Tag Archives: apologetics

In Praise of RCIA

Courtesy of Johnragai

Courtesy of Johnragai

I’m noticing something really interesting in comments surrounding RCIA (on this blog and in other conversations). What I’m noticing is a big gap between the American and the British perspective. I’ll try to summarise this general trend (and be warned – ‘I’m-going-to-be-blunt’ alert – this is generalised):

In the UK, on the whole, I think we’ve had a bad experience of RCIA over the last few decades. Many faithful Catholics in this country rename it ‘Roman Catholics In Agony’ and associate it with watery doctrine, lectionary-based “catechesis”, faith-sharing therapy-style sessions, and lots of para-liturgical actions that don’t mean too much to the participants (or – probably – to God) and make you want to squirm.

OK. I hate all of this just as much as the next person. If it results in people giving up (I know some people who have attempted RCIA three times and more), we have a LOT to answer for. If we are obstacles to people coming to Christ and His Church, let’s please stop ‘being catechists’.

However – I firmly believe that RCIA – faithfully, sensitively, attractively done – has been handed to us by the Church as the best way of people converting to Christ – not just a notional conversion, but a full – whole life – conversion.

I come across many who’ve despaired of RCIA who advocate the ‘one-to-one with a priest’ approach. One-to-ones with a priest are excellent – and should be part of RCIA – but alone, I don’t think it’s enough. Like it or not, we are becoming part of the Church (aka a community which is pretty messy), not a private members’ club. Doctrinal formation on its own is not enough. Spiritual formation is also needed (retreats, evenings of recollection); liturgical formation is vital (the rites along the way of the RCIA are outstanding tools of conversion if done well); and pastoral formation (practical help in changing aspects of our lifestyle – often through the help of a parish-given sponsor) is also indispensable.

When I speak about these other aspects of conversion – spiritual, liturgical, pastoral – I am not referring to twigs, tea-lights, hand-holding or ‘Here I Am Lord’. I am talking about a real, radical conversion of life to Christ.

I am aware I come from a privileged perspective of having seen all this being done well. I have seen with my own eyes some profoundly deep conversions that happened only because the people involved stayed in RCIA for a long time (almost always over a year). Not one week of that time was wasted. There was constant, nourishing, deepening catechesis; regular meetings with sponsors and with the priest; opportunities to serve and become involved in parish life. Sometimes they waited longer (we asked them to, and they almost always agreed they needed longer). We also ensured their formation continued after the mystagogia – many plugged into new movements; one group formed a book club; I can’t think of one person who went through RCIA who no longer attends Mass every week.

On the American side of the pond (in my experience), all of the above seems pretty natural. There isn’t the same reaction against RCIA because many parishes have thriving catechumenates.

If you are at a loss to know where to begin – I strongly recommend purchasing the materials from the Association for Catechumenal Ministry – by far, the very best out there. Evangelium is good for a doctrinal approach, but ACM offers the whole package. Whenever I present this approach to seminarians they are amazed – they have rarely come across this before.

This, then, is a plea to the British readers who are still suspicious of RCIA (maybe because of a traumatic experience involving a middle-aged woman taking your hand and asking you to share your woundedness – haha). When it’s done faithfully, RCIA is the best way. One-to-one doctrinal sessions with a priest cannot achieve the same outcome, because the priest is not the whole Church. And doctrine is not the whole Faith.

Advertisements

Three books I’m looking forward to reading…

Cold, dark evenings are perfect for getting some reading done. Here are some books I’m looking forward to over the next few months.

Forming Intentional Disciples

Too many people have recommended this book to me, I’ve read reviews on countless blogs, e.g. here, and I’ve finally ordered it: Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry A Weddell. Very soon, I am doing some sessions at the seminary again on catechetics and, owing to the Year of Faith, I want to root it very explicitly in the new evangelisation. So I am looking forward to some practical insights.

Jonathan F Sullivan uses it for a presentation here, and cites Weddell’s list of “normals” for a disciple of Christ: having a living, growing relationship with God; an excited Christian activist; knowledgeable about the faith; knows and uses their charisms; knows their vocation and actively lives it; in fellowship with other disciples.

I wonder, if we’re really honest, how many “intentional disciples” there are in our parishes? I would hazard a guess… not too many. But don’t worry, people, that is changing! 😉

Fill-These-Hearts

Theology of the Body is something that affects every single one of us, whatever our path or stage in life, and I am looking forward to Christopher West’s new book, Fill These Hearts. I love this interview with West by Sarah Reinhard, especially his wonderful reflection on desire:

Fill These Hearts is a book about desire, about the deepest ache we feel inside for something.  What are we supposed to do with that cry of our hearts?  Where are we supposed to take it?

I put forth certain ideas in the book that I think some people–namely, those who have been taught that holiness demands we suffocate or repress our desires–will find troubling.  Desire can get us in trouble, it’s true.  But the solution is notdeath of desire, but depth of desire.

In that context, the most exciting aspect of writing this book came well after I was finished with it.  On November 7 of last year, Pope Benedict gave an address in the context of the Year of Faith about the importance of desire.  When I read it I got chills: it was such an affirmation to me of what I had written.

Pope Benedict is inviting the whole Church in that address to foster what he calls “a pedagogy of desire.”  In the Christian life, we are pilgrims seeking the redemption of desire.  The Christian life, he says, is not “about suffocating the longing that dwells in the heart of man, but about freeing it, so that it can reach its true height.”  That, in a nutshell, is what my new book is all about.

seven-big-myths-about-the-catholic-church

Finally – I’ve been recommending this to enquirers and other adults in our parish and I am looking forward to reading it myself: The Seven Big Myths about the Church, by Christopher Kaczor. I admit it – I am not the greatest apologist; in fact, I struggle with apologetics. However, it is vital that we tone those apologetics muscles if we are going to be effective evangelists and catechists. Archbishop Fulton Sheen memorably said,

There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.

…and this book is for all those millions.

What’s on your ‘new evangelisation’ reading list at the beginning of this year?


5 Quick Takes!

-1-

I was in Kent this weekend filming for a new course that will be produced especially for the Year of Faith… watch this space! It is geared towards someone who’s just walked in off the street – basic apologetics. Which is different from catechesis, so I had to put my apologetics head on… “Hmm, why do I believe in God?” I asked myself on the train on the way down. It’s good (and challenging) to get back to basics.

20120429-172626.jpg

-2-

Quick aside about… fashion. It has been raining SOLIDLY in London all week. It really is a drag. A good gentlemanly friend of mine walked me home last night as our umbrellas distorted wildly in the storm. I thought London was a civilised place to live. Fashion is a massive problem in weather like this. I remember reading the fashion editor in The Times deplore women who, otherwise dressing well, throw on a completely inelegant array of kagools and waterproofs as soon as it pours. I am one of these women. I don’t own an elegant Marc Jacobs raincoat, so I have looked like a fashion disaster when out and about, all week. Please, dear Spring, come to London!

-3-

Christian Holden from St Anthony Communications asked me to watch and review one of their latest catechetical DVDs, The Last Things. I aim to do it this week so watch this space! I am looking forward to watching it, as we found in a recent ‘adult formation survey’ that one of the main topics of catechetical interest for Catholic adults is precisely these areas of death, judgement, heaven, and hell.

-4-

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and I am trying to pray especially for the Holy Father. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia – where Peter is, there is the Church. St John Chrysostom spoke of the early Christians: “Look at how the faithful feel for their pastors. They don’t resort to protest or rebellion, but to prayer as an unfailing remedy. They did not say: as we are powerless men, it is useless to pray for him. They never reasoned in this way, but prayed with love.” Let us have the same love for priests, and especially our Holy Father. Maybe we can offer an hour of work or study for them.

-5-

Finally… If Starbucks insist on overfamiliarity by writing our first names on our take-out cups, they might at least get our names right. Yesterday, I was given coffee with “Ana” written on the side. I might try “Miss Vaughan-Spruce” next time and see how they get on with that… 😉


Not make-believe

Last week I was struck by how, in our sceptical, rationalist culture, what we say can sound like make-believe to the uninitiated if we are not careful. I was telling the whole Story of salvation history to a group of enquirers. Why is this an important thing to do? Well, it is a good way of helping people to see our faith as a ‘whole’ – something that encompasses the whole of history, the whole of time. Seeing the bigger picture, you can begin to understand how all the smaller parts slot into place. So I told the whole Story: from before time began, to the end of time when Christ will come again.

I got to the Fall, and mentioned that, before the fall of humanity there was a fall of the angels. My listeners seemed to take it quite well – but you know when you have a moment when you hear yourself and think: is this really watertight?! How would you defend this if someone challenged you on it? Some bad angels in the spiritual realm rejected God and set out to tempt humans… “Sure…OK…” you can hear people muttering sceptically. Thankfully, I reached the end of time with the group all still on board (so to speak).

There was another time this happened to me. One girl in the Catechumenate brought her fiance along to one of the sessions. He was a Sikh and really interested and we said he’d be welcome. Shortly after everyone arrived we began the session as usual with a Liturgy of the Word. The week’s topic was on Our Lady and the opening reading was from Revelation: the woman clothed with the sun, with twelve stars at her feet, giving birth to a child who was about to be devoured by a monster… Uh oh. What on earth could the Sikh fiance be thinking?! In the catechesis, I taught how Mary was immaculately conceived, how she gave birth to Christ as a virgin, and how at the end of her life she was assumed into Heaven. I didn’t skip anything, but couldn’t help thinking how this must all sound to the Sikh fiancé – completely nuts.

When we broke for coffee halfway through, I came up to him and commented that all this must sound a bit foreign. I was surprised by his reply. He said: “Did you say just then that Jesus is God?” I replied, Yes. (I think I had been explaining that as Mary was the Mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God, Mary is called the Mother of God.) He went on: “But during Mass, you say that he is ‘seated at the right hand of the Father.’ So how can he be God?” I was amazed. I hadn’t realised this guy had been coming to Mass, let alone listening so closely to the words we say. So I delved into a short explanation about how Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and that when he ascended into Heaven, he brought human nature with him, which God glorified by seating him at his right hand.

It’s amazing. Often what we think people are hearing is completely different to what is actually going through their mind. We should never “cut out” or water down any part of our Catholic ‘Story’ and Faith as if we know better than God what people can accept and what they can’t. We must be faithful to what we receive in the Deposit of Faith.