Sometimes a sense of futility creeps upon us. We despair that “they don’t come back for mystagogy.” Or we fret that “we can’t find enough sponsors.” We bemoan the lack of participation among the members of the assembly. And now the diocese wants us to run the catechumenate “year round” when we are already stretched too thin.
How do we even begin to think about solving these and similar problems? If you are like me, you fantasize that there is “an answer” out there. Some parish or some person smarter or more experienced than I am must have solved all this already. But down deep, we know that really is a fantasy, don’t we?
Absent neophytes are “wicked problems”
These kinds of problems are what Horst Rittle, a pioneering theorist of design and planning, and late professor at the University of California, Berkeley, called “wicked problems.” Rittle figured out that many problems cannot be solved by “experts” dropping in and delivering a ten-point plan, even if they have experience in your specific area of difficulty. This is, in fact, the very type of solution most of us go looking for. We go to a workshop or buy a book or hire a speaker to just tell us what to do. The thing that makes your problem “wicked” is there is no one solution. And each potential solution raises other problems. And, this is really key, each problem is unique. The reason your neophytes don’t come back for mystagogy is essentially different than the reason other neophytes in other parishes don’t come back. In fact, the reasons among your own neophytes are all unique as well.
Jim Conklin, author of Dialogue Mapping: Creating Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems, went on to develop Rittle‘s ideas further. Conklin says wicked problems have these characteristics:
- The problem is not understood until after formulation of a solution.
- Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem.
- Constraints and resources to solve the problem change over time.
- The problem is never solved.
Don’t you just hate that last one?
There is no “solution” to mystagogy
But think about it for a minute. Isn‘t the lack of a “solution” the very thing that makes the conversion process an encounter with grace? The catechumenate is not a puzzle. There is no final answer. It is a mystery—a mystery of love. How do we solve that mystery? We can’t. We can only enter into it.
Because of social complexity, solving a wicked problem is fundamentally a social process. Having a few brilliant people or the latest project management technology is no longer sufficient.
We might paraphrase that to say that because of the radical, loving relationship of the Father and the Son (in which we are immersed through the power of the Holy Spirit), solving a wicked problem is fundamentally an ecclesial process. Having a few brilliant theologians or RCIA experts is insufficient.
The answer to what makes for effective mystagogy is the community
In other words, the initiation process, from start to finish
is the responsibility of all the baptized. Therefore the community must always be fully prepared in the pursuit of its apostolic vocation to give help to those who are searching for Christ. Hence, the entire community must help the candidates and the catechumens throughout the process of initiation. (RCIA 9)
This means that all the multiple, complex, disjointed, busy and distracted parts of the Body of Christ must share a commitment to entering into the messy process of conversion together (with each other and with the catechumens). And they must share a commitment to love and support one another in that process. This won’t “solve the problem.” But it will bring us all more fully into the love of Christ.