This is a question often raised regarding people who come to RCIA: they just want to jump through the hoops, get their child into a school, and so on.
The first thing I would say about ulterior motives is this: if that is the ‘hook’ that God has used to get them there – so be it. We can work with that! In our parish, we have sponsors who have the “hands-on” role of building a friendship with the person they are matched with, gradually building up confidence and trust. Only when that is there can the sponsor, who is a friend, bring up the nitty gritty issues that have to be confronted. I know a lady who began this conversation with her candidate by being completely upfront: “You are not going to like what I’m going to say but…” The woman was a bit indignant and upset at the time, but later she reflected more deeply and admitted that her sponsor (and the Church!) was right. It may take months and months to win people and yes, we may lose some along the way. But hopefully they will remember the people they had contact with in the Church were people who really cared about them, were real friends, and cared enough to tell them the truth. Deep down, (most) people know that the Church is right.
If our Precatechumenate and Catechumenate are the places they should be (inviting, prayerful, full of friendships and community, not afraid to challenge or deal with tough issues) they will be places where people have to be real. Even if someone comes along to the Precatechumenate determined to get her child into the Catholic school (and there are lots of stubbornly determined mothers out there who have gone to even more drastic measures), she is still a human being, and who can resist for very long people with winning personalities who are kind, friendly, knowledgeable about the faith?! It is true – some people do resist. I was sad last year when a young woman who started attending the Precatechumenate to satisfy her grandmother who wanted her to be confirmed, stopped coming when she realised this was not going to be particularly quick. Several months later I met her in the street and we chatted, and she said she was planning to come back, but I haven’t seen her since. This is sad, but it is a fact of life. This woman wasn’t ready or willing to face the deeper questions about life for herself. I just hope she remembers her experience of the Church as a place where people cared about her and wanted her to keep coming, even though she decided not to.
If you don’t have sponsors – and even if you do! – the catechists really need to build these personal relationships. People are so much more likely to listen to what we are teaching if we know them as friends, if we enjoy spending an evening every week together. This is why socialising is helpful – meeting people for coffee or even giving them a call in between times. Our Catechumenate involves a weekend retreat which builds community. Last year, a comment from one of the men in the Catechumenate after the retreat struck me: he thanked us for all the care we had put into it; it made him feel like he belonged. One of the advantages of having a long Catechumenate is that by the end, the ‘neophytes’, catechists and sponsors are a big community and people often are sad that the classes are over.