“Lead with the beautiful.” That’s what theologian Robert Barron told a roomful of catechists at the Los Angeles Religious Education Conference earlier this year. He insisted that our Catholic tradition is imbued with breathtaking beauty from our art, our music, our devotional practices, our care for the poor, and most of all our love for Jesus Christ who suffered, died, rose again and who opened the gates of heaven to all believers for all eternity. Doctrine and moral teaching will come, but first we must capture hearts! Capture hearts!
Focus on conversion in the RCIA
All of us worry about neophytes who don’t return after initiation. Some critics say this is because the RCIA process fails to teach enough doctrine. Indeed, the RCIA does say that we must teach the dogma of the church in its entirety (RCIA 75). But has that trumped the primary concern of the rite that “the whole initiation must bear a markedly paschal character since the initiation of Christ is the first sacramental sharing in Christ’s dying and rising” (RCIA 8)? What the rite is telling us is that the most important element of initiatory formation is conversion of believers and incorporation into the Paschal Mystery of Christ.
Neophytes are not leaving because we have not given them enough Catholic doctrine. They are leaving because we have not made them into committed disciples of the Lord. Conversion has yet to happen. We are not helping people enter into communion with Jesus Christ.
This is true not just for new Catholics, but lifelong Catholics as well. Based on the findings of the Pew Poll, “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” of 2008, only 30% of Americans who were raised Catholic are still practicing their faith.
If we have any hope of our new Catholics not becoming one of those statistics, then we must make conversion our first priority when ministering to inquirers, catechumens, and candidates. Catholic doctrine is a pearl of great price, but it is meaningless without evangelized souls to embrace it and make it a lived reality in their lives.
The heart of formation in every session, every gathering of candidates from the time they knock on our doors until they are fully incorporated in the eucharistic community is conversion to Christ. We must consistently ask:
- Who is Jesus for you?
- In what way has Jesus been present in your life this week?
- When you consider your life, in what way has God been guiding and leading you into his loving and merciful kingdom?
- In what way are you living in intimate communion with God in Christ?
- In what way is God calling you to embrace his Son’s dying and rising in your own life this week?
- In what way is God calling you to incorporate and live what we have shared here today with others?
- In what way is Jesus inviting you this week to follow his example in the Gospel?
- In what way have you reflected this week on the presence of the Holy Spirit of Christ who is leading your life?
- In what way is God calling you to witness your faith in Jesus with others?
Seekers will come, and they will stay if we lead with the beautiful. We do that by telling stories of God’s work in our own lives. We do that by telling stories of God’s work in the history of the church. And we do that by telling stories of God’s work in the history of the world.
This is what God has called us to—to witness to God’s love to all who are lost in a world that each day becomes more secularized. We have done a great work in our ministry to candidates for initiation. But these are urgent times. The Body of Christ is hemorrhaging. You have the tools to put a plug in the dike. Godspeed, good and faithful servants of the Lord.
See also these related articles:
- Move your RCIA process just three feet
- The RCIA in a digital world
- Journey to the source: Five things you need to know about the RCIA
- RCIA as a little black Fiat ministry
- Reasons to stop doing RCIA the way you’ve always done it
“El David de Miguel Ángel” by Jorge Castro | Flickr