Some years ago, business leaders were caught up in a trend called “Management by Objective” (MBO). MBO is a method of organizing and motivating employees to accomplish the objectives of the company. So if the objective of a company is to sell a million widgets, whatever any employee does to help the company reach that objective is praiseworthy.
In some parishes, catechumenate processes seem to be MBO processes. The way you can discover this is to examine the expectations of the RCIA team around the Easter season. Many team members have an expectation that the neophytes or newly received Catholics will sign up for ministries during the period of mystagogy. It is as though the team had been doing everything it could to accomplish the objective of getting the new folks into a parish activity.
Parish participation isn’t the objective
The RCIA is supposed to have a bit of an MBO focus, but parishes that have participation in parish stuff as the objective have chosen the wrong objective. The Second Vatican Council lays out very clearly what the objectives should be for members of the royal priesthood.
In the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, the bishops said:
The apostolate of the Church and of all its members is primarily designed to manifest Christ’s message by words and deeds and to communicate His grace to the world. (6)
The objective of the whole church is to communicate God’s grace (or God’s salvation, or God’s love) to the entire world. The bishops used the word communicate, which implies much more than just saying God loves the world. We have to say the message and enact the message in such a way that the message is heard.
The centrality of word and sacrament
We do that in two ways. The first way is through word and sacrament, which is primarily the apostolate of the ministerial priesthood (the ordained clergy). But those of us in the royal priesthood also have a role to play in the ministry of word and sacrament. For example, everyone on an RCIA team is participating in the ministry of word and sacrament.
The second way we make God’s message known is through our special charism as members of the royal priesthood. We have been given the gifts and the responsibility for going out from our parishes and into the world to communicate God’s love. If our catechumenate process has an objective, it is to create within our seekers an enthusiasm for going back out into the world to bring good news to their schools, workplaces, marketplaces, political activity, and social gatherings.
The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation. Led by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church and motivated by Christian charity, they must act directly and in a definite way in the temporal sphere. As citizens they must cooperate with other citizens with their own particular skill and on their own responsibility. Everywhere and in all things they must seek the justice of God’s kingdom. (7)
The preeminence of Christian social action
That paragraph is a little dense with church-speak, but focus on the last sentence. What we need to be training the catechumens and other seekers to do is “seek the justice of God’s kingdom.” I wonder if our RCIA teams are up for that challenge. It is one thing if we think our objective is to get the neophytes to sign up to be a lector or serve on the parish festival committee. It is very different thing to orient our entire catechumenate as a justice training process.
Yet, that is supposed to be our first and primary goal: “Preeminent among the works of this type of apostolate is that of Christian social action which the sacred synod desires to see extended to the whole temporal sphere, including culture” (7).
The church’s teaching on social action is not well known among those of us in the royal priesthood. When RCIA teams ask us what they are supposed to teach the catechumens, they don’t really expect to hear that social action should be the “preeminent” focus of the training we do. Even so, that is the directive of the church.
In a future post, we’ll look at why social action is the preeminent objective for our RCIA processes and what training for social action looks like. Until then, comment below about your own objectives for your catechumens and other seekers. Are they focused on training for social action? If not, what steps can you take to get there? If so, what advice can you offer the rest of us to help us move toward that objective?