Every once in a while, I meet an inquirer who is a Type A, goal-driven personality. He or she wants to know how many meetings we will have, how long they will last, and what book he should read.
More often, however, it is the RCIA team that is goal-driven. We meet to create a calendar, we schedule the topics for the year and who will be teaching them, and we reserve the meeting space. We mark out six, one-hour meetings in the fall for precatechumenate, followed by the Rite of Acceptance on the next Sunday. That is followed by four or five months of weekly 90-minute meetings until Triduum (with time off for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Super Bowl Sunday). Assuming the neophytes come back, we also schedule a series of mystagogy meetings after Triduum. All this before we have even met any inquirers!
What do we teach in RCIA?
That scenario might be a little exaggerated for some teams, but for others, it’s pretty close to the mark. And even those of us who are trying to loosen up a little and perhaps expand into a year-round process still get caught up in the question “what do we have to teach?”
Pope John Paul II answered that question in a way that is both simple and profound. He said,
At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father…. (On Catechesis in Our Time, 5)
Apply that notion to learning about any other person in your life. How can you know, before you have ever met the person, what topics you need to discuss? How can you know when and where you are going to meet? How can you know what celebrations you will share together and when you will celebrate them? These are all things that have to be discovered as the relationship unfolds.
Another important thing the pope said is that we are not the teachers! He said:
It is Christ alone who teaches—anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with [the catechist’s] lips…. (On Catechesis in Our Time, 6)
If it is Christ alone who teaches, we have to look at how Christ actually taught. Open to almost any gospel story at random, and examine what happens when Christ encounters people in need. He doesn’t ask them to come to a series of preplanned meetings to cover the basic tenets of the Torah. He feeds them, heals them, consoles them, forgives them, and empowers them. He meets the deep need of the person standing right in front of him.
Two laws of catechesis
So based on what the pope says, there are two “laws” of catechesis to keep in mind:
- Catechesis is always an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. It is a relationship process
- The “catechist”—the one leading the relationship process—is always Jesus Christ
Our mission as RCIA catechists
To follow these laws, then, we have to ask ourselves, what is the need of the person right in front of us? How is that need leading this person to an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ? And what is Christ saying—through us—that meets this person’s particular need?
And because we are RCIA catechists, dealing with those who do not know Christ, we are going to talk almost exclusively about the path to initiation, which is communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ. Our mission is to baptize, because it is through Christian initiation (baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist) that the newly evangelized are delivered from the powers of darkness and are adopted as sons and daughters into God’s family (see General Directory for Catechesis, 65).
The link to initiation is a profession of faith
The way the newly evangelized get to initiation is by making a sincere profession of faith. It cannot be mere rote, however. Think again of any other relationship in your life. Will anyone believe your “I love you” if you have not, in fact, been loving? Your profession of love has to be authenticated by a lifestyle of loving action.
And so catechesis cannot be simply an education on the points of the Creed or the topics in the Catechism. It has to be a process of building up a relationship with Christ and Christ’s people. It has to be “an apprenticeship of the entire Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 68).
Three more laws of catechesis
If that’s so, then several more “laws” of catechesis become evident:
- Initiatory catechesis is centered on the core of Christian experience—the things that are most fundamental and essential
- Initiatory catechesis is comprehensive. Catechesis goes beyond mere instruction and forms initiates for living out the gospel for the rest of their lives
- Initiatory catechesis requires that the newly evangelized be deeply incorporated into the community. There is no authentic life in Christ outside of the Body of Christ
If you think about this for a second, you’ll see that these five “laws” of catechesis make it impossible to schedule set topics or determine how many meetings someone needs if we haven’t even met any of the seekers. Some of our seekers will already be living an authentic Christian lifestyle. And of those who are not yet living out the gospel, some will progress more quickly than others toward a true relationship with Christ. More importantly, we cannot know ahead of time how the Holy Spirit will lead the various seekers into relationship with Jesus Christ.
Implications for RCIA catechists
For us, catechesis becomes a process of discerning what Christ is saying to each individual in each encounter that individual has with Christ.
And then we need to discern if those who are being catechized are changing their lifestyle to respond to their deepening relationship with Christ.
Once we see the newly evangelized living an authentic Christian lifestyle, we can believe their “I believe” when they make their profession of faith. At that point, we can be confident they are ready for initiation.
Do you see any other implications for us because of the “laws” of catechesis? Do they raise any questions or provide any insights you can share with the rest of us?