Years ago, I read a book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I don’t remember what all the habits are, but I do remember one of them: begin with the end in mind. Some of you have lived that habit your whole life. From the time you were little, you always knew what you wanted to be when you grew up. Others have had a more wandering journey in life, not always sure where they were going or why.
The seekers who come to us are the same. Some know what they are looking for while many are unsure. And some think they know what they want but are surprised along the way to have their assumptions challenged and their goals upended.
A “highly effective” RCIA
What is constant for every seeker—and for each of us—is what God wants for us. God graces us with adoption as God’s own children. Through the Holy Spirit, God leads us “into the promised fullness of time begun in Christ…” (RCIA 206).
That is the “end” that we have to have in mind with every seeker we encounter. If we always have the promise of the fullness of time begun in Christ as our goal, everything we do in the catechumenate process will be highly effective.
In striving for effectiveness in the initiation process, however, we have to revisit what we mean by “effective.” Effective can mean “efficient” or “productive.” What we mean in initiation is more like living in hope, living a life free of burden and sin, living with a “foretaste of the kingdom of God” (RCIA 206).
To live that way is not what the world sees as effective. Christians live in liminality. Liminality is a state of being betwixt and between. An engaged couple is in a liminal state. They are neither single nor married. Some college students are living in liminality. They are neither child nor adult. Liminality is not effective in running a business, but it is exactly the “end” we have in mind for our seekers.
The elect learn, and we are reminded, of our liminality at the Easter Vigil when Paul’s Letter the Romans is proclaimed:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
As members of the baptized priesthood, we are no longer living under the dominion of death. And we believe that we will live with Christ in the “fullness of time.” But we have not reached the fullness yet. We are betwixt and between, neither here nor there. Even so, we have been freed. We believe in God’s promise of the future. And so we teach the catechumens and remind ourselves:
Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin
and living for God in Christ Jesus.
How to teach seekers about this mystery
If you try to imagine this is the very first time you have heard these words from Paul, you may begin to see a difficulty with our goal for a highly effective catechumenate. Many seekers (and even many RCIA team members) think the goal of the catechumenate is baptism. But just before we immerse the elect in the font, we read Paul’s words to them. We are ritually proclaiming to them that baptism is not the goal. Baptism is merely a doorway to a life of liminality. A grace-filled, liberated, blessed life, but a liminal life, nonetheless. We have to find a way to “teach” the seekers — long before the Easter Vigil — what the end is that God has in mind for them.
We can tell them, of course. We can explain salvation history and the doctrines of the church and the moral precepts. And we should. We absolutely should. But by itself, that is not sufficient. It is not sufficient because what we are trying to teach is mystery—specifically paschal mystery.
Jesus defeated the dominion of death on the cross. And for a time, he lived liminally, betwixt and between. But his resurrection and ascension is a promise to us that our journey will reach its “fullness.” We are just not there yet. We can’t know how or when. We live in the mystery.
Where do we find mystery in our parishes?
The privileged place where we encounter that mystery is in the liturgy. We can try to understand it and explore it and grasp at defining it outside the liturgy. But the only way we fully encounter the mystery of Christ is when God’s children gather in praise and worship.
In the celebration of the rites of the catechumenate as well as the Sundays of the liturgical year, the whole mystery of Christ is unfolded (see Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 102). Pope Pius XII taught:
The liturgical year is not a cold and lifeless representation of the events of the past, or a simple and bare record of a former age. It is rather Christ himself who is ever living in His Church. . . . These mysteries are ever present and active among us. (Mediator Dei, 165)
Sometimes the rites of the RCIA can be performed in such a way that they seem perfunctory. But if we always have the end in mind that we are immersing the seekers into liminality and mystery, we will celebrate them more effectively.
How do you share the mystery of Christ when a seeker first approaches you to learn more about initiation? What does that journey together look like? Share your thoughts in the comments below.