FLUSHING — Dylan O’Connor’s first full day as a Catholic was Easter Sunday, April 9, but he did not spend the entire Mass planted in a pew.
The night before, O’Connor received sacraments of initiation — baptism, first holy Communion, and confirmation — at the Easter Vigil, Saturday evening, at St. Andrew Avellino Parish in Flushing.
But at Easter Mass the next day, he was already serving the church as an usher, and parishioners noticed.
It began, O’Connor said, when Father Gregory McIlhenney gave a “shout out” to him and the other former catechumens, now “neophytes” in the parish. Next, as an usher, O’Connor assisted an elderly woman who needed some help getting down the stairs.
“She pointed out the cross that my fiancé gave me,” O’Connor related. “She said, ‘Oh, how long have you had that cross? I said, ‘Just under 12 hours now.’ She said, ‘You’re the guy Father Greg was talking about.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’ ”
O’Connor, 26, a digital marketing specialist from Whitestone, credited his fiancé, Elizabeth Meittinis, for introducing him to the faith.
“She is a third-generation parishioner at St. Andrews,” he explained. “So, obviously, the faith is very important to her. I began spending a lot more time around the Church and meeting the community. So, that’s what inspired me to pursue everything and become a member.”
O’Connor said he grew up without any religious influence. “What I tell people,” he added, “is I was a free agent.”
Still, he had a lifelong curiosity about spirituality and where it came from. Answers emerged as he participated in St. Andrew’s program for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
“It opened my eyes to something new — kind of an understanding of a greater power, how everything works together in this world, and where it all comes from,” O’Connor said. The whirlwind weekend “felt really good.”
“At the end of it, I felt a little bit closer to the Church and the community. It was just a really great way to start my journey as a new Catholic,” he said.
Nataly Castillo, 19, also received sacraments Saturday. Her initiation was at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Windsor Terrace.
She said that growing up, her family “identified as Catholic,” but she did not receive sacraments.
“They never had the chance to baptize me,” Castillo said of her family. “But I got to a position where it is left up to me. When I was younger, I didn’t really care much for any of this. But now that I’m older, I understand a bit more. I thought it would be a great thing for me to open myself up to.”
Castillo, of Prospect Lefferts Gardens, regularly takes long walks through Prospect Park to reflect on issues, including spirituality and earthly challenges she faces. Along the way, she routinely passes the Holy Name of Jesus Parish, where she had attended Mass a couple times.
One day about a year ago, she decided “to just stop by” and ask about receiving the sacraments of initiation, she said.
Castillo, who is studying digital marketing and web design at Brooklyn College, said the parish staff welcomed her to the community and “were fully embracing of me on this journey.”
Receiving the three sacraments at the Easter Vigil sort of reminded Castillo of her high school graduation. “But it felt different because it was like a spiritual graduation,” she said. “At that moment, I realized that this was truly just the beginning.”
Castillo described Easter Sunday as a “wow moment.”
“It was a lovely Mass,” she said. “I got to participate in the Eucharist. Previously, I hadn’t been able to eat the bread. I could only just receive a blessing, but now I can fully participate in it. I felt a bit emotional thinking that I had become official. I’m very happy.”
Bishop Robert Brennan administered the sacrament of baptism during the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights.
On Sunday, he celebrated Easter Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Downtown Brooklyn.
The Gospel reading was scheduled to be John 20:1-19 — the scene when Mary Magdalene tells the disciples that Jesus was missing from the tomb, and Peter and John sprint off to see for themselves.
Instead, Bishop Brennan directed Deacon Ron Rizzuto to read Matthew 28:1-10 — a depiction of the earlier scene when Mary Magdalene and another woman arrive at the tomb and encounter an angel.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel said in verses 5-6. “I know that you are seeking Jesus, the crucified. He is not here for he has been raised just as he said.”
During his homily, Bishop Brennan explained he was “exercising the option” to read from the Gospel of Matthew that was “proclaimed at last night’s Easter Vigil.”
Members of the congregation chuckled when he added, “I guess I should have told you that before. I saw some of you trying to follow along.”
Still, Matthew’s Gospel holds a unique illustration for Resurrection Sunday, Bishop Brennan said.
“The women go off as the angel had told them,” he said, “and what happens? Jesus meets them on the way. They actually see and hear the risen Lord. They reach out to grasp his feet, and they hear his assuring words, ‘Do not be afraid.’”
Bishop Brennan said, “It’s not an overstatement to say that our lives on earth can indeed be fearful,” with a world saddled with war, crime, drug addiction, and the “culture of death.”
“But friends,” he exclaimed, “we are Christians. Christ is risen, indeed. We know that in the core of our being, in Jesus, death is not the final answer. He lives, and because he lives, he is closer to us than we can possibly imagine. We are overjoyed.”
The Gospel ends with Jesus telling the women to go to Galilee, “and there they will see me.”
“Well, let me interject,” Bishop Brennan said. “Tell my brothers and sisters to go to Brooklyn and Queens, ‘and there they will see me.’
“So do not be afraid, but go, and then we will see Jesus.”
Click here for more information on the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (R.C.I.A.) program.