Jane (not her real name) was initiated at the Easter Vigil. She had some doubts about going through with it. During Lent, her RCIA leader told her she had to take a test to see if she knew enough about Catholic teaching to get baptized. Jane had never been very good at tests, so she was nervous. She did manage to answer 60 percent of the questions correctly, however, which was a “passing grade.” Her RCIA leader didn’t seem pleased, though. She told Jane she should study more before the Easter Vigil to make sure her faith was solidly grounded in doctrine.
Now that she was Catholic, Jane was having second thoughts. A couple of weeks before Easter, the RCIA leader told the class that baptism was not the end, but just the beginning. She told them that there would be more classes called “mystagogy” for a couple more months after they were baptized. She said these classes were required because as new Catholics they had to be prepared for First Confession. At the time, Jane didn’t know what that was, but it sounded a little scary.
Mystagogy doesn’t have to be scary
Turns out it was scary. For the last couple of mystagogy classes, the RCIA leader had been talking about “moral conscience” and Jane’s need to confess to a priest all the times she had violated the teaching the church. The RCIA leader told the class it was crucial to do a complete “examination of conscience” because to leave out any violation was a sin in itself.
Jane went to the next mystagogy class with some trepidation. On that night, however, there wasn’t any talk of moral conscience or confession. Instead, the RCIA leader told the class that because they were now Catholic, they should sign up for a church ministry. For the next hour and a half, people Jane had never met took turns trying to recruit her and her classmates to join groups like the choir, the Communion ministers, the Rosary guild, and the banquet committee.
Being Catholic was more and more seeming to be a burden to Jane, and she was seriously thinking of quitting. Fortunately, she shared her concerns with Hannah, her 83-year-old godmother. The wrinkles in Hannah’s face made Hannah seem more wise than old, and her blue eyes sparkled like a sunlit lake. Every time Jane looked at Hannah’s face, she felt peaceful and happy.
“Don’t worry about all that stuff,” Hannah said. “Jesus loves you, and so do I. That’s all that matters.”
But Jane persisted. “What if I don’t really know enough to be a good Catholic? I can’t remember all the rules, and in the past, I’ve broken most of the ones I do remember.”
“It’s true that God wants you to be holy,” Hannah said. “But you’re already holy. Pope Francis says, ‘The Holy Spirit bestows holiness in abundance.’ He says that what is important is to be yourself — the very best self that you can be. Likewise, you cannot be someone you aren’t meant to be. The pope says to take little steps to do what you are already doing just a little bit better every day. So if you find yourself gossiping, try a little harder to stop. Try to be a little more caring toward your family. Be a little more patient with people who annoy you. At work, do the best job you can and try to help your coworkers do their best work. You don’t have to remember a lot of rules to do those things. And you can do any of those kinds of things without joining the choir or a church committee.”
Are you encouraging your neophytes enough?
Jane felt encouraged by what Hannah was saying, but she knew in her heart she would never be as good a Catholic as Hannah was. She just wasn’t strong enough.
Hannah seemed to sense Jane’s hesitation and said, “You know the saints didn’t get it right all the time either. Everyone, no matter how holy or saintly, screws up from time to time. What matters is, over the course of your life, have you loved Jesus a little more each day? Have you loved your family and friends a little more each day? Have you loved the poor and forgotten ones a little more each day? God looks at your whole life. And the mistakes are part of what makes you holy — as long as you don’t let your mistakes rule your life.”
Jane could see the wisdom in Hannah’s lined face and the love in her shining eyes. She knew in that moment that if she ever did see Jesus face to face, she’d recognize him. He’d have Hannah’s eyes. And she knew then that she’d never quit.
(Like they say at the end of movies, this is “based on a true story.” Hannah is a character I created based on the teachings of Pope Francis in his latest letter to the church, “Rejoice and Be Glad.” See especially, paragraphs 10-34. The RCIA director is a composite character based on stories I’ve heard from TeamRCIA members and also on the “two false forms of holiness that can lead us astray: gnosticism and pelagianism” that Pope Francis identifies as ancient heresies that continue to plague us. See especially paragraphs 35-62.)
What hesitations or fears are your neophytes feeling? How are you helping them ‘rejoice and be glad’ for God’s abundant love? Share your stories in the comments below.
Photo by Nicolas Tissot | Unsplash