Last September, Marcy seemed so relieved. When her pastor convinced her to take over the leadership of the parish’s RCIA program, she was worried that she didn’t know enough to do the job. “All the topics are already chosen,” Fr. Jonas had reassured. “All you have to do is find speakers to cover them.”
He made it sound so easy. And finding someone to talk about “A Walk Through the Mass” (Week 4) only took three tries. But she knew she’d never find anyone to talk about “Paschal Mystery” (Week 8) or “Divine Revelation” (Week 1). The stress of trying to fill all the teaching slots was keeping her up at night. Out of frustration, she turned to Google for help. She couldn’t believe it when she found a series of YouTube videos that had been recorded by a parish priest in another diocese.
The topics didn’t match up with all of those on Fr. Jonas’s list, but a lot of them were similar. And Fr. Jonas, not wanting lose Marcy (she was the fifth person he’d asked to fill the coordinator role), readily agreed to let her use the video series in place of live speakers.
Seven common worries that keep RCIA leaders up at night (and where they come from)
She thought she had found the perfect solution. But she began to notice some problems. The RCIA class seemed bored. By the third week, she had to institute a “no cell phones” rule to keep people from checking Facebook. And by the fifth week, she began taking attendance to make sure everyone was showing up for the lessons.
Now, several weeks into the Easter Season, only one of the eleven members of the original class was showing up for the mystagogy sessions. Marcy was dispirited, and felt like she had let Fr. Jonas and the parish down.
Have you ever felt like Marcy? The details of her story may not match yours exactly, but some of her worries may resonate with you. Marcy was worried about many things. She worried that…
- she didn’t know enough
- she couldn’t find the teachers she needed
- the resource she found online might not fit her pastor’s agenda
- the seekers were bored and distracted
- the seekers wouldn’t show up for classes
- the seekers didn’t experience true conversion
- she was a disappointment to her pastor and her parish
All of these worries stem from what Parker Palmer calls “our fearful way of knowing” (The Courage to Teach). Palmer says that in a traditional classroom setting, there are two questions that are at the heart of our mission to educate:
- How do we know what we know?
- How do we know that our knowledge is true?
How to worry (less) about getting everying exactly right
I doubt Marcy (or many of us) thinks explicitly about those questions. However, I do think that the way we form seekers absolutely reveals the (unconscious) answers we have for those questions.
For those of us who worry as much as Marcy does about getting everything right, we are saying that “truth” is something that is handed down from authorities above us. That objective mode of knowing immediately causes us to worry about handing down the whole, authentic truth to the seekers. Often we aren’t sure we know enough to do that, and we worry we cannot find the right teachers to help us do it.
Think about the things in your life you know are true — like your love for your spouse for example. A truth like that is not completely objective. Palmer asks us to consider instead that truth emerges from a complex process of mutual inquiry. In other words, instead of relying on someone above us to tell us who Jesus is, we engage in a faith-filled exploration of each of our life-changing encounters with the Risen Christ.
Now, if you are worried that relying on seekers to discover the fullness of Christ based on their own experience is wildly subjective and risky, you’re right to be concerned. However, we should be equally concerned about an absolute objectivism that leaves little room for personal encounter. Even the most objective, data-obsessed scientist only begins to know what she knows from her personal interactions with the world.
Here is the absolute truth. What we teach is “the mystery of Christ.” A mystery can never be objectively explained or defined. If we can define it, it ceases to be mystery. Our goal as catechists is help our seekers “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19).
Approach the mystery of Christ with love
Palmer says that if we can let go of our worries about teaching the absolute right thing and instead engage in knowing as a form of love that surpasses objective facts, that love will take away our fears. Scripture tells us the same thing:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 Jn 4:18)
I realize that by emphasizing a formation process grounded in a loving encounter with Mystery, it may seem as though I’m tossing out the catechism with the bathwater. What I am actually saying is that the seekers in Marcy’s “class” never heard the objective truths of the faith — if by “heard” we mean “made a difference in their lives.” Our goal as catechists has to be to create a bridge between “dogmas and precepts” and “a profound sense of the mystery of salvation” (RCIA 75). To that, we have to revere the stories of our seekers as much as we do the doctrines of our faith.
Pope John Paul II said that as catechists we have one mission:
The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity. (On Catechesis In Our Time, 5)
What worries or fears are you facing in your ministry today? How have you found ways to embrace the mystery of Christ? How do you share about this mystery with your seekers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo by Stephan Seeber | Unsplash