How to locate the heart of RCIA discernment

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAThe word “discernment” gets thrown around rather loosely sometimes, and the process of discernment gets fuzzy as a result. In relation to the RCIA, we can sometimes confuse “discernment” with “testing.” A discernment interview with a catechumen becomes something like a final exam to see if he or she will “pass” and be able to be baptized.

The three movements of discernment

A true discernment process does not start with the catechumen. It starts with us. According to Timothy M. Gallagher, OMV, in The Discernment of Spirits, a discernment process has three movements:

  • be aware
  • understand
  • take action

The first movement is that we have to be aware of what is going on. It is somewhat easy to understand what is going on outside of us. The harder challenge is to become aware of what is going on inside of us. In fact, we can sometimes focus on external activity as a way of distracting ourselves from paying attention to our interior thoughts and feelings. Gallagher says it takes real courage to focus on our spiritual awareness. He says spiritual awareness is the fundamental first step to all other aspects of discernment.

We can’t do any real discernment until we are aware of our own spiritual interior. So this initial movement—being aware—needs some serious attention from us.

If you would like to learn more about the discernment process and how it works, view the recording of our online workshop during which Diana Macalintal and Nick Wagner explored basic discernment skills for every Christian. Click here for more information.

Who has the time?

All of us can recognize the difficulty here. Who has the time to take even ten minutes each day to just quiet ourselves? And when we do carve out a little time, we struggle to focus. Moments of true tranquility seem to last for mere seconds before we’re worrying about the next deadline or an unfinished task. Our minds and hearts seem to be a jumble of thoughts and feelings.

It will always be a struggle to settle our thoughts, but it helps to first sort out the kinds of interior activity we experience. Gallagher says there are three types of interior awareness:

  • Psychological
  • Moral
  • Spiritual

We become more psychologically aware when we read a self-help book or go to a counselor. These kinds of aids help us deal with emotions and habits that inhibit our daily living. Moral awareness results when we do an examination of conscience or go to confession. These kinds of activities help us align our living more closely with the gospel.

The heart of RCIA discernment

It is the third kind of awareness—spiritual awareness—that is at the heart of the RCIA discernment process. Spiritual awareness is more than psychological awareness alone and happens before moral awareness. St. Ignatius wrote about being spiritually dry or spiritually happy. These affective states may not even be conscious, but, when attended to, they can indicate if we are following God’s will or straying from it.

In reality, you’re never going to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, reflect on your inner state, and conclude, “Oh, I must be experiencing psychological awareness right now!” All three awareness states are interconnected and interrelated. Even so, it helps to know they are distinct.

Practical take away

In your discernment about the readiness of a catechumen, it is important to take into account your psychological state. Can you make a logical, compelling, rational case that this person should be initiated?

It is also important to be morally aware. Has this person been living a converted, gospel-oriented lifestyle.

Most important, however, is to have a spiritual awareness about the catechumen. In your heart of hearts, does the thought of this person being baptized fill you with joy? Or does it make you anxious and worried?

If you missed our online workshop on discernment, you can still view recording. Click here for more information.

Your thoughts

Please share with us a bit about your own discernment process, because we all learn from each other.

“Human Head With Door And Stair” courtesy of nattavut |

See also these related articles:
  1. Instant Review: Discerning Disciples
  2. The key to understanding God’s will in RCIA discernment
  3. How to locate the heart of RCIA discernment
  4. Episode 3: Discernment for the Rite of Election
  5. Why discernment matters in the RCIA…and everywhere else

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