Almost every catechumenate team I talk with wants the parish to be more involved with the RCIA process. When I ask them why, however, their answers get a little fuzzy.
What is the number one purpose of the RCIA?
Sometimes their answers focus on the practical. They need more sponsors, more catechists, more help on the team. Other teams focus on the benefit to the parishioners. They would learn so much or they would get so much out of it.
And some teams focus on the benefits to the catechumens. The catechumens would learn more about what we do as a parish and how the parish works.
All of these are great reasons for involving the parish in the RCIA process, but I don’t think they get at the heart of the matter. Ask yourself, what is the number one purpose of the entire initiation process? The answer is in the very first sentence of the RCIA. The rite of Christian initiation is a process for those who are seeking the living God and who wish to “enter the way of faith and conversion” (RCIA 1).
Loving Jesus means loving Jesus’ family
Now let’s translate that into a real-life experience. Suppose you grew up in a white, middle-class, suburban neighborhood in the Midwestern United States. That is your culture and background and everything you know about life is filtered through that experience.
At some point you move to the West Coast and you meet someone who grew up in an urban, Filipino family in Los Angeles. You fall in love, and you want to become part of this person’s life, including her family. But you don’t know anything about Filipino culture and customs. How are you going to make this work? What is the best way to “enter the way” of her family?
My friend, Fr. Andy Varga says, “You can’t become part of a family any other way than by being and living with them and them being and living with you!” It is only by having the catechumens become part of the life of the parish—and having the parishioners become part of the lives of the catechumens—that they will “enter the way of faith and conversion.”
Parishes, like families, are not perfect
Now I’m pretty sure I know what your parish is like. I bet it’s a lot like my parish. I bet it is a lot like the parish of another friend of mine, Terri Pastura, who says: “There are fringe members to every family, but ownership of the parish identity is more than the parish school’s successful sports programs. The 20% that come to Mass on the weekend are leaven to the dough.”
Wow. If only 20% of the parishioners are coming to Mass and if the most active members of the parish are those whose primary concern is the league championship this year, how will I ever get the catechumens to “enter the way of faith and conversion” by involving them with this group of barely-involved Catholics?
Well, here’s the thing. Your parish is the Body of Christ. It is not going to be the Body of Christ someday. There isn’t some ideal Body of Christ you can go visit with your catechumens. The Holy Spirit led them to you and to your parish. You can’t give them back, and you can’t ask for an extension.
Keep imagining the family of the person you fell in love with. It doesn’t have to be a Filipino family. Any family will do. Imagine your first introduction to the family is at their annual Christmas party. Denise Anderson, a friend from Minnesota says, “You would never welcome someone into your home and then watch them flounder around. You would get to know them, offer them food, find out their story, share conversation, and perhaps become friends. Some ‘at the party’ might do so more than others, but everyone would seem to be compelled to help them feel welcome and be hospitable. It is all part of living in the house—or the parish as it were.”
This is the most important thing we do—but can we do it?
Welcoming seekers into “the way of faith and conversion” is the most important thing we do. It’s why parishes exist. Fr. Bill Burke, a friend from Canada, says, “Community is coded into the DNA of creation. It is Trinitarian to the core.” Integrating the catechumens into the Christian community is the biggest, most essential challenge that the Holy Spirit has set before our parishes. It can seem overwhelming.
But it doesn’t have to be. There are some simple but powerful methods we can use to involve the entire parish in this great work. Before we explore those, however, we have to first define what we mean by parish involvement in the RCIA. That will be the topic of my next post.
Share your thoughts
I would also like to know what you think. I asked several people to share why they think it important to involve the whole parish in the RCIA process, and you’ve read some of the responses they generously shared. Now I’m asking you:
“Why is it important to involve the whole parish in the RCIA process?”
Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.