An RCIA leader recently wrote this response to one of our blog posts: “Many of our inquirers are on a ‘fast track’ and we are lucky to get them to attend a session let alone extra parish functions. We know what should be done but the realities of the fast paced life of many of them just doesn’t lend itself to accomplish this.”
Many RCIA team members feel this way, and I sympathize with the frustration. However, I’d like to challenge a few assumptions that might be the cause of our despair.
Busy-ness is a myth
A brain surgeon, in the midst of an operation, is busy. A single mom who has to work three jobs to be able to feed her children is busy. The rest of us — not so much. We fill our lives with lots of optional activities to numb ourselves to the pain or disappointment that we find in the world. Our artificial busy-ness is deadly. It leads to broken families, poor health, and fatal mistakes.
It is exactly this deadly lifestyle that Jesus promises to save us from. When someone tells us they are too busy for Jesus, we have to offer them the peace and salvation from their destructive lifestyles that Jesus promises. To accept their busy-ness as an excuse for not entering into the discipline of the gospel is a failure on our part to hold fast to faith.
Parish is not a collection of functions
The parish is a “City of God.” It is a sacred place that we are drawn into by the mysterious and tremendous power of the Holy One. The fascinating and fundamental activity of the parish is liturgy. It is in the liturgy that the God of Mystery most completely and fully discloses to us what the world cannot see. This divine sight (insight) is developed through a contemplative discipline of seeing with the eyes of Christ and listening with hearts attuned to the gospel. It is not a discipline that can be “fast tracked.” It is a lifelong practice.
The fascinating and fundamental activity of the parish is liturgy.
We know very little about what should be done
We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we know who God is and how we are supposed to lead people to God. Since the invention of the printing press, we have been able to mass-produce manuals, textbooks, catechisms, and ritual books that have contributed to this illusion. What is true is that every day we are as Moses before the burning bush.
We approach the Mystery, shoeless and awe-struck, beseeching a prophetic word. Each inquirer who lays before us her ultra-busy, fast-tracked life is seeking freedom. Each inquirer’s path to freedom will be different. It is not ours to say how or if they will find that freedom. Only the Spirit of the Risen One can free them. All we can do is accompany them on their journey.
Attending sessions is not the same as making disciples
Jesus told us to make disciples, not scholars. The church teaches that “comprehensive formation includes more than instruction: it is an apprenticeship of the entire Christian life” (General Directory for Catechesis, 68). If we understand the catechumenate as an apprenticeship, it changes our priorities. As facilitators of an apprenticeship process, we will mostly be placing apprentices in the company of the artisans of Christian life, that is, the people of God. Seekers will learn to become disciples by shadowing and imitating actual disciples. Very little discipleship takes place in a classroom.
Jesus is the only reality
When we talk about accepting reality (like the fast-paced life of the world today), we are denying the true reality of God’s reign. Christians are located in a world that prides itself on busy-ness, but we know that is a false reality. What is real is God’s love for us, especially for those society has thrown away. Reality, for Christians, is a constant going out. Going out not to soccer practice or an 80-hour-a-week job or a trip to Disney World. Rather, going out “to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents and of all misery” (Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel).
When seekers come to us with a false understanding of reality, our mission to go out to the peripheries is compromised if we accept their understanding the world as true. Instead, we must — gently, pastorally, respectfully — challenge their misperception and offer them the Spirit of truth (Jn 16:13).
Prepare for disappointment
I guarantee that when we start speaking the truth, we will encounter a lot of “rich young men” who will walk away (Mt 19:22). You will not be able to release every seeker you meet from his busy-ness. But Jesus is our mentor in this. He never compromised the message. He never fast-tracked the gospel. And he never stopped calling others to discipleship. That’s the model we should follow.
What are the most prevalent forms of “busy-ness” discussed in your faith community? What peripheries and margins are you being called to through your RCIA ministry? Share your thoughts in the comments below.