Monday, February 21, 2011

Rite Stuff

For the past several years, I have helped with the adult catechesis in our small parish. The challenge for me has been to ignite the same passion for Christ and His Church in others that I feel myself. Part of the frustration comes from the fact that I must respectfully yield to the pastor in how the faith is presented, not that there is anything wrong with his approach. It’s just that my faith spontaneously combusted after hearing Tim Staples speak one evening many years ago, and I want to instill that same fire in others.

In working with RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), I have my own ideas of how the process should go. The inquiry period should be just that. I want to spend time in conversation, getting to know the religious background of each inquirer. I want to get to know them and allow them to be comfortable with me. Structure at this point should be minimal. Allow the topics to go wherever the conversation leads. Find out what they know about the Catholic Church. Learn what misconceptions they may have, and what they may find objectionable. As Tim Staples says, you have to scratch where it itches.

While I would really like to find the knowledgeable Protestant who discovers the Catholic Church, I have yet to have such a person come into the parish. More likely, our converts are doing so to please a spouse. Often the Catholic spouse also attends the class where it becomes apparent that he or she is not well versed in the faith either. People are often reluctant to reveal how much they don’t know. Therefore, I like to take a very logical approach, beginning with the historical evidence of Christ’s existence and His claim to be God. Once we establish that Jesus was a real person, that His Divine nature was evident in the miracles He worked, and that He died on a cross only to rise again as verified by eyewitness accounts, then we have a firm foundation on which to build.

We can also know from historical evidence that Christ established a Church with Peter as the head, and gave him and the other apostles authority to bind and loose. He also promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church to all truth, that is, to protect the Church from teaching error in matters of faith and morals. Without an inerrant Church, we would not have an inerrant Bible because Bishops of the Catholic Church determined which of the early Christian writings were God-breathed, and therefore should be included. Once the magisterial authority of the Church is acknowledged, most objections to Church teaching are swept away. Students of the faith are then able to be more receptive of difficult topics. By this time, the decision to move forward into full communion with the Catholic Church should be much easier.

Unfortunately, many Catholics do not accept Church authority. Today, our local newspaper published an opinion piece written on behalf of the “American Catholic Council”, an organization of dissidents who believe the Church should be a democracy. They apparently do not realize doing so would make it just another community of self-interpreting protesters, precisely what many former Protestants in RCIA are trying to escape.

The problem with our current RCIA class is timing. Two couples expressed interest after Christmas. The RCIA process usually begins months earlier in order to prepare for the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. Not wishing to risk losing the opportunity, Father elected to begin classes in January. Assuming they had already made their decision, the inquiry period was pretty much skipped, and Father launched into classroom instruction. My concern is that the RCIA process is being rushed to the point where they will be insufficiently prepared while also missing out on much of what should be a life-changing experience. I can also understand why Father would not want to discourage prospective Catholics by telling them it would be more than a year before they could enter the Church. At this point, I am trying to help them in any way I can. We will see what happens over the next few weeks.