Thresholds of Conversion and RCIA

trust in god

This is a much-discussed topic at the moment. A lot of us are waking up to the fact that the ‘catechetical’ aspect of RCIA is the relatively ‘easy’ bit. We have some clear guidelines for catechesis (e.g. through wonderful organisations such as the Association for Catechumenal Ministry). It should be Christ-centred, scriptural, liturgical, systematic, kerygmatic. OK – so far, so good.

The difficult thing is the evangelisation bit.

One priest shared with me recently that when he moved to a parish, he implemented a thorough and solid doctrinal programme for the RCIA. And do you know what? The outcomes of this resulted in conversions seemingly no deeper than the previous, less thorough, less doctrinal programme had yielded. 

This is something we really need to take on board. Doctrinal catechesis does not necessarily lead to conversion.

I have been re-reading Forming Intentional Disciples on the thresholds of conversion (for a summary, see pp.129-130). Just to recap:

1. Trust: A positive experience, or friendship, which leads someone to have a relationship of trust with God or the Church

2. Curiosity: Someone is intrigued to know more – about Christ, or about some aspect of the faith

3. Spiritual openness: The person acknowledges to him- or herself that they are open to the possibility of personal change (this is not yet commitment to change)

4. Spiritual seeking: Moving into this threshold involves shifting into an active gear – an active search to know this God who is calling him or her begins.

5. Intentional discipleship: The decision to “drop one’s nets”, to make a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the Church

Sherry Weddell suggests that the fourth threshold (spiritual seeking – the first active stage) is the perfect time to enter the formal Catechumenate in RCIA. This makes sense to me. Only when one is actively seeking God is one open to receive catechesis, the handing on of Christ and the Faith of the Church in relation to him. This fits in well with some principles in the General Directory for Catechesis. There it speaks of the importance of the “activity” of the catechised (n.157) – catechesis reflects the pedagogy of God himself, which invites an active response. Unless someone is at the beginnings of a relationship with God, there is little hope of a response in the way that catechesis, by its nature, requires.

So, this leaves us with a big question… How can the evangelisation/enquiry period of RCIA usher a person from ‘curiosity’ (which presumably they have in order to come at all) through to ‘spiritual seeking’ before they celebrate the Rite of Acceptance?

This big question can be broken down into smaller ones, which I am pondering, and invite you to share your thoughts on, too!:

  • What length of time should generally be expected for this shift to take place? Is a standard enquiry period of 12 weeks long enough?
  • How soon do we discover which threshold a person may be at? Perhaps a conversation with a priest or experienced catechist or sponsor early on could help to establish this.
  • What precise goals can we create for enquiry to lead someone towards the beginnings of an active faith?
  • And what do we do when someone cannot manage to pass through the thresholds, but is eager to enter the Catechumenate?

Some biggies… but ones I think we should tackle!😉

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 “Thresholds of Conversion and RCIA

  • sullijo78gmail

    Those are some really good — and really important! — questions. I think part of the equation (once trust has been established) is to find ways to share our personal stories of faith and encounters with Jesus. Our diocesan office has been doing some work with parish catechetical leaders, helping them to practice sharing their stories of faith so that they are better prepared when the opportunities arise. They are very excited to start sharing their stories in their parishes!

  • Marc Cardaronella

    “Doctrinal catechesis does not necessarily lead to conversion.” This is exactly right. I quickly found that out when I started doing RCIA after graduating from Franciscan. I was doing everything they told me to do and there was some success but definitely not what I was hoping for. It wasn’t until I started implementing other, more evangelizing practices, that I saw the fruit I was hoping for.

    Those are very important questions you ask. I’m going to start having the threshold conversations with people at the beginning of RCIA to determine where they are in the thresholds so I can tailor the catechesis somewhat to their particular situation.

  • Debbie Gaudino

    For a few years, our parish assigned personal mentors to each person in the RCIA program. The role of these mentors (which as different from their sponsors) was to connect with the RCIA candidates and catechumens on a weekly basis (or more) and invite them to parish activities, answer their questions, pray with them and help them navigate the life of a large, busy parish. Those mentors were all true disciples with an openness to sharing their faith with others and a charism for leading others to a deeper relationship with Christ. It was extremely effective and really led a lot of people to not merely be catechized during RCIA but to truly become disciples…

    • transformedinchrist

      Thanks Debbie! This sounds wonderful. I wonder what the difference was between the role of these mentors, and that of the sponsors? It sounds to me like they do what sponsors would do in an ideal world! Thanks for sharing.

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