From Tina, age 27

I grew up in a Lutheran home, but I was guilty of going to church for an hour and then not thinking about God the rest of the week unless I needed something. It wasn’t until I matured more as an adult and came to realize all the blessings in my life that I truly understood the depth of my being and that something greater was responsible for these blessings. I attended a Catholic University and surrounded myself with people who had such devotion to the teachings and were bountiful in their faith which truly peaked my curiosity in the Catholic Church. The RCIA classes were very enlightening and covered the bible and other Catholic prayers/traditions which were imperative for my foundation as a Catholic. Discussing each of the sacraments put things in perspective for me and truly made me recognize the gift we’re given through these encounters with Christ. Going through the classes as an adult really built upon what I had learned as a child, but challenged me to conceptually think about the teachings and realize the magnitude of the miracles and gifts in our lives. The people I met during the class were all there for different reasons, but we all united in our quest for knowledge and truth through Jesus Christ. I felt welcomed from the very beginning of RCIA and felt even more unified at the end having all gone through the same journey to accepting Christ into our lives and being disciples of his word. I feel a universal connection with other Catholics and have a new external demonstration of my faith through worship, service, and charity. I truly feel that this new relationship with God is one of love and trust; I have found such peace within myself and the world around me. I have overcome my anxiety over the unknown and have put my trust in God’s will. I feel tremendous love and truly take pleasure in the little things knowing that with God’s love, grace, and mercy, we can make it through anything. My journey has just begun, but RCIA was a crucial stepping stone to help me in living a fulfilling Christian life.

Candidate for Full Reception

From Matt, age 32

I was baptized Catholic as an infant and was in and out of the Church until my adult years. In 1999 I married a life-long Catholic. At that time I started on the road to participating in the sacraments of First Eucharist, Confession, and Marriage with the intent of getting Confirmed at a later date.

Being a new parishioner in St Thomas (we officially joined in 2/05) I looked at different ministries. Knowing I needed to be Confirmed, I thought that the RCIA process would be a great way for me to understand the beliefs and values of the Catholic Church and be a great way to meet fellow parishioners.

The only thing I really struggled through the process was reconconciling Church teaching with my political values. I was able to reconcile the two. I have gotten to know Jesus on a different level, but more importantly I feel that I have gotten to know the Church on a different level. Having the fact in the back of my mind that I was never Confirmed, I always felt a little of an outsider during Mass and other Church functions. After going through the RCIA process, I now am more comfortable being involved. I believe that knowing the Church better and being more involved automatically brings you closer to Jesus.

From Sandra, a 'Baby Boomer'

My experience of the Catholic Church was mixed before RCIA. Historically, the music and the art the Church has inspired speaks to me of the enormous beauty we can create when we reach for God. On the other hand, wars have been fought and power abused in the Church's name. Closer to home, my paternal grandparents were Catholic, and several great aunts were nuns. The Rosary sustained my grandmother. My father, on the other hand, believes Catholicism is the Great satan, and he and his two sisters left the Church. My own spiritual journey had taken me on many paths, as a Protestant, a Buddhist, a Sikh, a Native American.

I was attracted to RCIA after Pope John Paul II died. I had been fortunate to be in his presence at close range when he visited Chicago shortly after becoming Pope. Nobody knew then who he was. He stayed at the Cardinal's residence, a block from my house, and, out of curiosity, I walked my dog across the little park to see him. I was stunned to find myself in the presence of a Holy Man. The light poured off him. We went back for his blessing seven times.

At the time of his death, I was glued to CNN for a week. It brought me to my knees for reasons I couldnt explain. A friend said I belonged in RCIA, and I went simply because I couldn't not go.

The RCIA process was a huge struggle of faith for me because I'd been raised since infancy to believe the Catholic church was terrible (and Dad was very vocal on the subject). I also had deep knowledge of the teachings of many other traditions. So the process forced me to re-evaluate almost every aspect of my belief system and identity.

In one class, we learned that the Catholic Church defines Original Sin as "separation from God." It was the best explanation of human experience I'd heard. During Lent, I came to realize that Jesus closed that gap -- that separation. And He did it under amazing circumstances. In today's terms, He was fired from his job (as Rabbi), publicly humiliated (imagine Jay Leno, David Letterman, the tabloids, and Fox News taking pot shots), stripped naked, and nailed to planks without anesthesia. All the time, He never lost His connection with God -- He closed the gap. He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Wow! That role model works for me.

Now I realize that I'm part of an unbroken connection directly back to Christ. I'm part of a wonderful local community. Best of all, Communion blows my socks off.

From Carl, age 41

Before I entered the RCIA, I had many positive experiences with the Catholic Church starting from when I was much younger and continuing in my teens and early adulthood when I would attend mass with friends. In 1987 I was fortunate to have been in Tempe to see John Paul II when he was in the valley. I wanted to really be a part of all of that. I had planned on going through the process then but my heart was not in it then as it is now. After that, while I was in my 20s and 30s, my interests turned elsewhere and the idea of God all but disappeared from my thoughts. Because of that, I now see, I felt empty and alone. I realize now that I was never alone. God was always with me, carrying me through the dark times and the bright. Now that I look back upon my life I recognize that I was wrong to believe that God had ever abandoned me, even in those moments of deepest despair. The truth is it was I who abandoned Him. I know now that God loves me and always had. He wants me to be with Him and share in His love; and I hope to be able to do just that. I am so grateful that I have been given this knowledge through my involvement in this parish. I am never alone now because I know that he is with me always.

I was attracted to the RCIA process because I have always felt that the Catholic Church really is the one true church that has what I was seeking-- the truth. I wanted to become Catholic because I yearned for spiritual truth and guidance in my life. After my mother died three years ago, I began returning to the Church and I am so glad that last summer I discovered St. Thomas because it is here that I have found that “truth”-- thanks to my involvement in the RCIA. Of course, I had some struggles with some of the teachings of the Church, such as contraception, and had to change the way I lived my life in certain ways, but even if I struggle with one thing or another, I know in my heart that what I have been taught in the process is the absolute and indisputable truth. I have learned that loving Christ means following His commandments and that those commandments are not there to restrict my freedom, but rather, to give me even more freedom! What a relief it has been for me to shake off the things of this world that actually enslaved me and to follow the example set by Jesus Christ!

The best thing about being Catholic today is that I get to fully participate in all of the Sacraments, particularly Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Any apprehension or fear of judgment I had before going into confession was gone as soon as I received absolution. When I left the confessional I felt like I had scored a touchdown for God! What an exhilarating experience to know that I had been forgiven for my sins and that I was going to make a clean start on not committing those same sins again. I am also deeply filled with such grace when I receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I know that I am not a “finished Christian” yet and that I have much more to learn. Each mass I attend is another opportunity for me to get to know Jesus on a deeper level and realize the “agape” kind of love the pope speaks of and that I feel throughout my body and soul when I am in the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Thanks be to God!

From Jennifer, age 36

I have had various experiences with the Catholic Church throughout my life. Starting in early childhood I occasionally attended Mass with friends who were Catholic. At age 18, I was an exchange student in Mexico and attended Mass every Sunday with the family I lived with. I always felt that something very powerful took place there. As an adult, I attended Mass infrequently but always sensed that something or someone was calling to me. I can only say that I always felt a strong spiritual connection upon entry to any Catholic Church even though I could not explain or understand it at the time.

I was attracted to the RCIA process for a variety of reasons. I have always felt drawn to Catholicism as if I should have been a Catholic all along but I always ignored the call. After trying out various religions and never feeling quite at home with the message or the environment, I finally had an epiphany that, yes, I was meant to be Catholic. I had thought about it on and off for 18 years while searching for a spiritual identity and I had always tried to brush it off. I now believe in my heart that God had been sending me messages all along.

Other perks to the RCIA process include the following with regards to format:
a.The time commitment. I knew it would take a year or so to complete which sounds like a lot at first. The RCIA process really allows for the time required to learn what the Catholic faith believes and provides the time needed in order to reflect upon those core beliefs in order to ensure that you can agree to live your life by them.

b. Laying the groundwork. I did not grow up going to church so I never really had an opportunity to learn what the Bible says. After the birth of my children I knew I wanted a deeper relationship with God and wanted my children to have the foundation that I lacked as a child.

c. Community atmosphere. We all have different backgrounds with regard to how and why we were there but we are all on the same journey of faith formation. There were never any judgments made or questions too ignorant to ask in class. And because of that, I can only tell you that over time my RCIA group felt like a second family to me.

My main struggle of faith had to do with the fact that I was going through this process alone. I am the only Catholic in my family and would have loved my husband to go through the process with me, but as I have learned, we must all walk down our own road to faith. I can only pray that he finds his.

I have gotten to know Jesus on a deeper level through learning about his life, through prayer and Mass attendance. The best part about being Catholic today is that I finally feel like I have arrived home. I know that sounds trite but its true.

From Randi, age 26

Before participating in the RCIA process, I started out feeling uncomfortable with the Catholic Church. I was raised Baptist and had never stepped foot inside a Catholic Church until I met my husband. He was raised Catholic and I started to get asked to go to church with his family while we were dating. I can remember feeling like I had no idea what was going in the Church. I didn't understand anything because I wasn't really listening. I can also remember feeling like everyone was looking at me when I didn't get up to partake in the Eucharist. I felt strange not knowing what to say when everyone in the Church was responding back to the priest or saying prayers. So, I started asking my husband and his family questions about the Church so I could better understand it. I really had the desire to understand what my husband was taught as a child and what he practiced. Each time I would go to church I kept feeling more and more comfortable there.

Every time I would attend the Catholic Church everyone was so friendly and genuine. I loved seeing all of the families together and really started enjoying the fact that the people at the Catholic Church are so involved in the Mass. I started really feeling the desire to partake in the Eucharist and understand the meaning of it better. I loved all of the traditions that have been going on for years within the Catholic Church. Most of all I did not feel pressured by my husband to become Catholic. I was pregnant with our baby and started really thinking about how I wanted our child to be raised. In January 2005, I decided to take part in the Inquiry process of the RCIA program. I was so excited to learn more about the Catholic Church and that is what attracted to me the RCIA process.

Honestly, the struggles that I had with the Catholic Church before I entered the RCIA process were all resolved for me once I got some answers and explanations. One in particular was the fact that contraception was not to be used as a Catholic. Once I was in the RCIA process we were given a CD called Contraception: Why Not? I was forever changed by that CD after listening to it and my husband and I are now taking NFP classes together. If I had any reservations with the Catholic Church before I became Catholic then I would not have gone through Confirmation. I have such peace within after learning all that I did and I have no struggles at this point in regards to the Catholic Church. The RCIA process really prepared me and taught me so much!

I would say that I have gotten to know Jesus on a deeper level in many ways but especially through prayer. I never really knew the power of prayer until going through the RCIA process. I feel such deep respect for Jesus and that is because of what goes on in the Catholic Church. There are so many ways to be in communion with Jesus Christ as a Catholic. Particularly for me with the Eucharist and Confession. The Sacraments are ways to have a "guaranteed encounter with Christ." What could possibly be better?