A good Monday to you all. I hope your weekend was a good one.
I wanted to share some photos of the interior of Christ the King church in Omaha, where the RCIA workshops were held on Friday and Saturday:
I also had the chance to play their 40 rank Reuter organ—just wonderful! You can just about see the pipes in the gallery in this photo:
My focus for the two days (one day with clergy, the next with RCIA teams) was on recapturing the originating vision for the RCIA as elucidated by the Second Vatican Council, in its document on the Church's missionary activity, Ad Gentes.
I have been doing presentations such as these all over the United States and Canada for about ten years. Dioceses are keenly interested in sharing this vision with the people involved in Christian initiation. This vision—that the catechumenate is not merely a "course" in Catholic teaching—is critical to the full implementation of the rite. The Council envisioned the RCIA as more of a hands-on school of discipleship, a real apprenticeship in the whole Christian life. This is played out in the RCIA text itself through the four-pronged approach to Christian formation, found in Paragraph 75: 1. Formation through catechesis (Handing on the Sacred Word and tradition); 2. Formation in and through the Christian community; 3. Formation in liturgical prayer; 4. Formation in apostolic service and witness. I am convinced more and more that most (90% plus) of RCIA processes in the United States and Canada focus almost exclusively on the first prong. Formation through catechesis is alive and well. Just Google "RCIA Schedule" and you will see what I mean. Parish after parish after parish offers a syllabus of topics, arranged systematically over the course of several months. In many places, there are creative ways that this catechesis is offered, i.e. various approaches with the Catholic Catechism, with the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, with various adult learning models, with Christian witness talks, with the use of all kinds of hand-outs to help with understanding and appropriating God's word and the Tradition of the Church. But, for these 90% plus parishes, this is where it stops. I am getting to the point now of telling people in these parishes (who are unwilling to take steps to embrace the other three pillars of Christian formation) to stop calling what they are doing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults; clearly a course in Catholic teaching is not the RCIA; is not what the Second Vatican Council envisioned.
People tell me time and again how moved they are by the way I present the Council's vision for the catechumenate; the apprenticeship approach. They buy my book (Apprenticed to Christ: Activities for Practicing the Catholic Way of Life), and then they tell me that they don't move their initiation processes beyond the programmatic teaching approach.
Is there hope that the RCIA (the catechumenate as envisioned by the Church) will be implemented in the United States and Canada? Even this eternal optimist is beginning to have his own serious doubts. All I can do is chip away very slowly at the entrenched mentality.
Here's the way I see it. For decades and decades (before the Second Vatican Council), the approach to formation of the unbaptized and those already baptized persons wishing to enter the Catholic Church was the convert class model. The parish priest, or a consecrated religious held these classes and "taught" the faith. The Second Vatican Council came along and restored the catechumenate, the ancient process of gradual formation leading to conversion and to the celebration of the sacraments. When diocesan and parish leaders discovered that there was this mandated way to "bring people into the church," they sent people for training, particularly through the institutes offered by the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. The great gift of these institutes, for the most part, has been a wonderful renewal of the liturgical rites that are part of the initiation process. Somehow, though, the Forum's push of the four-fold approach to Christian formation, has largely been ignored, in my opinion. Very early on, those who had religious education degrees, or who had taught for years, were made the leaders in Christian initiation. Rather than looking at the expressed wishes of the Church with respect to the "school for discipleship"—the apprenticeship model—these leaders, I believe, simply took the convert class model a step further and, instead of one person doing the teaching, the responsibilities were spread out through a "catechumenate team." So, in essence, we are now doing largely what the Fathers of the Council warned against : "The catechumenate is not a mere exposition of dogmatic truths and norms of morality, but a period of formation in the whole Christian life; an apprenticeship of sufficient duration during which the disciples will be joined to Christ their teacher." In place of convert classes taught by the priest, we now have convert classes taught by a group consisting of the clergy, consecrated religious, and, for the most part, lay ecclesial ministers. And this model continues to be passed along to new members of initiation teams, who know little or nothing of the originating vision for the catechumenate.
People often express their concerns about the RCIA in this way: "What happens to these people after their initiation? Sometimes I don't see these people six months later." Or, as I heard on Saturday, "We all know that the percentage of those who fall away after the RCIA is very high."
Hello!? If it is true that many people drift away after having spent time in our classes, might we consider it possible that the way we are doing initiation might just have something to do with this? What happens after one spends time in other kinds of classes? Simple—one graduates and one does not have to return until future class reunions. This is why the classroom approach to initiation has little chance of actually accomplishing initiation into the Catholic Church. Why? Because the Catholic Church is not a classroom; it is the living breathing Body of Christ that believes, celebrates, prays, parties, laughs, cries, and helps continue to build the kingdom of God in this weary world.
I am not going to apologize today for this rather dismal portrayal of the state of the RCIA in the United States and Canada. Something's gotta change. How can we hope for a changed world when all we are doing in most initiation process is cranking out students of Catholic teaching who, by and large, do not ever become involved in real Catholic living?
I sense another book on the horizon. Somebody has to start telling it like it is. Recently I have begun naming my talks on apprenticeship "Re-inventing the RCIA." Maybe the title needs to be stronger: "Stop Doing What You Are Doing in the RCIA: Start Over."
Thanks for listening to this too-long post today. Initiation is at the center of my passion for the Church; hence my long expression of disappointment.
Still . . . gotta sing. Gotta pray.