Be a Witness – Symposium
On the 4th of October I was one of the speakers at the Symposium with the theme “Be a Witness”. The symposium took place in the federation week of the Clara and Franciscus federation in the Netherlands. I was asked to speak about the transition from culture-Catholic to choice-Catholic and what that means. In this article a summary of my story. Your life is the result of the choices you make. You make choices yourself, and others are made for you. Life is full of moments with choices. Are you aware of your choices? I will share some milestones in my life and tell you what the result is of my choices. We start at the beginning.
Receiving Holy Baptism
When I was less than 2 months old I was baptized, this was on October 11th, 1987. Pope Francis has asked everyone this year to look for the date you were baptized because it is your birthday of being born again. A true holiday. Of course I did not know when this was but my parents could tell me. I received the first Sacrament, as a gift, my parents made this choice. With receiving Baptism I became a child of God, a child of the Light through the power of the Holy Spirit.
First Holy Communion
As a child I received the Sacrament of First Holy Communion. A Sacrament that I consciously received, the choice for this I made together with my parents. The First Holy Communion is when you first participate and receive the Eucharist, the Body of Christ. It is quite common to do your First Holy Communion if you are baptized. You simply enter into the preparation program at school and will receive the Sacrament of First Holy Communion, unless you explicitly state that you really do not want to receive First Holy Communion.
As a teenager I received the Sacrament of Holy Confirmation. I made this choice for receiving this Sacrament myself under the guidance of my parents. When receiving Holy Confirmation, you are anointed with oil (chrisma) and a prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with the laying on of hands.
World Youth Days
When I just turned 18, I went to the World Youth Days (WYD) in Cologne, Germany, with dioceses Rotterdam and Paramaribo. This has been a conscious independent choice. Although I have to admit that this choice was influenced by both our priest and my parents. I have experienced the WYD as a great time. It is special to celebrate your faith with people of my own age. The catechesis that was given was a good fit for my age and made me very enthusiastic about the Catholic faith.
Then I came home and it was still very different than in Cologne. Frankly, I thought it was all pretty boring and the faith was not alive for me. I had many questions about who God is and also what the added value was of going to the Church. What do I get when I go to Church? That may sound selfish, but that is how you grow up. If you are good in math as a child, you get a sticker. If you learn well for a test, you get a good grade. And when I went to church, well, an hour later I stood outside with more questions than when I went in. Therefore, it was easier to stay away. I went less and less to Church. Until I actually only went on big holidays like Christmas and Easter.
In the time that I did not go to Church there was a kind of emptiness. I tried to fill this void with parties and other social activities, but the emptiness was never really filled. In 2012 I received an invitation from my aunt to come to the Celebrate festival of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR). I had never heard of that so I first googled it. The CCR is a movement within the Roman Catholic Church with special attention and openness to the Holy Spirit. That did not really make sense to me, I thought it was rather vague. So I googled the location, Stadskanaal. That looked very attractive. So I decided to try the conference for a day and if I did not like it then I would just go walking and biking in Stadskanaal.
Joy is the sign of fulfillment
My feelings with the first introduction of CCR were mixed. For example, there was a lot of praise with different expressions in songs, sounds, words, body posture and dance. And I felt uncomfortable with that, but at the same time I was also very curious. I recognized the joy and openness as it was with the WYD. There was good education and what stuck with me, is something one of the speakers said: joy is the sign of fulfillment. And I thought to myself, I want that joy! Fulfilling joy. So I prayed to God: God, I want to know You. Fill me. (Just a little warning: beware of what you pray, God could just answer it!) At that moment I was overwhelmed with a joy that I have not experienced before. I also had the feeling that I was suddenly lighter. And I learned that I was actually lighter. I had a backpack full of doubts, worries, anger, disappointments and more and I threw everything at the foot of the Cross. In the years it had become quite a heavy backpack. I made the choice to empty the backpack and that made room for joy, peace and love. Room for God.
God is a God of relationship. Through prayer we can have a conversation with Him. He is always close. In the Word, Jesus says “I knock at the door”. By that, He does not mean the door of the Church, but the door of your heart. Jesus knocks at the door of your heart and waits. He waits for you to open. Do you open the door of your heart? There is only one choice that I make: I choose God. I make all other choices together with Him through prayer. Choosing God is not a choice that you make once, it is a choice that you make everyday. Everyday, you choose whether you live for Him or for yourself. It does not matter if you walk intimately with Him, are a step away or 100 steps away from Him. It is always only one step to come back. He is waiting for you.
The result of my choices is that I live in peace and joy. That I look forward to every new day the Lord gives me. I do not rely on my own strength and wisdom but on His. God is in, beside, in front and behind me. I feel that. That is why I am never alone and this makes the possibilities limitless. I’m on an adventure with God and seek Him in everything. I seek Him in the Word, creation, the beautiful nature and in every person I meet. For we are all made in His image.