This post is the third in a series on how the conversion process in the RCIA makes lifelong disciples. If you have not yet read the previous post on the first two RCIA keys for turning seekers into disciples, please click here. In that post, we said that formation for discipleship is a gradual process that takes place within the community.
As a reminder, the six keys are found in paragraphs 4-5 of the RCIA:
- The initiation of catechumens is a gradual process
- that takes place within the community of the faithful.
- By joining the catechumens in reflecting on the value of the paschal mystery
- and by renewing their own conversion, the faithful provide an example that will help the catechumens to obey the Holy Spirit more generously.
- The rite of initiation is suited to a spiritual journey of adults
- that varies according to: the many forms of God’s grace, the free cooperation of the individuals, the action of the Church, and the circumstances of time and place.
In this post, we are going to look at the next two keys for developing a powerful, effective conversion process that leads to lifelong discipleship.
Key 3: Conversion requires reflection on the value of the paschal mystery
The value of the paschal mystery is that it attunes us to miracles of God’s healing love. The challenge for RCIA teams is that we too frequently begin an explanation of the paschal mystery by defining it as the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. While this is correct, it is usually not helpful for seekers as a starting place.
The starting place for explaining the paschal mystery should instead be the wounds the seeker suffers from.
If you look at the central stories of healing that catechumens experience in preparation for baptism, you will see what I mean. In the sequence of scrutitnies, the elect hear the stories of the woman at the well, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus. In each of these stories, Jesus performs a miraculous healing.
- Miracle: The woman is healed of her shame and isolation.
- Miracle: The man is healed of his blindness and his exclusion from society.
- Miracle: Lazarus is “healed” of his death and his consignment to oblivion.
In each of these stories, Jesus heals wounds. Our seekers come to us with wounds, and it will take a miracle to heal them. The Christian community is the agent of those miracles. By welcoming the seeker into our community of love, we begin the healing process. By healing the wounds, we are joining the life of the seeker to the paschal mystery of Jesus. They begin the process of dying to their old selves — dying to whatever is killing them — and rising to new life in Christ.
So if we can learn to begin the reflection on the value of the paschal mystery by first discovering and then healing the wounds of the seekers, we will be more successful in leading the seekers to true conversion.
Simple next step: Practice sharing your own paschal mystery story with family members or members of your RCIA team. When did you experience miraculous healing? How did Jesus save you?
Long-term goal: Transform your inquiry process into a discovery of the wounds of each seeker. Instead of teaching classes, offer ways in which your parish community can be an agent of miraculous healing.
Key 4: Conversion is the number-one goal of the RCIA
Paragraph 4 of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults says that the conversion of the seekers is aided through the example of parishioners renewing their own conversion. If we look at the first sentence of the RCIA, we can see that the entire purpose of the RCIA is conversion. If the RCIA were a machine, its input would be seekers and its output would be disciples.
[Input] 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 and enter the way of faith and conversion as the Holy Spirit opens their hearts.
[Output] By God’s help they will be strengthened spiritually during their preparation and at the proper time will receive the sacraments fruitfully. (RCIA 1)
Let’s break that apart a little bit just to make it crystal clear.
- Adults who have heard the mystery of Christ proclaimed
- who now consciously seek the living God
- and who enter the way of faith and conversion
- and whose hearts become open to the Holy Spirit
- Spiritually strong disciples
- who are ready to receive the sacraments of initiation
- and whose lives will now be sacramentally fruitful
Remember paragraph 4 of the RCIA that we cited at the top of the post? The important point about the phrasing of this part of paragraph 4 (“by renewing their own conversion, the faithful provide an example that will help the catechumens”) is that the subject of conversion here is the community of the faithful.
The goal of the RCIA is the conversion of the seekers, but their conversion is facilitated by the example of the faithful continuing to renew their own conversion. RCIA teams often think their job is to teach the seekers the doctrines of the church. This is actually a very small part of our role. Our central role is to be mentors and coaches to the parish community to remind them of their call to ongoing conversion. We do that so that they will be good examples to the seekers and thereby become the agents of change in the lives of the catechumens and candidates.
This is a paradigm shift for many of us. It will require new ways of thinking and new ways of acting in the faith formation process embedded in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Simple next step: Create an inventory of all the activities of your parish. Identify those that are most effective at helping the members of your parish renew their own conversion.
Long-term goal: Significantly increase the amount of time your RCIA team spends enhancing those parish activities that are most effective at renewing the conversion of parishioners. Plan for the bulk of your seekers’ formation time to be spent engaging in those activities alongside the parishioners.
What is your next step?
Do you think your team can take one of the simple next steps suggested above? If not, what is getting in your way? Please share below.