Ruth turned over for maybe the twentieth time, fluffed her pillow, rearranged her blanket, and tried some deep breathing exercises. She had already tried thinking of multiplication tables and counting sheep. But she just couldn’t fall asleep. Tomorrow, she had to turn in to the diocesan office the names of those catechumens who would become elect. And she didn’t know what to do about Alfred.
More than once over the last year, she thought Alfred had dropped out of the catechumenate because she hadn’t seen him in so long. He didn’t answer phone calls or texts. And just when she was ready to give up on him, he’d show up at Mass or a catechetical session with that never-a-care smile of his, as though he’d never been away. Ruth had tried everything she could think of to get Alfred to take his preparation process more seriously. She even scheduled a one-on-one for Alfred with their pastor — which Alfred didn’t show up for.
Ruth worried about leaving Alfred behind while all the other catechumens moved on to become elect. She just wasn’t sure he was ready. But, she thought to herself, who was she to judge?
Should we keep anyone from baptism?
Lots of us can sympathize with Ruth. Most of us have had an “Alfred” who we worried just wasn’t ready to take the next step towards initiation. And yet, it seems callous of us to do anything that would keep our Alfreds from getting baptized.
From our point of view, this seems like an impossible burden. I’ve encountered more than a few RCIA team members who simply refuse the task. We don’t want to be in the position of telling anyone they are not “worthy” to be baptized, and so some of us choose to send anyone and everyone to the Rite of Election. Others of us feel like we should be responsible for some kind of discernment of each catechumen’s readiness. But we are stymied by people like Alfred. What are the criteria we should use in discerning readiness for baptism?
Discernment is necessary in an RCIA process
There are criteria we can use, and I’m going to talk about that in a minute. But first I want to encourage all of us that discernment of readiness is a necessary part of the formation process. If a catechumen is going to take on the discipline of Christian life, discernment of God’s spirit will be a daily practice. It is important to begin the training of a catechumen by teaching her how to discern where God is leading her in this important next step. Think of training a new 16-year-old to drive. If he is not well prepared, you wouldn’t give him the keys to the car. It’s not a question of worthiness. It is a question of preparedness for the task at hand.
A catechumen is being prepared for a mission. Nothing in the RCIA process asks if the catechumen is worthy to participate in the mission. But throughout the RCIA process, we are constantly assessing if the catechumen is well-prepared for the mission.
The bishop makes a final discernment of the catechumens’ readiness
This assessment process comes to a climax at the Rite of Election. After the readings, the catechumens stand with their godparents. The bishop then asks the godparents if the catechumens are ready to take on the mission of Jesus Christ. Specifically, he asks:
- “Have they faithfully listened to God’s word proclaimed by the Church?”
- “Have they responded to that word and begun to walk in God’s presence?”
- “Have they shared the company of their Christian brothers and sisters and joined with them in prayer?” (see RCIA 131)
I would urge you to print out those questions and tape them to the cover of your RCIA text. Your job is to prepare the catechumens so well that the godparents will be able to reply truthfully and enthusiastically to the bishop and the assembly, “Yes they have!” These questions give us the criteria for discerning the readiness of the catechumens for initiation.
And if you are not sure about your “Alfred,” imagine what you would do if you were training Alfred to drive. Would you give him the keys without hesitation? If not, then work with Alfred for some more time to get him ready for next year’s Rite of Election. That will be the most pastoral and helpful thing you can do for him. And then go get some sleep!
Do you worry if your catechumens are ready for initiation? How do you discern their readiness?