How to catechize a frequent flier catechumen

—What is the church’s position on baptizing adults that are traveling often and do not have time for a formal RCIA program? They are aware of all Catholic precepts but lack the formal baptism and confirmation but faithfully seek these sacraments. Any help would be appreciated.

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This is a great question that sends us back to the ritual text, The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, to seek guidance for a real, practical, pastoral situation of someone seeking sacramental initiation. This traveling catechumen is not alone! Many parish communities include those whose work takes the away from home on a regular basis.

The obvious answer is that the “church’s position on baptizing adults” is the full implementation of the RCIA. Other than in the exceptional circumstances addressed in Part II of the Rite, the norm always includes a period of evangelization (or pre-catechumenate), the catechumenate, a time of purification and enlightenment, all leading to full sacramental initiation at the Easter Vigil. Nowhere does the rite call for a “formal program.”

To answer this question adequately and with fidelity to the rite, we must turn to the intent of each period of formation and make application to the situation of the individual who travels often and may not be able to gather with a home parish group on a regular basis.

Essential elements of formation

Paragraph 42 of the RCIA asks us to look far beyond Catholic precepts (with which the individual you describe is familiar) to issues of true conversion: evidence of faith, intention to change her or his life, a strong living, loving relationship with God, a sense of sin and repentance, a prayer life, and a sense of the church. If these qualities are “alive and well” in your inquirer, then he or she is ready for the catechumenate. The Rite of Acceptance should be celebrated in the home parish at a time when this catechumen can participate fully.

Remembering that the purpose of the catechumenate is apprenticeship into a life of discipleship, we turn then to paragraph 75 of the RCIA, which outlines the essential elements of formation for a catechumen:

  • formation in the Word and solid catechesis based on the Word
  • participation in the community
  • active participation in the liturgy
  • and apostolic witness and service

Think outside the “classroom”

None of these is time or place bound! Therefore, some out-of-the-box or, more appropriately, “out-of-the-classroom” thinking needs to happen so that some creative solutions for this situation may be discovered.

Some important considerations for the traveling catechumen include:

  • Does she or he have a well-formed sponsor with whom there is a strong, consistent relationship and communication?
  • Does the catechumen participate in the liturgy of the Word (and dismissal rite if available) on a regular basis regardless of what town or city she or he is in?
  • Is there a catechist, team member, or sponsor who maintains regular online communication with the traveling catechumen to share reflections on the Word, discuss questions or concerns, share insights?
  • In what ways is the traveling catechumen serving the community of the church and the world as a Christian disciple?
  • When the catechumen is in her or his home parish, how is she or he involved in the life of the community? How and when are her or his stories of living the life of discipleship with its challenges and opportunities being heard and received by the home community? What support can she or he expect from the home community?
  • With whom does the catechumen reflect on and discern her or his journey of discipleship and call to full sacramental initiation?
  • When the catechumen enters into the period of purification and enlightenment as one of the elect, does the home parish make arrangements for her or him to celebrate the scrutinies in the parish to which travel takes her or him?
  • Does the catechumen have a commitment to celebrating the Rite of Election in the home diocese and sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil in the home parish?

Focus on relationship

I wonder if the traveling catechumen isn’t somehow a sort of prophet in our midst calling us to look again at what we do and why we do it. Are we so used to or comfortable with the organization of parish programs that we miss the very essence and purpose of the catechumenate, the formation of faithful disciples? Jesus met his disciples where they were—in a tree, at the taxation bureau, by a well, near a lake, or in the dark of night—and began an intimate relationship with them in their particular time and circumstances, gradually drawing them into a share in his own mission. In his name, this is our task, too, whatever it takes.

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Comments

  1. Nick- this is a great article! So many parishes are tied to the ‘attend x amount of classes’ model that they exclude people from joining the Church! Thanks for the reminder on what the RCIA actually says.

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