The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the purpose of the catechumenate is to bring the faith of the catechumens to maturity (see 1247). But just a few paragraphs later, it says the faith required for baptism is not a perfect and mature faith (see 1253).
These might seem like contradictory statements, but they are not. Between those two seemingly opposed criteria, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
Faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. (1253)
Faith needs the community
The faith of the individual catechumens is not something that is necessarily mature at the time of their baptism. Their mature faith is realized in the faith of the community. It is our faith that the catechumens join. If their own personal faith is still weak and imperfect, we can confidently baptize them if we are sure they are joined with Christ and with Christ’s church.
I am pretty sure this means we need to worry less about the catechumens’ faith and more about our faith.
The Letter to the Hebrews says: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Our catechumens have entered “the way of faith” (RCIA 1). Our job, as guides on that journey, is to provide example through our own “assurance of things hoped for.” We have to have the conviction of heart that “things not seen” are true and reliable because God gave us a promise.
Miracles challenge our faith
Living a Christian life is hard work. By claiming our Christian faith, we automatically set ourselves against the daunting forces of the world that promote selfishness. Pope Francis says, “Our faith is challenged to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds” (EG, 84).
The pope raises an important concern about faith when he gives examples of miracles. Instead of miracles confirming our faith, the pope says our faith is challenged by them.
What if the miracle doesn’t happen? What if the rain doesn’t come, the baby doesn’t survive, or the cancer reappears? Do we still believe?
And if the miracle does happen, what then? Even though we prayed for a miracle, do we really believe God had a hand in it?
If we believe the miracle happened and it happened because of divine will, then we have to explain it. The pope says we are not only challenged in our belief, we are also challenged “to discern how” the miracle happened.
Where our faith is
I think the pope may be implying that, just as in Jesus’s day, some people are only interested in the magic tricks. They want to see fantastic, unexplainable things as a form of entertainment. As faithful Christians, however — and this is key for how we give example to the catechumens — our faith is never in the miracle. Our faith is in the One Who Loves Us. Our faith is in the person of Jesus Christ.
Whatever happens — in our deepest grief or our highest joy — we know we are loved by God. When the catechumens see us putting our faith in that relationship, they can in turn claim a strong, mature faith because they are one with us. Then, on the night of their baptism, when the presider asks them: do you believe in God the Father, in Jesus the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, they can muster whatever shaky faith they have and join it with the hand of the godparent on their shoulder, the spirit of love in the parishioners surrounding them, and the promise of peace in the eyes of the pastor.
And they can answer honestly and perfectly: yes, I believe.
Tell us your story
Do you have a faith story you might share with the rest of us? How has your own faith strengthened the catechumens?
See also these related articles:
- The sacrament of faith
- Baptism matters
- Episode 121: Why the church returned to the norm of adult baptism
- Why is the norm of adult initiation so important?
- Episode 93: Baptized into the priesthood of Christ
Photo credit: Max Pixel