We frequently get requests for a good syllabus, textbook, or curriculum for RCIA. The question presumes a model of faith formation that is not found in the RCIA. When a seeker shows up at your door, let’s call her Jane, you cannot possibly know what her needs are based on the sound of her knock. Nor can a textbook publisher know. So it’s not possible to create a textbook or a curriculum for the RCIA.
Faith is not a body of abstract truths
Faith formation is not a classroom activity. It is a relationship experience. “The definitive aim of catechesis,” wrote Pope Saint John Paul II, “is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ…. This teaching is not a body of abstract truths. It is the communication of the living mystery of God” (On Catechesis, 6, 7).
So how do we invite people into intimacy with Jesus Christ? How do we communicate the living mystery of God?
How did the first disciples teach?
Suppose your name is Philip and you are from the town of Bethsaida sometime in the early 30s. You have a friend, Nathanael, who doesn’t know Jesus. Your goal is to bring him into an intimate relationship with Jesus and to communicate to him the living mystery of God. What would you do?
What the actual Philip did was say, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
Nathanael, being a skeptical guy, isn’t going to take your word for it. He wants proof. So you say to him, “Come and see” (see John 1:45-46).
What will seekers see?
Okay, so fast-forward to today. If you were going to introduce Jane to Jesus, and you said to her, “come and see,” where would you take her? To a textbook? To the Catechism? I would take her to places where Jesus is actually present. Mathew says that Jesus is present “where two or three are gathered” in his name (Mt 18:20). The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says Jesus is present in the liturgy, especially the consecrated bread and wine (body and blood), the priests, the Word, and in the community. Matthew also tells us that Jesus is present in the poor (Mt 25:40).
The parish is the plan
So if we were going to create a plan (a “curriculum”) for introducing Jane to Jesus, we would plan to take her to all the places in our parish where Christ is present. The RCIA summarizes all of these into four broad categories of parish life:
- Service and witness (see RCIA 75)
As we get to know Jane and what her needs are, we will find various ways to act like Philip. Each time we discover a need, we will say something like, “We have found someone who can meet that need: Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
And when Jane is skeptical, we then say, “Come and see.”
And then we take her to Jesus, in the many manifestations of Word, Community, Worship, and Service that exist in our parish.
When is the seeker ready?
Once Jane has seen Jesus in all these manifestations and when she has, herself, begun to show some faith, begun to pray, started participating in the liturgy, started serving the poor and evangelizing others, and generally aligned her life with the spirit of Christ (see RCIA 78), she is ready to be fully initiated into Christ.
We wouldn’t say she is, at this point, a mature Christian. She is at an “initial” stage—initiation. Once she has reached the stage of initiation, then her postbaptismal, lifelong, ongoing formation begins. At that point, it might be appropriate to give her a textbook, a curriculum, or a syllabus. But catechesis for initiation is a simpler, yet profound introduction into the mystery of Christ. And the life of your parish is the plan for introducing her to Jesus.
What is your experience?
How does your parish manifest Christ? How have you used the life of your parish to introduce seekers to Jesus?