RCIA: Don’t stop with just a programme

RCIA retreat

Our RCIA retreat – we do a termly day retreat

As you all know, I’ve written tons and tons and tons on RCIA. When you are doing a year-round process with enquiry and Catechumenate running simultaneously, I find that fully responding to the Holy Spirit means that it becomes quite a large chunk of your life.

Only in the last couple of months, though, have I seen something really beautiful and astounding unfold. There is a group within the Catechumenate who are coming closer to Baptism. A couple have already been confirmed, but are still coming along to sessions. As well as our various formation activities, quite naturally and spontaneously, they have been coming round to my house for supper and more discussion on Fridays. There has been so much laughter, joy and new understanding, all I can say it is a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit.

Before we knew it, last week, each person one by one shared their testimony. They told the whole story of where God had been in their life, how they had seen him leading them to this point and what a change it has made in their lives. Occasionally in the Catechumenate sessions, we invite everyone to reflect on where God has been in their lived experience over the past week. But, this was a spontaneous, full-blown sharing. One girl, a student, began crying as she recounted how so much anger and pain – from searching for happiness in all the wrong places throughout her twenties – had melted away. I remember her arriving in the first few sessions, wanting to be confirmed but impatient and resentful that it would not be a quick process. But, over the year, something changed. In particular, her Confirmation and now regular Confession have completed transformed her life, and she said, quite simply, “I wake up in the morning now and I am happy!” There was not one dry eye in the room. Another girl told the story of how God had been with her in some unimaginably difficult moments in her life. You just have to mention Baptism to this girl and her face is shining with joy just at the thought. She is longing for Easter. After each person shared their story, we broke out into spontaneous prayer and praise of Jesus. The whole time, I was aware this was nothing that I had done, this was a work of God.

RCIA retreat 2

The following day, everyone at every stage of RCIA (enquirers and catechumens) took part in a day’s retreat on the Isle of Wight. The day was full of fellowship, laughter, conversations as well as times of silence and Adoration. One of the same girls now shared her story with the whole group, and we literally had to pass tissues around. After she had finished, it was a perfect opportunity to tell everyone the same message. Yes, RCIA includes formation and retreats and liturgies… But the real work is what God is doing underneath the surface in your hearts. And for this to happen, you have to be in relationship with him. I think the message hit home; it had some powerful witnesses, anyway, in those who have experienced these deep transformations!

Often we hear Catholics who seem to think that everything will be fixed by “orthodoxy”… an orthodox programme, orthodox teaching. Of course, orthodoxy is indispensable. It is why our Catechumenate is so long, because I believe we need time to hand on this teaching faithfully and authentically, and for people to be allowed to receive and assimilate it. But – dare I say – more is needed. I have heard of extremely orthodox programmes that have not resulted in the kinds of conversions we are seeing. Equally important is creating those conditions where someone will encounter Christ personally in prayer, in the Eucharist. Equally important is creating the warmth of family and community. Equally important is battling with those hard questions, sometimes long into the evening, that help people wrestle with the changes needed in their own lives. Equally important is the countless acts of sacrificial love and self-gift that we extend to people, like supporting them practically and materially, opening our homes to them.

So, don’t become over-concerned with your programme. I would say this is probably around 30% of the whole work that is needed.

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