My grandson, Aidan Thomas, will be receiving his First Communion this spring and our whole family is revving up with excitement. He has a great yearning, obvious to us, to receive the Body of Christ on his tongue and be one with the rest of his family in the practice of our faith.New clothes have been ordered, a party is being planned, guests are to be invited, but none of that matters as much as the fact he is beyond a doubt, a true believer in the salvation of Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is seven.
How much could a seven year old understand about the fall from grace and the plan for the salvation of the world, the connection between prophesies and the Gospel, repentance, penance, mortification, celibacy, obligations, purgatory, and the four last things? The answer is twofold: 1. Very little. 2. Quite enough.
Christ told us that we should all be as little children---trustful, faithful, obedient, and hungry for the truth of all aspects of creation, the Trinity, and God’s love for us. Blessed is the child born to Catholic parents who have faithfully taken them to mass where they have seen others ritually do what all Catholics do-----pray, kneel, listen, recite, sing, bless themselves, and receive communion week after week, year after year after year. They grow up with the hope and belief that one day they too will do all these things and learn to understand WHY they do them.
For any adult, however, the process is quite different, even those who have grown up in a Protestant church with a clear understanding of Bible history and the story of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. For them, there is RCIA. If you click on this link you will go to the Wikipedia page for this program which is very long and requires scrolling and scrolling to reach the end. While Wiki is not the best source for this kind of info, the sheer length of the article makes my point. The process is too long and far too complicated. I happened to convert in 1968 prior to my marriage in 1969 and fortunately for me it was several years before the institution of this program that is now required of all new initiates/converts to the Church.
The book I was given to read in 1968 ON MY OWN has since been banned by the Church because of the heresies it contained. My self-taught instruction was clearly wanting and the priest I met with left the priesthood in the early 1970’s, so one could also question his ability to impart truth without question. NONETHELESS, I love the Church and all that it teaches. Sometimes it takes simply practicing this faith of ours to make us better at it and increase our curiosity to learn more of its history and the deeper meaning of the creed, the sacraments, the rituals, and prayers.
It is a mistake to even think that a nine or ten month, or even a two year program of weekly meetings, is enough to “turn out a good Catholic” like some kind of boot camp training for young recruits.
In this article published by US Conference of Catholic Bishops we read:
The Period of the Catechumenate can last for as long as several years or for a shorter time. It depends on how the person is growing in faith, what questions they encounter along the way, and how God leads them on this journey. During this time, the Catechumens consider what God is saying to them in the Scriptures, what changes in their life they need to make to respond to God's inspiration, and what Baptism in the Catholic Church means. When a Catechumen and the priest and the parish team working with him or her believes the person is ready to make a faith commitment to Jesus in the Catholic Church, the next step is the request for baptism and the celebration of the Rite of Election. Even before the Catechumens are baptized, they have a special relationship to the Church.
So it isn’t enough that an individual repents and believes, it has to be understood by a priest and a parish team where their heart is. And how is that possible, I ask?
My son-in-law, like me, entered the Church prior to his marriage to our daughter. He and she went together to his RCIA meetings and checked every box required for him to be a card carrying Catholic. However, from what I’ve been told, the meetings were dominated by one or two candidates who loved to talk, talk, talk, and not long after the program was over the leader of the group divorced her husband.
I was asked to sponsor a personal friend who wished to become Catholic a few years after that and I had the same experience with her. We attended all the weekly meetings and participated in these “round table” discussions that sent us out of there knowing a lot more about what other candidates thought than what the Church teaches and WHY. This is supposed to be investigation and discernment, but my friend and I felt it was an enormous waste of time. Perhaps it was simply not suited to either of our learning styles. We would probably have preferred a lecture/listen model than a group discussion with basically the blind leading the blind.
At my current parish the director/leader of our program is a convert himself and the year long program he directs is a study of the Catechism. I have no objection to that, but I do wonder how much of it is actually or should be required to enter the Church. While this information is useful, should understanding the doctrine on divination and magic CCC 2115, 2116, 2117, for instance, be required to receive the Body of Christ? How many of you know what these paragraphs say? Isn’t it more important that you simply know where to FIND THE information when you need it?
I dare say my grandson has no idea whatsoever what the Church teaches on this subject and it isn’t standing in his way of Communion. So why should we run adults through such a gauntlet and even when we do, how sure can we be how much they have taken in, absorbed, and embraced? There is no test for belief.
When people present themselves to the Catholic Church, as the ex-communist, Bella Dodd did to Fulton J. Sheen, they should be ushered in with open arms and given a brief “instruction” that explains in a 40 page pamphlet what the Church teaches and what it requires of them and that should be enough. The candidate themselves must surely have already visited Catholic masses, known Catholics, be related to them, or have some sincere desire to enter the Church. They know the questions that need to be asked, as I did, in 1968. The rest they will learn in time, as I have.
In his article, Ten Reason’s Why Catholics Don’t Evangelize, Fr. Longenecker explains in reason #3:
3. RCIA. What is that? A company that used to make radios? The whole RCIA system is often cumbersome and user-unfriendly. If you have someone who is interested in becoming a Catholic you have to tell them about RCIA, which starts in the fall — so what do you do when they come in April? — And goes through for months until Easter. Meanwhile Pastor Bob at the local Protestant church says, “Come to church. Sign up. You’re in.” Proper catechesis is necessary, but a more creative and flexible approach would help.
We need to ask ourselves, is this an exclusive club we are operating where you have to be born into it, or know somebody who knows somebody? Is our “process” for membership offered to outsiders prohibitively intimidating and wearisome to the extent that it may often be simply more than many want to endure? Is RCIA in some cases an opportunity for the leaders of the program to indoctrinate people in social justice? Is it a group therapy opportunity for some who just want people to “share their story” with? Is it fair to people who are many times too private or shy to expose their thoughts, their misgivings, and their questions in a group setting with near strangers who know no more than they do?
An old man in my last parish was excused from this program by our pastor on the grounds that the man had endured enough in his life to not be put through such an experience. The old man was Wu Ningkun, a professor of English who suffered persecution in communist China for years, with interrogations, forced confessions, and shaming so severe it is nearly unspeakable. (Read his powerful book, A Single Tear) Dr. Wu was married to a Catholic and he too believed and wanted to be Catholic, but he felt his understanding and faith should be enough. I agree. So did the pastor.While RCIA is a process that some can’t get enough of, it isn’t for all and could very well be a roadblock to many who are shy or timid or have schedules that prevent them from attending evening meetings for months on end. Maybe it’s time we said, enough is enough and found a better way of welcoming new followers.