Thursday, August 27, 2015

Too "Protestant?"

Thursday greetings from Atlanta, Georgia. I am here to lead an RCIA seminar as part of the J.S. Paluch and WLP seminar series. Parish bulletin editors and RCIA ministers from across the Archdiocese will gather this morning to learn ways to build a better bulletin and ways to help rebuild their RCIA processes.

What I have found pretty consistently in my work with RCIA ministers is that they readily answer the first two questions that I pose to them. "The RCIA in my parish is . . ." and "The goal of the RCIA in my parish is . . ." For the most part, peoples' responses include "forming a relationship with Jesus Christ in the context of the Catholic Church," and "forming disciples." When we take a look at what is actually occurring in these parishes, I usually find out that these RCIA processes consist mostly of a series of lectures on Catholic teaching. I do not deny the great value of teaching as part of the RCIA process, but if the process is not more holistic, I do not believe that that sought-after goals are easily achievable.

So, my aim today, as with most of these presentations, is to assist people to see that we need to embrace the model of apprenticeship, espoused by the Second Vatican Council, as the operative model in our RCIA processes. I find it more challenging to do so in areas of the country where Catholics are in the minority. Just last week, in Orlando, a woman in one of my sessions cautioned all of us about not being "Protestant" in our teaching and in our formation. I found the comment a little odd, but certainly understandable. I remind people constantly that this is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process centered on Jesus Christ, of course within the context of the Catholic experience. Some people feel that if we do not teach and teach and teach the Catholic doctrines, then we are doing nothing more than churning out merely "Christians." Of course, we know and believe that our experience of Christ in the Roman Catholic experience is centered on encountering Jesus Christ in the sacramental life of the Church. We are given access to this grace each time we celebrate the sacraments. But people need a lived experience, a nurturing and ever-developing relationship with Christ in order to know him in the sacramental life.

So, the RCIA needs to achieve a balance among many factors, the chief one being that very introduction to Christ and the nurturing of that new relationship that will gain strength throughout the living of the Christian faith in the Roman Catholic Church. This is not easy in the majority of parishes in which the RCIA has morphed into basically a course in Catholic dogmas and precepts. I find that RCIA ministers can often become wary of sharing their own personal relationship with the Lord, based on a fear that they will somehow sound too "Protestant" or "Evangelical" and less "Catholic." This is a very difficult nut to crack, but cracking needs to happen in order for seekers and inquirers to see real life people in whose life experience a relationship with Christ has made the difference.

For those of you in RCIA ministry, have you encountered this kind of resistance? It would be interesting to hear your stories.

I am headed back to Chicago tonight to catch an early morning flight tomorrow to the Diocese of Saint Petersburg in Florida, where I will be presenting two keynotes at the Florida RCIA Convocation. More about that as it unfolds.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Kathleen Lally said...

It sounds as though you are trying to encourage Pope Francis' evangelization model, and the model presented by the Siena Center. That a relationship with Jesus, an encounter with Christ needs to occur before dogma and rubrics are discussed. Thank you!

jdonliturgy said...

Gerry, a few of us in the Forming Intentional Disciples Forum on Facebook have been discussing your very perceptive post this morning. You are so right - and I think this reticence to deeper sharing is endemic to the RCIA process.

One thing we surfaced in the discussion is the possible need for a good guide to breaking open the Sunday Lectionary readings that provides encouragement for team members to share their relationship with Jesus as it intersects with the scriptural presentation of the kerygma.

The current guides for lectionary sharing mostly provide doctrinal connections and interpretative helps, but if RCIA leaders don't get that the kerygma and the community's (team's) witness to the continued living relationship of Jesus with believers is the heart of what should be presented, they can make the "Scripture sharing" portion of the RCIA process minimal, instead of taking advantage of its potential as a springboard for witness.

Your next book? :-)