New Catholics Need Our Friendship and Example

David Oatney Diocese of Knoxville, New Evangelization, Prayer

deerwaterThose of you who celebrated Morning Lauds this morning sang or chanted the 42nd Psalm as the first chant, a psalm which has opening words in verses one and two that may be familiar to many Catholics, and certainly set me in a Holy Week mindset. The Grail translation, which is generally what is used in the English-speaking world for the psalter in the Liturgy of the Hours, renders Psalm 42:1-2 in this way:

  Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.

My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God?

as-the-deerAlthough this psalm repeats in the four-week psalter at various times throughout the year, it is always to be found at Lauds on Monday morning of Holy Week. Another time you might hear these words is at the Easter Vigil Mass during baptisms of catechumens or on Easter Sunday morning if anyone is baptized at that time. Reciting these words this morning reminded me in a very real way that while the entire Church is invited to join Christ in ascending the mount of Calvary this week and in waiting and celebrating at the Empty Tomb, catechumens and candidates for full communion with the Holy Catholic Church are waiting with anticipation for the opportunity to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Throughout Lent, we’ve prayed for catechumens and candidates, and I’ve had the opportunity-as I do each year-to assist in the formation of catechumens who will be baptized and candidates for full communion-I know how much they are looking forward to becoming a part of the Church at the weekend.

I can also speak with some experience about the excitement many of them feel knowing that their baptisms or reception into full Communion with the Church are now but days away, because some years ago, I was in their shoes. I wasn’t baptized at Easter-because of scheduling issues, I had to wait until Pentecost Sunday-but I do remember how I couldn’t wait to receive the Eucharist. The opening words of today’s first psalm at Lauds are an apt description of how I felt, and I think is probably an apt description of how many catechumens feel around our diocese, and around the country and the world. They are eager, but there is a question that hangs over some of them.

easter_darkness_to_light_33After Easter, and after the formal mystagogia phase of their formation is over, what is to become of them? I know that we still have a few from years’ past that I see at Mass, and that are active in the parish. I’m also sure that some move to other parishes and become active where they live. There is a third group, however, that I have always felt particularly burdened in prayer for, and that group are those people who come to Mass for a few months but then fall away. Often, they do this because no one other than the people on the RCIA team seem to them to display any friendship or interest in them. Indeed, I’ve heard that complaint from at least one former candidate that I know. I am certain that while those who say these things might be looking at things superficially from time to time, more often I think that it is not unreasonable for new Catholics who have willingly joined the Church of their own accord under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to expect that members of their parish community will befriend them and seek to include them, not merely to boost membership numbers in a parish group, but out of a real interest in that person’s spiritual development.

I firmly believe that I took such a keen continued interest in the Church in my early days as a Catholic because some holy clergy and laypeople took an active interest in me and my spiritual development, and encouraged mvigil-candlese to become involved with things in the Church that they saw I was interested in and good at, and encouraged me to develop a prayer life and a real relationship with both God and with the people around me. In short, I was very heavily encouraged to begin living out the faith into which I had been baptized and was willing to publicly profess. Because there were people around me at the time within the Church who encouraged me in this way, I believe that the spiritual road which the Holy Spirit put me on was leading me to where I am today in diaconate formation, though I couldn’t have seen or understood it at that time in my life.

Obviously, not everyone who participates in the RCIA process is going to feel called to diaconal or priestly formation or to life as part of a vowed religious community. New Catholics are all called, however, to be a part of the most important priesthood of all, and that is the royal priesthood of all the baptized, a chosen nation, St. Peter tells us, who are called to “declare RCIAthe wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9) There is what Blessed John Paul II rightly called a “universal call to holiness” which new Catholics (and all Catholics) are called to live out-being the Body of Christ present in a world that is often skeptical of that Body and hostile to it. It can be difficult for new Catholics to live out that call to holiness if they don’t have holy people around them ready to help them in their faith.

If you have adults in your parish who are being baptized or received into the Church this coming weekend, watch closely to see who they are. Say hello to them. Invite them to prayer groups, adoration,  or Bible study. Seek them out just to introduce yourself, most of the time a friendly word just to know that the parish community still cares about them may mean the world to them and open their hearts to allowing the Holy Spirit to work even more deeply in their lives. In a few weeks, the formal part of their formation will be ended, but they need that continuing formation that we all need in order to make our faith the very center of our lives that God calls us to make it. Those who will come into the Church this weekend need our prayers and our support, so that they will always long after the Lord “like the deer that yearns for running streams.”


NOTE: This piece originally appeared on my personal blog last year during Holy Week. Since I have devoted much of my personal blogging time since then to Life at 25, I thought it appropriate that these words should appear here as a reminder to pray for and help our catechumens and candidates of the Diocese of Knoxville in the weeks and months ahead.