Marriage, RCIA, Evangelisation


There can seem to be a harsh, difficult-to-bridge chasm, sometimes, between the beautiful standard of life in Christ, and the messiness of the lived reality of many (well, if we’re honest, every single one of us). When I used to coordinate RCIA in my old parish, I realised why young adult ministry was SO vitally important: how important it is to evangelise young adults before they get involved in messy marriages that could cause them massive problems if they convert later down the line…

People arrive at RCIA with countless different attitudes. They often approach the Church tentatively, wondering if there is something here for them, some new life, new relationship that could give their life meaning. Their enthusiasm may increase during the precatechumenate. Perhaps they arrive already enthusiastic, happy to be part of a strong community, and wanting to understand what’s at the root of all this.

But, then, BAM! Your heart sinks as you look on their form and see that either they or their partner has ticked the, ‘This is not my first marriage’ box. What an innocent-looking box. Little do most people know what it means when they tick it.

The first thing is – at least there’s a form with this particular box on it. We had an extremely thorough form that people completed after a couple of enquiry (precatechumenate) sessions. I’ve heard of some cases where these questions are not even asked. It’s vital we uncover any problems early on (no – not when they’re being signed up for the Rite of Election).

I think it’s good practice that someone should not leave the precatechumenate if they are in an ‘irregular marriage’ which, as someone commented to me recently, is often a euphemism for no marriage at all. After all, if they are unable to be received into the communion of the Church because of their marital status, we are deceiving them by allowing them to become a catechumen (through the Rite of Acceptance) or a candidate (through the Rite of Welcoming).

As I write this, it all seems unbearably hard, doesn’t it? Someone whose faith is only just beginning to awaken or grow, suddenly has an enormous obstacle in their path, an obstacle that their faith is probably not strong enough yet to take on. It seems much, much easier, doesn’t it, just to let them continue, not mention anything, and hope that something will happen to make it go away. Which of course it won’t.

I had some experiences of this during the time I coordinated RCIA. Wonderful people who had either been married before, or whose partners had been. I can tell you, that when a situation seems impossible and desperate – when it seems a person cannot enter the Church because of their marital situation even though they dearly desire to – this is when the Holy Spirit can amaze us and work miracles, slowly, patiently, in hearts. It can, and often does, take years. But with grace, love, patience, sacrifice, often situations can be turned around. This seems light-years away when we first broach the issue with someone. It can feel like their whole world has just smashed into an ‘other-worldly’ reality. They have just dipped their toes into it, and yet already it is presenting them with granite-tough obstacles.

It is massively difficult, maybe one of the most difficult pastoral problems you can face in a parish. In the face of it, only grace and prayer can break through. Faith that the enquirer will not have yet, so we need to provide that for them, through friendship and persistence in keeping in touch when they drop off for a time.

There is so much to discuss on this topic – and it’s particularly relevant given the Extraordinary Synod later this year. Ultimately, the messiness of the world we live in requires of us immensely strong faith. It seems to me, we need continually to face up to two things – the chaotic messiness of the world, and the incomparable beauty of life offered in Christ – and realise that a lot of faith, prayer, work and sacrifice needs to take place in order to cross from one into the other.

About transformedinchrist

I live in Southsea and work for the Diocese of Portsmouth. My first love is for catechesis and evangelisation: until January 2013, I worked for a busy, thriving parish in south London coordinating the catechesis - sacramental programmes and adult formation. In November 2013, I completed my MA in catechetics at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. View all posts by transformedinchrist

4 responses to “Marriage, RCIA, Evangelisation

  • mags

    This happened to me.
    Only all 5 of my children were received in to the church as Catholic.
    Before anyone realised that I could not be.
    I came to the church in the first place with a strong faith and in order to be united in Faith and in Christ with my children.
    A resource that I never had as a C of E child, I was NOT brought up in the church, but in a secular non churched home.
    My husband was a man of NO faith.
    I had to sign a co-habitio order (which means that we live as brother and sister) ( basically I had to stop all intimate relations) in order to be received in ~ to be reunited with my children spiritually.
    As a result of it my 2nd marriage which was once a good marriage, has now broken down.
    We all live in the same home.

    Pray for Gods Mercy

    • transformedinchrist

      Mags, thank you – this is heartrending and I will pray for you… I’m sorry if this topic has hit a raw nerve; I realise it is two very different things – to write about it, and to live it. May God give you His abundant grace.

  • mags

    Bless your heart, thank you. Sorry to drop the bombshell. My relationship with Christ because of my situation is intimately blessed. But nothing can take away the pain of being a women devoted to her children, financially locked into a celibate marriage, with no relief of intimacy in her Love or freedom for vocation whilst time is ticking away.

  • mikeysbloggyMike

    There is one thing that we have started doing to try and make this particular issue more understandable for those in the church that have already been married and cannot receive communion. It is worth mentioning because it is working.

    Of course, the historic problem is that we have three older generations in the congregation who look down on those with irregular marriages, or look down on others because they remain in their seat and do not receive communion (for whatever reason). Inevitably these ‘sneerers’ are invariably the people who only go to confession once a year and are in many cases receiving communion in a state of mortal sin. We point this fact out to those who are struggling and feel ‘left out’ of communion.

    We point out to them that Catholicism is about being faithful to God and that if they do not go up for communion when they are in a state of mortal sin then they are in fact being being faithful to the God and His Church, which is what they are called to be. We then point out to them the people who are being disobedient by receiving communion whilst they are not in a state of grace (not a literal pointing).

    In essence we tell them that the only way that you can spot a genuine Catholic (who is trying hard following the faith) is by looking at the ones who are sitting down at communion or receiving a Blessing.

    This achieves two things:

    1. They invariably get a chance to hear (often for the first time) that it is Christ that actually calls for the obedience and not the Catholic Church. This often comes as a shock as many seem not to really understand this.

    2. They realise (for the first time) that they are actually doing the RIGHT THING by not receiving communion. This often comes as a shock as they had not concept that by them not receiving communion that they were being obedient.

    OK, I know that they should not have been in that situation in the first place, but it gives a solid starting point. We then start to point out that they can still receive grace from God even if they do not receive communion. This will hopefully start to put them on a path whereby they are engaging with God so that He can start to play a role in their life.

    The witness of ‘not receiving communion when not being in a state of grace’ (not the same as receiving grace) is equally important to other aspects. This is starting to rub off (slightly) on the older ones.

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