Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Wrong Way?

Tuesdays greetings on this cold January day here in the Midwest.

A very Happy New Year to you.

At Mass this past Sunday at Old Saint Patrick's here in Chicago, the celebrant and homilist told us a story that got me thinking pretty deeply. A friend of his had asked him a question about the meaning of the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist. At the end of the conversation, his friend thanked him for the explanation and commented, "You are pretty liberal, Father." Our priest didn't think too much about it, but it did get him thinking later on, "Did I say the wrong thing? Did I lead him in the wrong direction? What was the way that I was showing him?" I could really tell that this priest was struggling with what he had done, wondering if he had said something that was wrong or misguided.

I went away from Mass on Sunday feeling a sense of appreciation for a pastor who could be so vulnerable in a homily, questioning himself and second-guessing (perhaps) what he had said to this man in their conversation. It struck a chord within me because when I am asked to speak somewhere, I know that there are often times that I can get in the way of the message I am trying to convey, or putting a certain spin on something that I see as crystal clear, but has come with years of time spent in the crucible. Sometimes I walk away wondering if what I said was pointing people in the wrong direction, kind of like the way our pastor felt after his conversation.

I bring this up today because tomorrow I leave for New Orleans to give several presentations at the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference. One of my topics is "The State of the RCIA in North America." Frankly, I think that we have failed the people who have sought Christian initiation on a grand scale. I will be handing out three examples of parish RCIA schedules that I just retrieved from the internet. All three are syllabuses of topics; they are all courses in Catholic teaching. Two of the three schedules end at the Easter Vigil; nothing beyond. Some are pure apologetics. Others look very advanced for an average inquirer. All three refer to "classes." As an example, "Christmas-No Class Today."

I am beginning to reach the conclusion that no amount of pointing people to the vision that the Church espouses for the catechumenate will ever, at least in my lifetime, do a damn bit of good. I am a rather kind and gentle presenter, but this topic is getting me more and more frustrated as the years go on. I have come to the point of telling people something like this: "If your parish's RCIA process is nothing more than a course in Catholic dogma, please call whatever you are doing something else; it is NOT the RCIA." Harsh? Leading people in a wrong direction? What do you think? Do I need to cool off?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

I think that you should look at the RCIA program at Old Saint Pat's. They do an excellent job and I think that other parishes could learn from the Old Saint Pat's RCIA program.

Also--Just because someone refers to the priest as being liberal should not imply that he said something wrong. There are many occasions for which Christ's teachings could be viewed as liberal. In many instances, it can be problematic to try to classify the Catholic faith as either liberal or conservative.

Joseph Burgio said...

I am afraid that you are correct in saying that the Roman Catholic Church has failed with RCIA. The saddest part is that we have had 30 years to get it right. The related area where so many parishes fail miserably is in Adult Education. How many parishes offer anything beyond Confirmation? I was fortunate to have been at St. Bernardine, in Forest Park, for over nine years, and to have been involved in what we called an enrichment series during Lent, Soup for the Soul. The DRE brought in excellent and sometimes provocative speakers each year, and the presentations were always very well attended.