Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Practicing the Fundamentals

Quite regularly I try to deal with RCIA participants who have some desire to be associated with the Church but who struggle with the demands of RCIA - the meetings during the week and the Sundaydismissals. I recall one lady who complained, "why can't we do this with a few meetings in secret like they did when my mother joined the Church?" Most of the time people are more subtle than that; citing family or job commitments to explain their absences. The challenge for the RCIA leader is to be authentic in presenting the challenge of belonging to the Church and at the same time to (as much as possible) welcome all who seek the Lord with a sincere heart.

So why do we initiate adults into our Church the way we do? The first answer is that conversion is a complicated process and takes time. Deciding to join the Church is not like choosing a new pair of shoes for spring. So people need to take the time to have their questions answered and to experience the worship of the Church before making a final decision to be baptized or received into the community. Certainly, it would be possible to provide a basic catechesis regarding Baptism in just a few hours and then proceed to the sacrament. The question becomes how lasting this kind of conversion is. Granted, based on statistics from the USA and personal observations, the RCIA is not wildly successful at producing regular church attenders. So, back to our question: why should the RCIA be so long and complicated?

Another answer to this question came to me in the Gospel for last Sunday (Matthew 7: 21 - 27). Here Jesus tells us to build our spiritual houses on solid foundations. How do you do that? Well, one analogy is found in sports. Years ago I spent some time coaching basketball. One of the challenges was to teach the fundamental of (for example) shooting and then to promote the practice of that correct form over and over. Doing this would establish a sound base for taking a shot in the pressure of game situations. We know that successful professional players spend many hours in practice. It seems to me that the spiritual life is like this also. We need to learn the basics and to repeat them often so that when times of trial come we will be able to stick to the basics and come through the trial.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Thoughts for a graveside service

We are gathered here to bid farewell to Irene who was a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt, and friend to many people. It is natural to have a complicated range of feelings at such a time as this. I know that when my own mother passed away a few years ago I somehow felt that even though she was advanced in years and very ill her life should never come to an end. So, when the end finally does come the feelings pour out. We feel grief because someone who was part of our lives has been taken from us. We might feel regret because of harsh words spoken without the chance for reconciliation. We might have missed a chance to say, "I love you" one last time.

These feelings might be unbearable except for two things. First of all, we can remember the gift of Irene's life. We remember all of the good things that made our lives better for her being there. I hope that after this short service you will have a chance to share these happy memories at the luncheon. Finally, we take comfort in our belief as Christians that life for Irene is changed not ended. We believe that God in his mercy will receive her and welcome her into a place of happiness and peace. So we continue our service with a short prayer.

Monday, January 24, 2011

RCIA Sunday Dismissals

One of the traditions of the RCIA is that catechumens be dismissed from the Sunday assembly following the Liturgy of the Word. In my experience there has been a mixed response from the participants to these dismissals. Some people feel nourished by the Liturgy of the Eucharist (even though they do not receive the Eucharist). Other people feel isolated and excluded by the dismissals. In either case personal feelings run high and it is difficult to explain this adequately in such circumstances.

However, apart from the tradition, there are good reasons to continue these dismissals. At the end of their direct RCIA experience there remains a great need for these new Catholics to continue to grow and to reflect on their faith journey. The problem is that unfortunately there are few opportunities for adult faith formation. Consequently all members of the assembly (not just the new ones) need to be provided with better tools so that they can be nourished in their faith by the Liturgy of the Word - which is the primary place where faith formation is regularly offered in the life of the Church.

So how could RCIA dismissal provide these tools. Obviously we want to provide participants tools so that they can continue to find spiritual direction and growth in the Liturgy of the Word. Now, we are all supposed to find this in the Liturgy but it seems to me that our ability to do this is more or less assumed and as a result many of the faithful do not have a sense of being nourished or fed by the Word of God. Might this be one of the reasons why people have a tendency to abandon regular attendance at Mass?

Teaching RCIA participants the ancient practice of Lectio Divina might be one way of providing participants a way of being fed by the Word of God. Lectio has a number of steps, but these steps involve two basic movements. People first need to get into a mindset that they can (and should) read Scripture prayerfully - with a belief that the Word is speaking to each of them in a special way. Such a mindset is difficult to attain because we have been conditioned to read very differently than this. As well, people need to believe that the Word of God requires a response - our lives ought to be changed in some way or another by our Sunday encounter with the Word. People with these two attitudes toward the Word will have a better chance of finding the weekly Liturgy of the Word an occasion of blessing and growth.