The Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate — a time for getting messy

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAA light mist was falling as I waited to cross the intersection. Suddenly, out of the darkness, a tall man asked me for a handout. Then a look, or a word, or his own demons set him off, and he began to yell. The light changed, and I rushed past him to the other side. Looking back to see if he was following, I heard a woman crying out for a cheeseburger. I almost bumped into her wheelchair, sidestepped, and quickly moved past her.

I missed an opportunity to evangelize that night. Every day, several times a day, we have the opportunity to proclaim good news to seekers. The yelling man and the wheelchair woman probably didn’t want to hear about Jesus. They just wanted some money or some food or something to dull their pain. That would have been good news for them.

Evangelization isn’t a “clean” job

Later, I thought of what Pope Francis said about catechists taking risks:

Whenever Christians are enclosed in their groups, parishes, movements, they take ill. If a Christian goes to the streets, or to the outskirts, he or she may risk the same thing that can happen to anyone out there: an accident. How often have we seen accidents on the road! But I am telling you: I would prefer a thousand times over a bruised Church than an ill Church! A Church, a catechist, with the courage to risk going out, and not a catechist who is studious, knows everything, but is always closed: such a person is not well. (Address to the International Congress on Catechesis, 3)

None of us wake up in the morning thinking, let’s go out and get bruised and dirty today. We do the opposite. We brush our teeth, we buckle our seat belt, we avoid that coworker who likes to argue about politics. We don’t go looking for messiness.

But messiness happens. Most of the world is a mess. Our job is not to bring good news to the neat and tidy places. Our job is to bring good news to the mess.

Most of my ministry is inside the walls. I feel clean and safe and even effective when I can help seekers understand what it means to be Catholic. I wait inside the parish walls until someone knocks or calls. And as safe as that is, sometimes the messiness seeps in under the door. A seeker shows up at the wrong time or with the wrong motivation. What I used to do is try to make them fit into a neat and tidy system. I wanted them to not be messy. I wanted them to show up at the scheduled times and learn the scheduled topics.

Then one day I realized that my need for people to fit into a neat and tidy system was really about my fear of the mess. What if their mess spilled over onto me? What if I didn’t know how to help them with their mess?

RCIA is about welcoming the seeker and their messiness

In the RCIA, the first period of the process is the Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate. If I could rename it, I might call it the Period of Getting Messy. The introduction to this period sort of says that:

It is a time of evangelization: faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ whom he sent for the salvation of all. (36)

It is hard to read that sentence and think of the Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate as a series of classes before the Rite of Acceptance is celebrated. To “faithfully and constantly” proclaim the living God and the salvation of Jesus means to get outside the walls. Almost everybody inside the walls has already heard the good news. And for those who haven’t, six precatechumenate classes won’t help them heal their mess.

I was in the heart of the Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate when I was on that street corner. And, honestly, I blew it. I could have smiled at the yelling man. Or at least I could have said a silent prayer for him. I could have given the wheelchair woman a couple of dollars for a cheeseburger. I might have even said, “God bless you.”

Neither of them would probably wind up becoming catechumens if I had been a better evangelist that night. But I would have become a better evangelist. And that’s my baptismal mission.

Your turn

How many evangelization opportunities have you missed? What would help you lean into those moments, instead of away from them? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

  1. How to form seekers when you have no resources
  2. A catechumenal culture is created by four modes of missionary discipleship
  3. Why a catechumenal culture is important
  4. Do you have millennials on your catechumenate team?
  5. You get what you measure: What the new translation of the Rite (Order) of Christian Initiation of Adults means by “conversion”

Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

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  1. Wow!!
    the number of times I have been on that corner, or passed by that person asking for food., and just kept going.
    Oh sure there are lots of times when I have reached into my pocket and pulled out what ever change might be in there. But more often than not I just pretend not to see or just shake my head no.
    Telling myself they would just spend it on drugs anyway. How quickly I assess and judge why they are on the street.

    This has opened my eyes to a very easy way to evangelize, that has never occurred.
    I’m going to try and at least offer to pray for them, and offer a silent prayer regardless.
    This will take some practice though , the turning away and shaking my head is almost an instinct it will take some effort to over come.

  2. As a member of our Parishes SVDP Society and making house visits to those individuals who were requesting assistance I initially would find myself judging them because of their situation. I initially I had to keep reminding myself that they most likely did not cause their current situation that is was from some outside cause. I no longer do home visit I am the Spiritual Advisor for the group since being ordained a Deacon and have to periodically remind members to not judge those who contact us for assistance. I still wonder why on one of my wife and I trips at Christmas to Chicago why I gave a veteran in a wheel chair who had lost both legs a twenty dollar bill but walked past a young couple with child sitting on the side walk huddled under a blanket. Was it the Holy Spirit directing men to the individual with the most need.

  3. Sometimes it can get messy inside the Church. 95% of the seekers are neat and orderly, but occasionally we meet someone who is unchurched, worldly, new age or crude. Finding a way to minister to them without disrupting the rest of the group is a challenge.

  4. I’ve virtually stopped giving to these mail-in charities but do pray for their cause and for them to be Blessed. Below I explain how I give instead. My inkling is that quite often my send-in dollars goes to lots of administrative costs; I’ll receive back a pair of socks, a nice carry bag, or cute return labels!

    (Although there are a couple charities I’m committed to.)

    Instead, I go to my bank and get a boat-load of 5 dollar bills. Since I’m in New Jersey, I’ll take the train into New York City walk the town, and actually place in the hands of the street beggars there! That way I know exactly where my $ goes. And you now what? Most; if not every one of the beggars respond to me with a blessing from God or the name of Jesus. Even if they don’t respond, I will ask them to pray for me, pray for all those who walk past them, and to pray for themselves. Of course I would pray for them as I continue my walk. A form of street evangelization!

    I always keep in mind Pope Francis’ popular response: “Whom am I to judge?”

    A beggar by the 7-11 on East 23rd St, Manhattan; when receiving something in his white opaque plastic cup, looks up, raises his cup high to the heavens and murmurs a blessing to God for that person. (I’m pretty generous to that guy 🙂

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