One thing we learned during the pandemic is that the movement of the Holy Spirit in people’s hearts cannot be limited to a predetermined calendar. We have always known this, of course. But the pandemic forced us to be more flexible in our formation processes and find new, more responsive ways to accompany seekers on the journey of faith.
Now that we can see the end of the pandemic ahead of us, this is a good time to think about why an ongoing initiation process that is not linked to a school-model calendar is important.
The RCIA is an encounter with Christ
Some parishes tend to use language that makes the journey of faith sound like a cooking class. Their websites talk about “joining” and “starting” and “signing up” for RCIA. No one joins RCIA—the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. That would be like saying someone is joining the rite of marriage.
What happens to people is that they encounter Christ, often in the form of one of our parishioners. Through that encounter, they become curious and want to find out more. The seeker wants to know why the parishioner acts the way she does. Why does she live the way she does? What inspires her? Why is she taking the time to even notice the seeker?
These questions, in turn, lead to deeper questions that have to do with presence and sharing and solidarity and meaning.
How does the RCIA get to the core of our being?
These are not the kinds of questions that can be answered in an academic setting. These are fundamental questions that get at the core of our being. They are questions that are prompted by, as Pope Francis says, “the desire for the infinite, which abides in every human heart” (Joy of the Gospel, 165).
When the way that we live in the world—our silent witness—stirs up these questions in people, we cannot say to them, “To discover the answers to why I live the way I do and what inspires me, you have to wait to join the RCIA, which starts September.”
Quoting St. Peter, Pope Paul VI said we have to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15 in On Evangelization in the Modern World, 22).
That wordless witness/spoken witness two-step takes place every day in the life of a Christian. There is no start date and end date. It cannot be scheduled. It cannot be planned for.
Evangelization isn’t a program — it’s a way of life
The evangelization-initiation process is not a program the parish runs. It is a way of life for disciples of Jesus Christ. Because we have been healed, we go out into the world to share our joy and our hope with those who have not yet encountered the Good News.
When the time is right, the heart of a seeker will be opened by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will make the seeker curious about the God we believe in and the way that we live (see RCIA 1). When the seeker sincerely wants to learn more about us, we invite her to come walk with the community of the faithful to discover if she wishes to live as Christians do.
Since the community of the faithful is always active, there is no reason to make seekers wait for some artificial start date. Since the community of the faithful never ceases to exist, it is not possible to say that the process “ends” at some point after Easter.
The reason this matters is because the seekers we encounter are not strong in their faith. We have to tend to their wounds immediately, as soon as we notice that someone lacks hope. We have no time to waste. Our job as disciples is to respond as Jesus would, reaching out immediately to bring healing and hope to those most in need.
Have you made the transition to a year-round model for your parish RCIA? How is it better helping your seekers and catechumens come to an encounter with Christ? Share your thoughts in the comments below.