Northern Arizona University student Grace Godat’s life has changed drastically in the past couple of weeks due to COVID-19. As a flute player in the NAU marching band, practice has been canceled along with all other extracurricular activities. Her sculpture and studio art classes have been moved online, and her months of preparation to be received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil are on hold, postponed to a later date yet unknown.
Godat grew up as a Pentecostal Christian and stopped attending church at age 13. It wasn’t until she transferred to NAU from Riverside City College in August of last year that she felt like she was missing something.
“Everything was going well,” Godat said, “the transfer, the classes. I got a nagging, and I thought, ‘I’m missing a relationship with God.’”
Godat’s boyfriend invited her to his church, Holy Trinity Newman Center at NAU, and on their one-month anniversary of dating, Godat decided to give the Newman Center a try. Godat described her first Mass as “emotional.”
“I felt so connected to everything that was going on in Mass. It felt like a family, which is something I had never experienced much before. It made me feel very connected to the Catholic faith,” Godat said.
Three months in, Godat entered the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program. It helped answer many of the questions that she had about the Church. Since then, she has been preparing for Baptism, Confirmation and first Holy Communion.
The March 18 diocesan announcement that all Masses have been suspended until further notice put those sacraments on hold. Hundreds of other RCIA candidates throughout the diocese are in limbo, too. Godat’s dilemma is compounded by the halting of campus events through April 30. That includes the Newman Center. Godat has been instructed to contact her local parish in order to receive her sacraments.
It has been a difficult part of the journey, but she remains positive.
“Mass always reaffirms my faith and reaffirms why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s something that’s a part of my life, so to not have it makes me sad,” Godat said. “I’ve been praying the Rosary and trying to think about what I can be grateful for.”
NAU sophomore Emily Miller will be completing the rest of the semester online at her home in Irvine, California. She is currently in contact with the Office of the Bishop for the Diocese of Orange and parishes in the area to receive the sacrament of Confirmation.
Miller was raised Catholic but describes her former self as a “Christmas and Easter Catholic.” That changed after a difficult semester last spring when Miller felt a tug on her heart to come back to the Church. She’s been attending RCIA since September , her favorite moment being time in the chapel and praying with the rest of the RCIA students.
“I finally gave everything to God and opened up to Him and felt a lot of peace,” Miller said. “Getting back into a relationship with God was the most memorable moment.”
In this season of uncertainty, Miller is remaining positive and remembering that Mass and other events have been suspended in order to keep her safe.
“God has a plan,” Miller said. “I’ll get my sacrament eventually.”
Michael Vollmer has been teaching RCIA at San Francisco de Asís Parish in Flagstaff for the past five years. There are eight individuals who will now be receiving their sacraments on Pentecost Sunday, God willing.
This extra waiting period can be providential, however. Vollmer pointed to a Forgiveness and Mercy Retreat for RCIA students one year. A woman there who was not on good terms with her dad, concluded that she should pray for him. An hour before the Easter Vigil Mass, her dad called out of the blue. The woman was in shock because her father had been on her list of people to forgive.
Vollmer has also seen many “aha moments” as he puts it, where he sees his students coming to revelations about the faith as their eyes are being opened more and more to the truth of the Church.
“Those types of moments are precious, and they don’t occur without the weekly class discussions about the faith, about God, catechesis. All that is a part of formation. That person’s heart is opened, and God pours Himself into their hearts,” Vollmer said.
The interaction won’t be quite the same, but Vollmer plans to move RCIA classes online for now. He recognizes how difficult this time is for his RCIA students, as some have been preparing to enter the Church for years, while others are hungering for the Eucharist. In this time of waiting, he is encouraging his students to participate in online Mass, look to the saints for inspiration and to pray.
“Make this a part of your journey,” Vollmer said. “Be a prayer warrior.”