God’s Search for You
Just to drag us all away from the Confirmation programme excitement, here’s a novelty: a post on RCIA!
The image is the front of a flier we’re using at the cathedral to advertise enquiry sessions for our RCIA process. The ‘enquiry sessions’ are sometimes called ‘precatechumenate’ or ‘evangelisation and enquiry’. I wrote a post about the enquiry phase here. (There is also a ‘one-stop-RCIA’ post here.) The enquiry phase is the initial point at which we meet seekers, allow them to ask questions about God, Christ and the Church, and to explore the big questions of life.
In the period of enquiry, we introduce people to Jesus – who is the Answer God gives us to all of our seeking, the One for whom we are unknowingly searching, the One who fulfils every longing in our hearts.
I led the Precatechumenate a number of times when I was in Balham and, if truth be told, (whispers) I love it even more than the Catechumenate…
Why? This is the really challenging time. This is when we meet and get to know people, and more importantly, allow them to get to know who Jesus is and what being a disciple in the Church is all about. For seekers, this is likely to be a tumultuous time in many ways, a time of upheaval, a time of questioning long-standing values and belief-systems. It is in this phase that we tell them all about Jesus, how he has been searching for them, and how he can change their lives.
Enquiry sessions are challenging, because we can win and lose people here. I have always been upfront with people from the start and told them (1) there is no fixed duration – you have as long as you need; (2) if you have little Christian background, the RCIA can be a long process – it is the process of making an utterly life-changing decision, and then following through with all those changes; (3) people don’t pass through each ‘gateway’ of the RCIA process until they’re ready (and there is a process of discernment built in).
There is the challenge of telling everything… but certainly not all at once. There is the challenge of adhering completely to the truth, and of also being faithful to the (sometimes slow) process God is taking with someone.
I remember when we overhauled our process in Balham. I met two ladies individually who were two of the first people to enter into this process. They were completely content with what I explained and they could see why it was this way. One lady took two years to be fully received into the Church; the other took three years. They are both now living deeply Christian discipleship. On the other hand, I remember a young woman who could not accept that the process would likely take more than a few months. She came a few sessions, I matched her with a wonderful sponsor to support her, but she soon slipped away. At least when we go about RCIA in this way, people are allowed to be free; they are presented with a genuine choice… Jesus himself did not manage to keep everyone ‘on board’.
So, here’s our plan over the next term in Portsmouth:
- We start with The Human Experience over three sessions – raising questions of meaning and purpose in life
- We include a testimony each session – different parishioners share how Christ has changed their life
- We have plenty of opportunity for questions – any questions at all about the faith
- From session 4 onwards, we begin to proclaim the kerygma (Gospel message) – (the exciting bit…)
- We give them a Gospel and encourage them to read a little bit each day
- If they seem serious, by session 6 or 7, we match them with a well-chosen sponsor (same gender, similar age, intentional disciple)
- By December, the participants – if they wish – meet with the priest one-to-one for a discernment chat – at this point, it is discerned if they are ready for the Rite of Acceptance (don’t forget – before the Catechumenate, there should be evidence of “first faith” and the “first stirrings of repentance”)
Some catechists find it daunting to start an enquiry process because it knocks everything out of the neat September-Easter pattern. There is really no need to be afraid! This is a wonderful way of beginning… of slowing things down, ensuring that people are going through a process of conversion, rather than jumping through hoops…
Now, I suspect there will be people who say, ‘Doesn’t this all seem a bit wishy washy?! Where is the teaching? Why do you need to spend three sessions on ‘the meaning of life’?’
Well, if the meaning and purpose of our lives here on this earth, what God has created us for, seems wishy washy… the mind boggles 😉 I would answer that in the first stages of conversion, we do more harm than good by cramming people with teaching they are not yet ready to hear. I made this mistake back in Balham, and looking back, I could see there was sometimes too much teaching and not enough recognition of what stage of conversion people were at. Personal friendships, social and service experiences are just as important as teaching. And when you factor all this in, RCIA can end up being (a lot) longer than nine months. And for good reason!
Our enquiry team is all ready for this Thursday. We have planned everything down to some great hospitality (food and drink is essential!). Do keep in your prayers those we welcome this week…