Bishop Robert Deeley celebrates with new Catholics at annual Neophyte Mass
“It was just incredible.”
That is how Ethan Kimball of Saco describes what it was like to receive the initiation sacraments at Easter.
“I couldn’t think. It was just emotion,” he said. “As the rest of the Mass went on, I remember that I would be smiling, and then, all of a sudden, I would be about to break down into tears, just sort of going back and forth. It was an incredible feeling.”
Kimball, a member of Good Shepherd Parish, is among more than 100 people around the state who were either baptized or received into full Communion with the Catholic Church during the Easter season, and on Sunday, June 18, several of them came together with Bishop Robert Deeley for the celebration of the annual neophyte Mass. The Mass is an opportunity to thank God for the blessings he has bestowed upon them and upon the Church and to recognize that the neophytes are now part of the greater Church community.
"It is a wonderful gift, the gift of faith. And as we witness it in our midst, we give thanks and want to celebrate it,” said Bishop Deeley during the Mass, which was celebrated at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. “We are blessed in bringing new people into the Church throughout our diocese. We are grateful for the way in which that shows us the grace of God is alive in our midst, drawing us closer to him and the mission he gives us through Jesus.”
During the Mass, the neophytes were called forward to receive a blessing from the bishop, who asked God to “Bless these, your sons and daughters, whom you chose to share in the Easter sacraments. Protect the new birth you have given them; deepen their faith and understanding; and through your saving mysteries, bring them one day to the glory of your heavenly banquet table.”
For the neophytes, the Mass was another step in a still unfolding, life-changing journey.
“It is such a relief, now that I've found my home, that I can focus on studying the Catechism and the writings of the saints, as well as getting more involved in the Church community. I look forward to receiving the sacraments throughout the rest of my life and growing closer to Christ,” said Derek Fox, from Windsor, a member of St. Michael Parish in Augusta.
“It’s been amazing and being able to take Communion now every Sunday is amazing, too. There is a poignant difference from me on my way to Mass and me after Mass,” said Kimball. “I’m just more cheerful now. I don’t know how to put it, but it’s to the point that I’ve had coworkers say, ‘You’ve been in a weirdly good mood lately. What happened?’”
Kimball, who works as a psychiatric technician, said his journey into the Church began one Tuesday morning about three years ago when he was feeling down and decided to attend church services after finishing his shift.
“I was just feeling depressed, and I decided that I needed to change something. I knew a fair number of Christians and Catholics, and I always saw them as good examples, so when I decided I needed to change something, I figured that would be a major change,” he said.
He said he wasn’t seeking a particular denomination, but when he did a Google search, he discovered that St. Joseph Church in Biddeford had a Mass at just the right time.
“St. Joseph came right up, so I went there, and it was a pretty incredible experience,” he said.
Kimball said it was during the early months of the pandemic, when Mass attendance was limited and ushers were escorting people to pews. Because he arrived early, he ended up in the front row.
“The usher brings me right up front, which was quite an experience for someone who hasn’t been to Mass since he was a kid,” he said.
He said what immediately struck him as he walked up the aisle of the church were the stained-glass windows.
“I could see bright, colorful things off to the side, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, they have a bunch of big TVs in here.’ Then I looked, and it was the stained-glass windows, and I stopped walking. The usher kind of bumped into me because I had stopped so abruptly, and I was just staring at them,” he said.
He said much about the Mass resonated with him. For instance, the readings happened to be from Genesis and Matthew, the two books of the Bible he had read.
“The way everything worked out, I really felt that I was supposed to be there on that day to hear those readings,” he said.
Kimball continued to attend Mass every Tuesday, and although he felt a pull towards joining the Church, he hesitated to take the next step and participate in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Looking back, he said that he wishes he had done it sooner and has this advice for those who are considering it: "If there is anybody who is in that position where they want to join the Church, but they’re putting off RCIA, just go for it. It’s not a scary experience. Everybody is going to be absolutely thrilled to be welcoming a new person into the faith."
Kimball said that now when his days are stressful, he pauses to pray until he again feels at peace.
He said while he tends to be a reserved person, he also now finds himself being more outgoing thanks to the welcoming community he has found at Good Shepherd Parish.
“I’m not really one to make small talk or anything or really go out of my way to meet new people, but after Mass every day, I’m walking around with a smile and chatting with anybody I meet. Some of the people in the parish have started inviting me to the weekly breakfast after Mass, which has been really good. I don’t know how to describe it, other than I am just in a really good mood every Sunday,” he said.
Judith Garnett of Portland said she has also found a welcoming community at St. Anne Church in Gorham, part of St. Anthony of Padua Parish.
“People don’t do anything alone,” she said. “Everything is done in groups, and nobody is left out.”
Garnett said entering the Catholic Church was the culmination of a long journey. She said that for the past 10 years, she had been regularly attending a Baptist church but said she always felt there was something missing.
“I felt that there was something more, and I drove by St. Anne twice a week for about six months, and I felt that is where the more is. I just felt called to go in, and I was accepted lovingly,” she said.
Garnett said what she discovered she was missing was the sacraments.
“I was looking for sacramental life. I didn’t know that was what I was looking for, but that is what I found here,” she said. “I found the community, and the love, and the power. I always had Jesus, but this is everything that he wanted for me.”
Now, going to church on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for eucharistic adoration and Mass has become part of her life.
“It’s an entire lifestyle I adopted,” she said.
Derek Fox said his life, too, has changed since entering the Church.
“I have read in some Catholic commentaries on Scripture that Noah's ark was a prefiguration or type of the Catholic Church. This makes sense to me because everyone who finds their way into the Church will have everything available to them needed for salvation,” he said.
Fox was raised as a Baptist but stopped practicing his faith when he was in his teens.
He said it was his wife who first guided him back to it. He said she started reading the Bible and praying more, which inspired him to do the same.
“That kind of led me to a lot of research and delving into Church history, and that, more or less, led me to where I am now,” he said.
He said his wife first started attending a non-denominational church, but the more he learned, the more he felt pulled first towards Eastern Orthodoxy and then towards Catholicism.
“It was more of a research thing, determining that, OK, the Catholic Church really is the original Church established by Christ, and then there was this schism that caused these other churches to fall away. And so, it seemed to be more of a natural progression where I would go to the Catholic Church,” he said.
He said he attended a Catholic Mass last fall and really enjoyed it.
"I started falling in love with it," he said. "What I was searching for was reverence because one thing I really disliked about the non-denominational Protestant services is that the music that they played seemed very secular. It has Christian lyrics, of course, but it just seems like something you might hear on the radio. It's like a rock concert or something, and it did not connect with me. The reverence of the Catholic Mass much more is what I want."
Fox said receiving the sacraments at Easter gave him a feeling of peace.
“I had been eagerly looking forward to that day since I began RCIA months earlier. There was a transformation that occurred within me thereafter, and I felt closer to the Lord than I ever had before. Since then, I have been diligently trying to build upon that foundation to grow in holiness and live a more devout life,” he said.
The bishop noted in his homily during the neophyte Mass that that is something all Catholics are called to do.
“God chose to involve the very sinners he came to save in the project of their salvation,” the bishop said. “It really was a beautiful decision, because it gives us a chance to have real, everlasting meaning and purpose in our lives. If we actively help Jesus build up his eternal kingdom by building up his Church on earth, then our lives take on an eternal weight of glory. They can have eternal repercussions. We really can store up our treasures in heaven, making a difference that will last forever and ever.”