Tag Archives: RCIA

Why We Minister: Brett Perkins

Brett Perkins, Assistant Director for Sacramental Preparation & Catechesis

“The results of your physical came back, and I’m sorry to say that you have cancer.”  These are never the words that you want to hear from your doctor. They are especially devastating to hear when you’re an otherwise healthy 18 year old who is flying high after graduating from high school and preparing to enter Notre Dame as a freshman that fall.  Yet these are precisely the words I was hearing from my doctor on that hot, humid central Illinois afternoon in June 1997. In that moment, I felt disconnected from myself, as though I was floating above the room and looking down into that doctor’s office, like I was somehow a passive onlooker to some other person’s misfortune.  Yet this was my diagnosis, not someone else’s. Questions raced through my mind. Now what? Was college out of the question? Would I even be alive to go to college? But the doctor wasn’t finished.

“I know this is hard to wrap your mind around,” the doctor continued, “but I’d like to propose that we take you over to the hospital for surgery ASAP, to remove the tumor.”  

“ASAP?  You mean, like, in the next day or two?”  

“No, like this afternoon.  I’ll be heading out of town tomorrow and this tumor really needs to be dealt with now.”

“Ok, doctor, uh, whatever you think.”  

And off we went to prep for surgery at the local Catholic hospital.

As I gradually awoke in the hospital room after surgery, I remember the sudden release of so many tears as emotions tied to pain and fear, frustration and anxiety rushed into my consciousness.  Then, lying in that hospital bed, I had what is to this day one of the most profound encounters with the love of God that I have ever had in my life. As my eyes began to focus as I struggled against the anesthesia, my eyes were drawn like a magnet to the crucifix on the wall at the foot of the bed.  In the midst of my own profound brokenness and without clarity on what my future would hold, I looked at our Lord’s own body, broken on the cross. Bringing His suffering into dialogue with my own, I became aware in some small way of what Jesus must have felt on that first Good Friday. Once again, tears began to stream, yet this time they were coming not from pain or fear, but from becoming personally aware of just what Jesus had done for me by dying on that cross.  I was also made aware, in that instant, of my own unresponsiveness and passivity in the face of such love:  the Lord knew well that I had plenty of mess-ups and sins in my life, and yet His love for me was so much greater than any sin I could ever commit.  While I wouldn’t have been able to reference it then, one of my favorite Scriptures today reflects well the life-altering realization I had in that hospital bed:

For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.  Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)  

In that room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur, Illinois, I experienced personally the mercy and love of Jesus for me.  I came to understand that He would see me through my cancer, whatever the outcome; I had nothing to worry about, for He had conquered death and brought new life to even the darkness of the cross.  While I had grown up in a Christian household, this was perhaps the first moment that my faith “clicked” for me, when I experienced for myself God’s faithfulness, tenderness, and loving kindness.  In some small way, I also began to sense that I would be called to share this love of God with everyone, though I couldn’t have imagined then what form that might take.

Brett greeting students at an event.

Fast forward to 2004.  In the seven years that had passed, I’d beaten cancer, had an incredible experience of collegiate life at Notre Dame, and graduated with a major  in finance and a minor in theology. While at Notre Dame, I’d also become Catholic. A friend’s invitation to Mass got that ball rolling, and there I encountered again the love of Jesus giving Himself to us fully in the Holy Eucharist, an encounter that was only reinforced by the witness of the lives of so many on-fire Catholics I’d met at Notre Dame, especially through the RCIA process.  Upon graduation, I had taken a job with a prestigious financial consulting firm and, alongside dozens of friends, made the move to Chicago. Everything in life seemed to be landing perfectly for me…yet I knew that something deep down was missing. A phone call I received in July 2004 from one of my Campus Ministry mentors helped me name that void, when she invited me to consider coming back to Notre Dame to work in…Campus Ministry.  Whoa. This was not a part of the life plan I’d worked out for myself. What could God possibly be doing now in the midst of my otherwise perfect life? Countless hours of recollection and prayerful discernment followed, including many conversations with others. In the course of that discernment, and through others’ affirmation of my gifts, God made one thing abundantly clear to me: I had an explicit call to ministry in my life, and that the trajectory of my life had indeed been leading me to this decision point.  I knew what I had to do.

I’m now completing my fourteenth year of young adult ministry at Notre Dame.  Here, I finally discovered my heart’s desire: to accompany young adults as they, too, searched for meaning and grace in their lives.  Looking back on my experience of God throughout my life, I can now explain why I minister. I minister because I have experienced personally the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, to whom I owe my life, and I desire only to lead others to an encounter with that same love and mercy.  There is no other reason that I am where I am today, except for the grace of God and my simple openness to follow where He was leading me. But I don’t minister simply out of nostalgia for one particular experience of God from 20+ years ago.  No, I minister because God has never stopped sending His Son to me (and to all) whenever I encounter Him anew in prayer, in Scripture, in family and friends, in those I serve, and especially when I receive Him in Holy Communion at Mass each day.  Nope, I’m no saint; I’m a work in progress like everyone else. But I know that it is precisely because I remain open to encountering the love and mercy of Jesus each day that I have the courage and strength to keep building God’s Kingdom, one person at a time, and no matter what else life throws my way.  

Brett serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

For the past five years in Campus Ministry, my primary work has been to direct the very ministry that helped me come home to the Catholic Church, the RCIA Process.  With each new group of students, I am blessed to hear the stories of individuals who have had their own “aha” moments, who have encountered God and felt the nudge of a loving Father who calls them to investigate the Catholic Christian faith or go deeper in their previous faith commitment.  I hear stories of divine Providence that led them here to Notre Dame, perhaps firstly for academic pursuits but then, sometimes quite unexpectedly, to discover the God who fulfills the deepest longings of their hearts. I then have the distinct pleasure of accompanying them as they make their own response in faith, which is then sealed in covenant through the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation at the Basilica each year.  I minister in RCIA because of joy, which I experience whenever new intentional disciples of Jesus are launched out into our world and then go off to build the Kingdom of God wherever they are planted, that even more might come to know, love, and serve God. Each time we celebrate the Sacraments with one of my RCIA cohorts, I’m reminded of my own journey that God began in me so many years ago. And it is precisely because of my own experience of the mercy and love of Jesus, that day in the hospital and every day since, that I minister today.

“The most beautiful and stirring adventure that can happen to you is the personal meeting with Jesus, who is the only one who gives real meaning to our lives.”  – Pope St. John Paul II

 

 

 

Why I Still Believe

Flora Tang, Senior Anchor Intern

This past Easter Vigil, I stood beside the baptismal font as 11 beloved members of the Notre Dame community were received into the family of Christ through Baptism, Confirmation, and first Eucharist here at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Whereas this time, I stood by them at Easter Vigil Mass as the intern for Sacramental Preparation, two and a half years ago, I, too, stood in front of this same Basilica and professed before the congregation that I did believe that “all the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” Somehow, back in the chaotic busyness of sophomore year, I became Catholic.

Whenever I mention to friends and professors that I had only recently become Catholic, the question of “why did you become Catholic?” inevitably comes up: a question to which I have since then recited a 1-minute elevator pitch-length answer, a 5-minute long answer, and an hour-long answer. As I renewed my baptismal promises this Easter Vigil along with my RCIA neophytes, I asked myself again why I became Catholic, and why, two and a half years later, I still believe.

Flora at her Confirmation sophomore year in the Basilica.

Why do I still believe, when I, just this spring break on a pilgrimage, had stepped foot on what was once massacre sites where children were killed during the El Salvador Civil War? Why do I still believe, when I walked through the now-permanent refugee camps outside Bethlehem, where hope or even God seemed absent? Or when the question of theodicy– of why a God who is mercy and resurrection allows for suffering in the world– remains no longer a philosophical question but the heart of stories I hear from people I encounter around the world? Or, on the other hand, why do I still believe, when theological and philosophical arguments tug at the core of what I hold as religious truth? When my political science and peace studies classes reveal more and more the structural violence in the world caused or justified by religious doctrines, including those of my own? When faith, by definition, means that what I hold to be true may not always be substantiated by empirical evidence?

Yet above the altar of almost every Catholic church lies my path to faith every time despair seems to have the last word: a crucified Christ, who unites himself with the bleeding and suffering of God’s beloved world. This crucifix reminds me that beyond all the suffering I see in the world, there is a God whose love is so profound that He comes to walk in solidarity with our suffering. Here on this crucifix, hope lives because the agony of Christ does not have the last word: love and resurrection does.

But just as the Eucharist re-presents the self-giving love of Christ each day, the Resurrection is likewise not just a 1st century event involving earthquakes and blinding lights, but an event I– even during my greatest times of despair– see with my own eyes here and now.

RCIA neophytes share the candlelight during the Easter Vigil

Perhaps I still believe because my eyes have seen the resurrection.

I see the resurrection at the Catholic Worker house downtown, where students and the homeless come together to share meals in dignity and peace. I see the resurrection in the faith of the Salvadoran mother, who remains in hope and fights for the lives of Salvadoran migrants since the loss of her own migrant son ten years ago. I see the resurrection in the student clubs on campus that boldly serve as voices for the voiceless ones at this university; in each friend who lifted me up during my own times of despair and doubt; and in each of the 11 neophytes, who by their baptism, chose a life of hope and discipleship.

I became Catholic, and today still believe in the Catholic faith, because it is ultimately a faith that clings onto the crucifix as well as the hope of the resurrection– the hope that through the life-giving power of love and mercy, redemption can triumph over a world that appears to be plagued by injustice and death. If the resurrection of Christ witnessed by the Jerusalem women on that very first Easter Sunday prompted them to a life of discipleship and faith, so did the everyday resurrection– the everyday acts of unceasing love and hope that continues despite the darkness around them– which I witness with my own eyes strengthened me to become Catholic two-and-a-half years ago, and today, to say: yes, I still believe.