parishes, the catechumens declare their wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist, and write their names in the Book of the Elect. This occurs early in Lent. After this point, they are no longer called catechumens, but the Elect.

SCRUTINIES. Celebrated on the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, the Scrutinies are intended to deliver the Elect from the power of sin, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. Through prayers and ritual action, the Elect acknowledge their sinfulness and prepare for their new life in Christ.

The SACRAMENTS of INITIATION. At the Easter Vigil, the Elect receive the sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. By baptism, they are received into the royal priesthood of believers; by confirmation, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and share in the outpouring of grace that came upon the apostles at Pentecost. They then receive the Eucharist, sharing for the first time in the body and blood of Christ, the heavenly food that strengthens us to carry out Christ's work in our own time and place. For our Elect, the sacraments of initiation are not the end, but the beginning of new lives of faith and service. t

Learn more about the RCIA program at St. James by watching Come to the Water, the documentary on St. James’ own RCIA program, sponsored by the US Catholic Bishops and originally aired Easter 2005.  The program will be aired nationally on NBC-TV this Easter Sunday.  Keep an eye on the bulletin for details

Corinna Laughlin is the Pastoral Assistant for Liturgy at St. James Cathedral.

 Back to the March 2007 Issue of In Your Midst