May 1, 2009

Relationships bring youths, young adults into the Church

Dominican Father Robert Keller, pastor of the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, baptizes Hillary Brooks, a senior at Indiana University in Bloomington, during the parish’s Easter Vigil on April 11. (Submitted photo)

Dominican Father Robert Keller, pastor of the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, baptizes Hillary Brooks, a senior at Indiana University in Bloomington, during the parish’s Easter Vigil on April 11. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

A person’s teenage and young adult years can be the most crucial of his or her life.

During this time, young men and women confront questions that have lifelong implications.

What should I major in? What career is right for me? What is more important to me? Earning a lot of money? Earning less but finding fulfillment and peace of heart?

Other questions that have eternal consequences loom even larger, but are sometimes not given as much attention.

What vocation is God calling me to? Am I going to have a mature relationship of faith with God or is that not really important? Does God even exist?

Father Rick Nagel, archdiocesan director of young adult ministry, said teenagers and young adults often explore these questions and come closer to God and the Church through relationships.

“It’s all about relationships,” he said. “They’ll attend a Mass or they’ll see another young adult living out their Catholic faith and sense that there’s a greater truth there that they desire.”

A teenager and two young adults made such a discovery over the past year, and chose to be baptized in parishes across the archdiocese during the Easter Vigil on April 11. (See all the new Catholics in the archdiocese)

‘A journey that will never end’

Hillary Brooks is a senior at Indiana University in Bloomington and is majoring in Germanic studies. She was baptized during the Easter Vigil celebrated at the St. Paul Catholic Center on campus.

Although she grew up an hour north in Indianapolis, her journey to the Church took her to Germany and Italy.

While studying during her junior year in Freiberg, Germany, Brooks befriended some Italians students there who were involved in Communion and Liberation, an Italian-based Catholic lay movement.

As their friendship grew, the Italians invited Brooks to short prayers before lunch, to Mass and eventually to a Communion and Liberation conference in Rimini, Italy, that drew 7,000 people.

The genuine and deep way that her friends and the people at the conference approached their faith impressed Brooks.

“When you were on the bus going to the convention center for the lectures, they asked you to remain silent,” she said. “It was an outward sign that we respected the work that we were going to do.”

They were also quiet during the lectures, presentations and liturgies—a marked change from the Pentecostal events she would go to as a youth.

“If you’ve ever seen 7,000 Italian people being silent together, it’s pretty impressive.”

After the conference, Brooks began to consider what God might be calling her to through these friendships.

“It wasn’t just about making friends with these people and practicing my German,” she said. “It was something that was relevant to my life.”

When she returned home for her senior year, Brooks entered into St. Paul’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) even though she knew few Catholics at IU and was an ocean away from the friends who had led her to the Church.

But she found a group of people at St. Paul’s who had a commitment to their faith that was similar to her Italian friends.

“With some of the parishioners and priests that I’ve gotten to know, you feel that it’s just completely clear that these people … are completely dedicated to their faith,” Brooks said. “For these people, living without their faith in God and living without the Church … is not an option, because then they would not be living their lives to the fullest.”

Though they live thousands of miles away, Brooks was joined at the Easter Vigil by three of her Italian friends, including Erica Guerini of Milan.

When asked about her role in bringing Brooks to embrace the faith, Guerini was reluctant to take credit. But the importance of relationships was evident.

“I actually didn’t do anything special,” Guerini said. “I just spent time with a girl I met in Germany. But the three of us were so free to tell her who we were—because it was essential to us—that she could make the same” commitment to the faith that they had made.

“The baptism will be the beginning. It’s just the gateway,” Brooks said. “It’s a journey that will never end.”

‘I felt like I was a part of everything’

Relationships also led Laura Allen to be baptized during the Easter Vigil at St. Michael Church in Bradford.

An 18-year-old senior at North Harrison High School in southern Indiana, Laura wasn’t raised in any faith tradition.

But when her older sister married a Catholic, she saw the positive effect the faith had on her. Laura started going to Mass with her sister and brother-in-law, and eventually entered St. Michael Parish’s RCIA with her sister.

The relationships that fostered her faith expanded as she came to know some of the parish’s leaders and parishioners.

All of this became more important during RCIA when Laura suffered a severe knee injury while playing basketball. She ended up having her anterior cruciate ligaments reconstructed in one knee. All told, she has had this surgery done twice on both knees.

“It seems like this time around it’s been easier on me mentally to handle it,” Laura said. “I expected it to be different because it was the fourth time.

“… The people I’ve met have definitely helped. They’re all encouraging and very nice there at the [parish].”

The human relationships she has made and her physical trials along her journey of faith have led Laura to deepen her relationship of prayer with Christ.

“Before I started going to RCIA and to church, I would pray whenever I thought about it, [but] I wasn’t on any type of schedule,” Laura said. “But [now] it comes almost naturally. I usually pray every night before I go to bed.

“And any time that an ambulance goes by, I always say a prayer for the people and hope that they’re all right.”

At the Easter Vigil at the parish, Laura was the first in the congregation to receive Communion. After having been drawn close to Christ in the sacrament and seeing the rest of the parishioners do the same, she was happy with her decision to be baptized.

“It was nice,” she said. “I really felt like I was a part of everything. That’s something that I had missed out on my whole life.”

‘He’s there all the time’

Perhaps the most profound human relationship possible is that between husband and wife.

In the Catholic tradition, it is a sacrament through which God draws the spouses closer to himself through each other.

This is true for spouses of any age, but in the case of Travis and Natalie Scheibler it was particularly meaningful because Travis was raised with no meaningful connection to a faith community.

That began to change when he graduated from North Decatur High School in southeastern Indiana in 2001 and met his future wife, Natalie, who was a member of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg.

While they dated as students at Purdue University, Natalie gently encouraged Travis to go to Mass with her.

“I really feel like Travis was being called for years,” Natalie said. “Instead of being pushy, … I think I tried to be a gentle [influence], … a loving example. I feel like the Holy Spirit was calling him and, through me, Travis could recognize that.”

The pair, both 26, married in 2007 and are members of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Parish in Bright in the Batesville Deanery. Travis was baptized, confirmed and received his first Communion at the Easter Vigil there on April 11.

As Travis progressed through the parish’s RCIA, he not only felt his bond with Natalie strengthened, but his relationship with God blossomed as well.

“Learning to have a relationship with God is the main change that I’ve seen in me,” he said. “The more that I’ve learned about the faith and the more that I’ve become a part of the Church, the more I’ve learned about how to pray.

“I just kind of feel that presence. He’s there all of the time.”

A few days after the Easter Vigil, Travis said he still has “a feeling of peace over the top of [him].” He also has a new and deeper appreciation for his wife, Natalie.

“I’m very thankful for her,” Travis said. “Having her come into my life was the way [that] God touched me.” †

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