RCIA, Companions on the Journey

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

December 21, 2007

 

            On of the best things to happen to the Church since the Second Vatican Council has been the RCIA. Not to be confused with “RCA” (the “Radio Corporation of America”) the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a much improved way to help people along the path to conversion.

            Actually, the RCIA is about much more than just “rites” of initiation. It is about a life long “journey in faith.” The process of RCIA should begin a life time of continuing education for everyone, convert and cradle Catholic alike. In our parish we call RCIA the “Journey in Faith.”

            In the old days, “converts” to Catholicism might have met privately with a priest for a few session of instruction in a little interview room in the rectory. They might read a book together. The whole process was solitary and in some ways unnoticed by the whole parish. The adult convert was a very rare bird in many parishes.

            Today, adult converts are more common and more publicly celebrated and welcomed. Many of the most active members of my parish are people who came into or back to the Catholic Church as adults.

            Many have spent a lifetime wandering in a spiritual wilderness. For them the RCIA is a discovery of faith and community. Some have lived on the fringe of the church for years. For them the RCIA is a sort of homecoming.

            What I like about the new pattern of conversion in the RCIA is the team approach. Like most parishes, our “journey in faith” is not just me instructing the converts.  We have about a dozen people on our team. Many of them have been converts themselves.

            The team approach tells the convert that the whole community is involved. The Church as a whole, lay and clergy, are involved in teaching and welcoming new members. It helps me to spread the burden. But it also helps the converts to realize that they are not alone and the faith is not just a gift of the clergy. It is the faith of a community.

            In our parish the classes go for about 35 weeks, from September to Pentecost. Years ago I used to teach all 35 weeks. It was exhausting. It was also less interesting for the converts.

            Today I teach four or five weeks. The other weeks are taught by our team of laity. Often they do a much better job than I ever could do. Their talks are well researched. They also bring a different “voice” to the classes. They know what it is to wander and search.   

            After the Easter Vigil, the most important moment of our RCIA is a weekend retreat we host for our Catechumens and Candidates. There they hear stories of faith. They realize that this faith engages not only the head but the heart.  

            For parish priests like me, the RCIA is a great relief. It shares the burden and increases the joy of passing on the faith. It is also a pattern for what we do beyond the RCIA in continuing adult education.

            Next year our parish will take the next step with regular adult instruction people who want to go further. It will also be a journey of 35 weeks, with instruction not just for converts, but for Catholic with questions. 

            We will use the RCIA as a pattern. The Second Vatican Council saw the Church as the people of God on the march to our salvation. It is nice for parish priests like me that we have so many helpers on that journey in the RCIA and beyond.