These past several weeks have been busy ones for me. Last week, I gave two seminars on "Rebuilding the RCIA and Building an Evangelizing Community." The first was held at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania for folks around the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Here are two photos I took.
The next day I was in the Diocese of Greensburg at the Bishop Connare Diocesan Center. The snow had been falling gently. Just a picture perfect setting.
And yours truly with the enthusiastic RCIA ministers in the diocese.
Diocesan leaders from several offices were present and I asked them to offer some opening remarks. It was striking how similar the remarks were from both dioceses. Both dioceses seem to be in somewhat of a holding pattern with respect to training RCIA ministers. Both talked about the RCIA needing more attention and a much-needed shot in the arm in this area of Pennsylvania.
As the new translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults continues to unfold, it is my hope that the dawn of the new translation will see a resurgence in training in dioceses around the English-speaking Catholic world.
Some in attendance spoke about their frustration with the priests in their parishes. One said that when the time for the Rite of Sending for the Rite of Election neared, the pastor said, "Oh, do we really need to do that?" These RCIA ministers expressed frustration that often their biggest stumbling block in their parishes as it implements the RCIA is the pastor. I have found this to be true in most places I have visited. In too many dioceses, there simply isn't the formation for RCIA in the seminary curriculum nor in ongoing priestly formation.
Of course, for every one of these sad stories, there are others where the pastor is completely on board with the vision of the Rite and works very hard alongside the baptized with the full implementation.
Uneven pastoral practice? Absolutely. When a person asks me what they should do, or how they should approach a pastor who doesn't understand the rite or who refuses to celebrate the various rites or refuses to allow the dismissal of catechumens, I often come up empty. I urge people to buy a gift for their pastor, Paul Turner's Celebrating Initiation: A Guide for Priests. I know this book has been enormously helpful for seminarians, priests, and those charged with helping shape the rites in the parish. Beyond that, I am at a loss.
Several years ago, I was asked to speak with a group of priests in a diocese in the Northeast. There were guys that I had been in the seminary with at the gathering. When I talked about the apprenticeship model and the need for directly connecting catechumens and candidates with the life of the parish during the catechumenate, one young priest pounded the table and said, "What you are talking about is nothing but a bunch of fluffy field trips. These people need the meat! They need to learn the dogmas of the Church. Don't you realize that the majority of the people in our pews don't even believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? We must give the catechumens and candidates the meat!"
Now, as I say all the time, I am certainly not against sharing and teaching the tenets of the faith during the RCIA process. But that thrust has to be balanced (according to the Second Vatican Council, the Rite itself and both the General Directory for Catechesis and the National Directory for Catechesis.) All of these guiding documents point out that initiatory catechesis has as its centerpiece an apprenticeship approach that must achieve a balance among the four pillars of formation: Catechesis, Community, Prayer, and Apostolic Service. It's not about teaching catechumnens and candidates about community, prayer, and apostolic service; it's all about having them become involved in these various aspects of formation while they are in the RCIA, while they are in "basic training."
I know that in my own lifetime I will never see the fulfillment of this vision. All I can do is plug along and try to help people see that the RCIA cannot be in the shadows, "in Room 102 on Tuesday nights from 7:00 to 8:30." The mission is worth it because I believe that initiation is more than imparting Catholic information; it is about forming disciples of Jesus Christ through a process of learning by doing.
Thanks for listening.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.