The key to understanding God’s will in RCIA discernment

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIA

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Sometimes we think of “God’s will” as an inscrutable puzzle that only wizened old monks who have meditated in caves or on mountain tops for decades can discern.

But that simply isn’t so. God wants us to know God’s will. St. Paul tells us, “He has made known to us the mystery of his will” (Eph. 1:9).

So when it comes to discernment in the RCIA process, we cannot just throw up our hands as though it is impossible to know the whims of a fleeting Holy Spirit. God is giving us clear, unmistakable signs. Our job is to understand them and act upon them.

The three-step discernment process

We said in an earlier post that an RCIA discernment process has three movements:

  • be aware
  • understand
  • take action

We already explored what it means to be aware. Now we want to look at what it means to understand.

The problem with RCIA checklists

In the RCIA, there are several places that speak about the criteria used for discernment. The two clearest examples are:

  • Paragraph 42, which describes the prerequisites for inquirers wishing to celebrate the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens
  • Paragraph 120, which describes what is expected of the catechumens before they can celebrate the Rite of Election

We sometimes also have our own conscious or unconscious checklists. For example, have they come to enough sessions, have we covered enough doctrine, and are they living a morally acceptable lifestyle. These criteria lists are useful but not sufficient. If you have been involved in initiation ministry for any length of time, you have probably encountered someone who met all the objective criteria, but you just didn’t feel right in your gut about the person moving forward.

Conversely, most of us know of at least one person who didn’t seem to meet enough of the criteria before they were initiated, and he or she turned out to be an exemplary Christian. The point is, we cannot simply take out a checklist, like Santa before Christmas, and mark down who is “naughty” and “nice.”

Where is the Spirit leading?

An indepth discernment process will help us discover the will of the Holy Spirit. As we said before, the first step is to be aware, to pay attention to the movement of the Spirit within us.

The second step is to understand where the Spirit is leading us and leading the catechumen. When we quiet ourselves and think about a particular inquirer or catechumen, does our spiritual awareness of that person bear the signs of God? Are we happy and peaceful when we think about how that person has met or tried to meet the objective criteria laid out in the RCIA? Do we feel a sense of joy when we imagine the person trying to live a life based on the principles in the RCIA?

On the other hand, even if the person has objectively met all the criteria asked, do we feel dejected and a little sad about him or her? Do we get anxious when we think about celebrating the initiation sacraments with this person?

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.

Discover God’s will

This second step, understanding, is critically important. It is much more than a simple list of things an inquirer or catechumen needs to cross of their to do list. It is a deep, spiritual understanding of the will of God. We have to take the time to first pay attention to and then understand where it is God is leading us and the catechumens.

Practical application

In order to understand the signs God is giving us, we have to first become aware of them. See this post for more on that step.

Next we have to understand if the direction these signs are leading us are toward God or away from God. For each inquirer or catechumen, you and your team might ask yourselves questions such as these:

  • Imagine your inquirer or catechumen a year from now. Do you have a strong hope he will have grown more deeply in his faith? From what you know of him right now, do you feel joyful about the possibilities before him?
  • Contemplate the next significant step before your inquirer or catechumen (for example, celebrating the Rite of Election). Imagine she takes that step. How does that make you feel? Imagine she does not take that step at this time. How does that make you feel? The outcome that gives you more peace is more likely of God.
  • Knowing God’s will is often easy. Carrying it out is sometimes difficult. Are you feeling any anxiety or discomfort about your inquirer or catechumen? Where is that discomfort coming from? Is it because you might have to be the bearer of difficult news? Or is there something about the person himself that makes you uncomfortable? If you could remove any potential interpersonal conflict and move directly to a solution, what would that look like?
  • As you pray about your inquirer or catechumen, are you the only one on your team that is experiencing joy (or discomfort)? If so, what might God be saying to you? Is your own spirit being drawn toward God or away from God?

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

How do you discern?

What is your experience in trying to understand God’s will? What do you ponder on and pray about? What would you say to a new RCIA team member about all this?


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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