Tuesday, October 9, 2007

RCIA and Church

At the end of RCIA last week I was impressed with the amount of intelligent participation from most of the inquirers in our group. When I think of the coming session tomorrow I worry a little. I hope and I pray that we can keep the positive atmosphere and good participation going. I know that when good things happen in RCIA that it is the work of the Holy Spirit but I hope that the participants and the team can keep co-operating with the Spirit. Most especially I know that in RCIA a lot is expected of everyone. I hope that I don't say or do anything that would make this experience into a burden for anyone.
The notion of burden is an important one. Many of the blogs that I read on the subject of RCIA deliver the impression that the writer definitely felt that RCIA was a burden and that the Rite was simply a hoop to jump through. From the viewpoint of the Church sacramental preparation (like preparation for adult initiation) is a key opportunity for catechesis. So for the participant (and in the RCIA) the whole process is an opportunity for grace. It is an opportunity obviously to grow in relationship with God.
Another thing that bothers me (or worries me) is the notion that members of the RCIA team are somehow "gatekeepers" of the sacraments of initiation. In other words that we will evaluate participants and decide if they are "worthy" of admittance to the Church. There is no question that this idea was part of the RCIA in historical times and I recently read a blog where the writer bragged that he had excluded a number of the people that he had sponsored from admittance. In this parish I know of no case where that has happened. We regularly have people who withdraw on their own from RCIA at some point after speaking with the Father but nobody has ever been excluded by the team. Such a thing could happen I suppose if the participant was giving some kind of public scandal but it has not happened so far.
The most interesting question from the session last week was one that I had not heard from an inquirer before. She asked about spiritual dryness. She, or her friend, was getting discouraged in prayer and found it difficult to continue. Off the top of my head I recalled the fuss that surrounded the Time magazine article about Mother Theresa's "dark night" in her own prayers and used that to assure the lady that such "dryness" could be perfectly normal. Thinking about it since then I realize that for beginners (if that is what the inquirer here is) the answer is probably simpler than the "dark night" one. Firstly, someone might begin praying or meditating with great enthusiasm but with a preconceived notion of what ought to be the result of this prayer. When the preconceived result does not come the person might become disillusioned. Of course prayer is an encounter with God and it does not automatically follow that we can determine the result on our own. God has something to say here. Secondly, it is possible that we might begin to pray with motives that are tainted in some way. We might hope for example that becoming a leader in prayer will establish some kind of status in the Church. In such circumstances people might become disillusioned with prayer as well. So beginners can experience their own sort of "dark night of the soul" but that does not need to place them in the same category as John of the Cross or Mother Theresa.

Finally, in preparation for the session tomorrow, we are asked to reflect on our initial reactions to the word "Church". For me, this word brings me back to the Church of my early childhood. I remember the old church at St. Emerence parish. I remember the pews, and the Latin (especially Father singing the preface) and the incense and the bells. I'm not sure what feelings I connect with this. I suppose that it was a feeling of mystery and comfort at the same time.

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