The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is filled with understated little phrases that, if you scratch them a bit, you discover they are packed with meaning. For example, look at the very first sentence:
The rite of Christian initiation presented here is designed for adults who, after hearing the mystery of Christ proclaimed, consciously and freely seek the living God. (RCIA 1)
The power of that sentence is almost buried in the parenthetical phrase after hearing the mystery of Christ proclaimed. It is as if the writer forgot the most important point and went back and added it in on a second edit. “Hey, Jack, I just noticed there’s no reference to the mystery of Christ in your opening line. You might want to say something about that.”
Nothing, absolutely nothing, can happen in Christian initiation until we take care of that little detail—proclaim Christ.
Two ways to proclaim Christ
In my experience, there are two ways to go about proclaiming Christ. One is often effective, and the other, not so much.
The less effective way is to know and love Jesus and try to follow the rules. If you follow the rules, you will one day get to heaven. And anyone else who wants to get to heaven should see that you are following the rules and start doing the same if they also want to get to heaven. This is the method that the disciples followed in the story of the woman at the well. They were good, rule-following disciples. They were, in fact, a little miffed at Jesus because he did not seem to be following the rules. So, rather than get dragged down by his bad influence, they took a little lunch break and went into town.
The other method is to employ the head-over-heels, can’t-keep-it-in, wow-this-is-so-amazing method of proclamation. This is the method the Samaritan woman used. She wasn’t so good at following the rules. But she was terrific at proclaiming the mystery of Christ.
After lunch, the disciples came back from town with a doggie bag for Jesus. And while they were trying to get him to eat something, the Samaritan woman ran to town and started that wow-this-is-so-amazing method of proclamation. The people of the town—the town the good rule-following disciples were just in—returned with her to meet Jesus.
So which method of proclaiming Christ was more effective?
We are all missionary disciples
I’m always a bit hard on the disciples when I tell this story. That’s probably because their story is a little to close to my own. At my core, I’m a good rule-following Catholic. I spent all of my childhood and some of my adulthood thinking that was enough. But it’s not. If we want other people to know what we know and have what we have, we have to let them see our passion and our joy.
Pope Francis said:
Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples.”… The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him “because of the woman’s testimony” (Jn 4:39)…. So what are we waiting for? (“The Joy of the Gospel,” 120)
The Samaritan townspeople, after hearing the mystery of Christ proclaimed, consciously and freely sought the living God. But nothing happened before that.
So what are we waiting for?