About 9 months ago Nick Wagner invited me to write a blog. He is patient. Perhaps this is birthing time. Though involved in initiation ministry for over 20 years, I am also now involved as Novice Director in our Sister of Charity congregation. We had a session this past week in which I explained the process of the RCIA as a faith journey. Our novices were amazed, and very interested in its possibilities. This, along with the beginning of Lent, renewed my intent to write.
So, those of you involved with RCIA in parishes have just celebrated the Rite of Sending for Election, and the Rite of Election (or of the Call to Continuing Conversion for the already Baptized.) I am writing to encourage you at this busy time to let the Scrutinies take on their full life.
After a scrutiny, I remember a man about 35 years old, married with 4 children – the children were also preparing for baptism – stating during our reflection after the third scrutiny. “You know, I have always liked all of you (referring to our “team”. You have been respectful, helpful, present, and genuine in your interest and faith. But something more happened today at the scrutiny. When I was 5 years old I was in a car accident in which both of my parents were killed. I have always held back from trusting people, or God, fully. Today, that got lifted. I cannot tell you how free I feel, how I can let go into God more fully, and how I even feel no barrier with you. ” Another man said, after the first scrutiny, “All year you keep asking us what our experience of God is. I would muster up some response, but really didn’t feel I experienced God. Today, especially when the priest and other ministers placed their hands on my head, I can truly say I know what it means to experience God!”
These are both profound and life-changing testimonials to the power of Scrutinies. As we get busy during this Lenten season, we might try to cover additional doctrinal material, or not give needed preparation time for the scrutinies, with an invitation to the elect to articulate what freedom they want/need to be freed from, and what new life they pray for. This time and opportunity is essential to lead to a potentially life-changing moment. And, in the mystagogical reflection after the celebration of a scrutiny I find when people are asked what they experienced, they sometimes say, “It is too deep for words.”
I encourage ALL catechists NOT to be deterred, and to say something like one or more of the following:,”Well, can you say a little? What part impacted you? What was one or two feelings in you? What shift is happening in you? How are you freer now than before the Scrutiny? Has something been healed in you? Be willing to walk into the deep places with the elect, out of a spirit of being of service, and of attending to the grace God is offering them.
I see more and more clearly that the celebration of these scrutinies, including preparation, liturgical celebration, and mystagogical reflection, truly are significant preparation for entering the waters of baptism. The scrutinies are the way to let go into God, be freed from old stuff holding us back, and opening to all the new life God offers in the experience of baptism.
I do not know proper protocol, but I will say that I was a Forum team member for 25 years, authored “Discerning Disciples: Listening for God’s Voice in Christian Initiation” (LTP), and am one of the authors of the Foundations in Faith series.
Lenten and Easter blessings to all of you, and to your elect and candidates!!!
Donna Steffen, SC, lives in Cincinnati, OH, and is presently involved in being a novice director, spiritual director, and initiation workshop presenter.