Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Baptismal Spirituality and the Way We "Do" the RCIA: A Correlation?

Wednesday greetings on a warm but drizzly day here in Chicago.

Yesterday's post about the correlation between the way a parish goes about doing the RCIA and the retention rate among new Catholics kind of got me feeling low. For nearly thirty years, I have been talking about the vision for RCIA that the Church espouses. It can be clearly traced from the Second Vatican Council through the publication of the Rite itself, as well as in the General Directory for Catechesis from the Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican through to the expression in our own country in our National Directory for Catechesis. Frankly, sometimes I feel like I have been banging my head against the wall with all of this.

I did have a bright spot yesterday. A friend and colleague, Fr. James Burkart, a priest of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, celebrated his birthday recently. We are Facebook friends and there was, of course, an explosion of best wishes and birthday greetings for Fr. Jim on Facebook. Then came his note of gratitude: "Thank you for all the birthday wishes. It was a beautiful day . . . Just like the day I was born [insert smiley face]. November 17 is the anniversary of my baptism, the day I was re-born. That is the day I received the promise of eternity. When is your baptismal anniversary?"

Some responses, like mine (May 25) pinpointed the day exactly. Others said that they didn't know but were definitely going to find out. What struck me was the correlation (perhaps) between the way too many parishes "do" the RCIA (all programmatic, all teaching and little else) and the development, or lack thereof more precisely, of an adult baptismal spirituality. If RCIA ministers would work on developing an appreciation for what baptism means in their own lives, then perhaps the way they do the RCIA would shift. Am I on target here, or off base?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

1 comment:

Colleen Vermeulen said...

I think you're definitely on target, but want to dig a bit deeper. I think one of the challenges in developing an appreciation for one's own baptism as a day is that for many who were baptized as infants, a profound day of decision (i.e. Redemptoris Missio 46 or Deus Caritas Est 1) came later. The day one's life horizon changed, the moment when encounter with Jesus resulted in a conscious response of the gift of one's life, etc.

These two moments need not be placed into competition--but when we don't speak openly of them, I think many suspect that there is some competition.

Once I had my foundational conversion/decision [almost 2 decades after my infant baptism], I did not know how to understand/celebrate my baptism itself, other than thinking that seeds were planted and grace was imparted that I'd later respond to. Having the language to talk about responding to grace, yielding to the Holy Spirit, and acknowledging Jesus as Lord beyond an infant baptism helps I think to make us more able to rejoice in our infant baptisms. But, when we're silent and (through our silence) convey the impression that one's infant baptism is "it" it can make these other experiences seem non-essential, extra, "Protestant," for super-spiritual/elite-types, for charismatic-renewal-types-only, or downright weird--when in fact, in Catholic teaching, it's the normative path for believers (even if not "typical" in our American context, sadly).