Donna Steffen, SC, a team member with the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, writes about the first time she was confronted with the idea that she would have to discern the readiness of candidates for initiation: “I was horrified. How can I judge another person?”
In the July 2009 issue of Catechumenate (“Discernment in the Catechumenate”), Donna shares some terrific thoughts on the entire process of discernment. She describes discernment as a messy process of “sifting through all that is operating in a person,” which, she notes, is more challenging than it might seem. For most of us, our emotions get in the way because we learn early on to keep them under control. If we hold everything out before God, including our bottled up emotions, what happens if God wants us to change? That’s the fear, and also the path to confidence that God loves us.
She goes on to ask what I think is the key question of the article and of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults: “Why discern?” And the simple but profound answer is that we discern because it is the Christian way of life. We promised to live the gospel. And yet, unless we spend time discerning what that life looks like, how will we know if we are keeping our promise? It is clear then, that if regular discernment of God’s will is the Christian way, the catechumens have to experience discernment and learn how to discern before they can be truly initiated.
Roadblocks to discernment
So if discernment is so important, why aren’t we doing a better job with it? Donna suggests two possibilities. The first is, things seem to be going pretty well in our program just as it is. Every year, the “RCIA” starts meeting in September, the Rite of Acceptance is on the First Sunday of Advent, the catechumens are baptized at the Easter Vigil, and we take a couple of months off to rest and regroup. Donna writes:
Often what is required is an honest conversion among initiation ministers. It is easier to talk about discernment with catechumens and candidates than among the coordinators and catechists. Discernment within the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults calls everyone to honest relationship, with love and compassion. Conversion is also required of those ministering in the process. Ouch! Egos can be frail. Yet, what is at stake is living in the truth before God….
Another roadblock to discernment is teams are discerning (but not really). The words and actions of a discernment process are used, but the outcome is already known. No catechumen remains in the catechumenate for another year; all are initiated at the Vigil.
At the end of her article, Donna lists five discernment practices for teams. I’ll list a couple of them here, and, as Donna does, I invite you to add your own:
- Identify what went well in your process this year and what did not. Where is God calling you to change?
- What two or three changes are you being invited to make in your process? How can discernment be incorporated more fully in your process?
This short summary doesn’t do justice to the entire article, so you’ll need to get a copy to read it for yourself. And Donna promises a Part II in the September issue of Catechumenate. Stay tuned!
See also these related articles: