Magazine article U.S. Catholic

You're Never Too Catholic to Learn

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

You're Never Too Catholic to Learn

Article excerpt

Who is that glowing in the sanctuary? Find out how the RCM and incoming members to the church can illuminate the faith of those who have been here all along.

IT NEVER FALLS TO MOVE ME WHEN I SEE ROBERT STANDING IN the sanctuary at Communion time. He holds the cup with such reverence as he hands it to each communicant. He is so conscious of the privilege it is to share in the Eucharist on either side of that cup--as the one who offers it and the one who receives. And he beams at me when it's my turn to step up and accept the Precious Blood.

It's as if we share a special secret that's too good to keep to ourselves. "The Blood of Christ," he says, blushing with pride.

"Indeed we are," I want to reply.

Robert was received into the church as an adult 12 years ago. Just as Sharon was, who now answers the phones at the church office, and Carl, who comes to the noonday Bible study. Mildred, widely regarded as a pillar of the community, joined the church only after the death of her Catholic husband many years ago. And SuPing wouldn't be on the finance committee right now if not for the catechumenate at her college's Newman Center.

If the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) were a glow-in-the-dark process, we'd see glimmering souls here and there throughout the parish in the most interesting places. Who's that glowing in the sanctuary? Even the associate pastor came into the church through RCIA almost two decades ago.

The RCIA has been with us now since 1972, when it was revised and restored to the church's practice. Recently released figures indicate that over 160,000 adults a year enter the Catholic Church in the U.S. through RCIA. The extraordinary popularity of this process, and the passion that RCIA team members and sponsors show toward their involvement in it, reveal something that's very right with this work of the church.

But what was most curious to me, as an RCIA facilitator for nine years, was not that non-Catholics would stick out the yearlong process to join us. I certainly trust that the church has something vital to offer, or I wouldn't be in this line of work to begin with. But it was the intense commitment that Catholics make to the process that floored me, a dedication year in and year out, as team members, catechists, and sponsors.

In one parish where I worked, our RCIA process became such a hit that parishioners were crushed if they were not asked back to sponsor a catechumen every single year.

It occurred to me that Catholics were finding in the process all the same things that incoming members were. Participating in RCIA enlivened their faith. It gave them a core community in which to explore and articulate their beliefs. It made them appreciate the gifts of the church in a whole new way.

If RCIA was devised as a means of formation for new members, it had somehow illuminated the desire for greater formation on the part of the average Catholic. The RCIA process had lessons to teach the broader church, if we paid attention to what was happening in this small corner of its work.

The gift of structure

One glance at my desk and you know I'm not big on organization. But I recognize the importance of structure and process. Much progress can be made when a vehicle is in place to make sense of it all and to propel a process and people forward. That RCIA evening once a week is a kind of date-with-destiny for initiates and team members alike. It offers a place, people, and purpose for those hungry to make sense of a complex and often messy world.

Structure helps people by providing a road map and some guidelines for the journey. Too often those of us "well inside the church" feel that we've "arrived" and there's no place to go from here. We forget that we are pilgrims--that faith means movement. It's easy to get lulled into the vague idea that being Catholic is for the purpose of going to Mass on Sunday. …

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