Rather suddenly, the Catholic Church, which had been almost wholly a mental image theretofore, became a concrete physical - and personal - reality. The generic idea of one, holy, Catholic and apostolic became now St Patrick's parish, Pukekohe:
The generic idea of a Catholic priest became Father Jude McCarthy. Church authority became Bishop Denis Browne (now Bishop of Hamilton).
Although we had attended Mass here a couple of times before - Christmas midnight Mass in 1993, which was enchanting because carols and other cultural connexions made it seem familiar, and Easter Vigil, 1994, which was strange and in some ways creepy, because as Protestants we had made little of Easter - nonetheless, we had never attended Mass as Catholics - or at least as those who had begun the road that definitely led to being Catholics. January the 1st, 1995, was our first Mass in that sense. I recall feeling a bit uncertain and glum. We attended the 8AM Mass - which has been our normal time ever since - because we were also going to go to the Reformed Church service at 10:30. I felt a little forlorn. In our twenty Reformed years I had come to have a special affection for the Dutch. As I approached the door of the church, I thought of this. After Mass, a tall man (having spotted the newbie) came up to me and introduced himself. The Limburg accent nearly moved me to tears. Jaap has since gone to his reward; Tilly, his wife, still sits behind us. I had the feeling that the Lord was murmuring in my ear: "You want Dutch? I have plenty of Dutch. Dutch, English, Filipino, Maori - men and women from every tribe and tongue on earth."
We - all six of us - made an appointment that week to visit Father McCarthy. I had, really, no idea what to expect. Other than Father Horgan, in Yap, I had never met a Catholic priest. I think perhaps I had thought - in my vanity - that he would be impressed. Here, after all, was someone wishing to do his church a favour by joining. Father Jude was quite low-key about the whole business. He was happy to meet us. We talked about practical matters - in particular, about RCIA classes.
RCIA - the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults - is, relatively speaking, new. Once, becoming a Christian was a daunting process. Christians, after all, were counter-cultural - and sometimes experienced the consequences of being out of step with the world around them. Entering the Church was not a step to be taken lightly. People were often catechised for years before reception.
By the Middle Ages, in the European world, being a Catholic was the norm. Most people were born into the Church. Converts - Jews, for example, Muslims, and so forth, were taught individually - usually by a priest - and privately.
In 1972 - seven years after the Second Vatican Council - the Congregation for Divine Worship instituted a formal process for admission of adults. It may well be that the Church saw the difficulties of one-on-one catechisation - amongst which was the falling number of priests - and saw this as a formal solution. We, then, would be given instruction in this way.
I explained that it was not yet certain that any of us but I myself would actually be entering the Church. No problem - RCIA classes imposed no obligation to be received.
Classes would begin shortly after Easter. I was surprised by this. I had understood, from talking to people on-line, that RCIA normally began in August or September with reception at Easter. "Ah, yes," said Father Jude, "but we do things a little differently here."
In the meantime, Father said, there was another matter to be taken up. I was divorced and re-married.