Yesterday in my parish (St. Patrick in Morristown) a new year of formation in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults began. Not only is it fair to say that this ministry is one that is close to my heart, I am personally close to it because I have been on the RCIA team at St. Patrick for the last five years. The reason that both Nicole and I feel so strongly about RCIA is because we both went through the process ourselves (not at the same time), and so we both know that having a person who properly understands the faith as much as possible before freely accepting entry into the Church is a necessity. It is impossible to cover all things before Easter, but it is vital that catechumens and candidates have as full an understanding of the faith they are professing as can be done. The words I most hate to hear are “they/you never told us that in RCIA,” and so we have to be careful to present the truth of the faith in charity and love, but present it nonetheless.
Every year, it never fails that someone enters the RCIA process from a Baptist or Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) or pentecostal background of some kind. They or their families come from these ecclesial communities that are especially common in this part of the country. While we may disagree with the theologies that some of those groups espouse, many of those who are members of those groups have a love for the Scriptures and they take the responsibility of living a moral life seriously. It is important, then, that the moral truths of the faith be presented clearly and unambiguously, with a special emphasis on developing prayer life and a relationship with God through different forms of prayer.
The reason that the Church’s moral and catechetical teachings on so-called “hot-button” issues ranging from abortion to “gay marriage” to contraception to women’s ordination need to be made as clear as possible at various appropriate points in the RCIA process is that many of the catechumens and candidates who may come (or their families may come) from these more fundamentalist churches may have a lot of theological ambiguity and difference from one to the other, but on many of the great moral questions of the day, there is little ambiguity at all. Many of the potential new Catholics who are approaching our catechetical teams in our parishes need to be shown that the Church does have a clear moral teaching, that it is rooted in Sacred Scripture, and that it stands the test of time. The reason for this clarity where possible is because many people in our part of the country have been told that the Church holds to a kind of moral relativism that we not only do not subscribe to, but in fact the reverse is true-Catholic moral standards, when applied to one’s life, are some of the clearest among the world’s great religions.
On the other hand, Catholic social teaching should also be thoroughly woven into the RCIA process. Some so-called “main-line” Protestant ecclesial communities preach and teach much on social justice matters today, but this is often done at the expense of both sound moral teaching and a clear voice on the part of the leadership of those denominations on the great moral questions of the day. On the other hand, many evangelical and fundamentalist ecclesial communities rarely discuss social justice, largely because social teaching in those communities is not nearly as clearly defined as Catholic social teaching, and in some cases the discussion of social justice or social teaching can be mistaken for socialism. I write all of this from the experience of having been raised within a more fundamentalist ecclesial community myself, and I converted and went through the RCIA process just like many people will likely do this year in the Diocese of Knoxville.
Learning how to pray as a Catholic is an important part of the formation process as well. When new Catholics leave the RCIA process, they should have at least some rudimentary idea of basic prayers (the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and things like the Angelus and the Anima Christi). It also wouldn’t be a bad idea, particularly in the mystagogia phase, to introduce the Liturgy of the Hours to the new catechumens at some level, even if it is through a publication like Magnificat or Give Us This Day. Give them a solid foundation for a relationship with God through prayer as a Catholic.
The most important thing that anyone can do for catechumens, candidates, and those searching and discerning God’s call for their lives in the RCIA process, however, is to make them feel welcome, wanted, and included. When someone is received into the Church, it is sometimes the case that they’ll come for awhile and then we might not see them again. Some move on to other parishes and other places, true enough, and that is part of life. Still others, however, don’t ever quite feel welcomed because no one other than members of the RCIA team has reached out to them. In this Jubilee Year of the Diocese of Knoxville, I’d like to challenge everyone reading Life At 25 to find out more about the RCIA process in your parishes so that as these potential new Catholics continue down the road of discernment that they are on, you can find out who they are and perhaps say hello to them when you see them at Mass.
In our part of the country, converting to the Catholic faith can be a very risky thing for some people, even in our day and time. For following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, people risk the alienation of friends or even family. Even in those cases where those close to a person are more tolerant, following the path of formation and discernment isn’t easy. Participants in the RCIA need our prayers, encouragement, and support.