Tag Archives: grace

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.

How are we transformed in Christ?

Often we talk about how we’re called to holiness. But how does this happen? What happens to the soul to make it holy? I’ve been studying a module in prayer and spirituality. The spiritual theology behind the transformation of the soul is fascinating: How often do we throw terms around like the ‘growing in holiness’? This is something we need to understand – for ourselves and others.

The soul is like a cavern which Christ purifies and enlarges as He pours his light within it in prayer

Grace – the new life of the soul

In the parish, we always teach that grace is participation in the life of God. Even the First Communion children can tell you that grace is God’s life in their soul. But, as adults, I think it’s good for us to understand this more deeply. After all, we understand other things – like house prices, and mortgages, and political policies – on an adult level, so why shouldn’t we understand the life of grace too?

Here’s just a few thoughts (and be warned, I am no spiritual theologian – but here are some thoughts from what I have learnt):

  • Just as living things are animated by a principle of life on the natural level, on the supernatural level, the soul’s principle of life is sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is what gives us participation in the very nature and life of God. It is an “analogous” participation in God’s life – since it is adoptive and by grace, not by nature. But just as the Son is begotten eternally of the Father, so the soul in a state of grace constantly receives this life from God – this is why sanctifying grace is also called habitual grace. So in a life lived in prayer and sacraments and love, man grows deeper into the life of God – transformed in the “inner man”.
  • When God loves something, this love creates the goodness in it. This is also true of the soul. Love finds or makes things similar to itself. So God’s love of the soul, communicated to it through sanctifying grace, transforms it into the divine image. At St Leo explained it: “the divine goodness shines in us as in a resplendent mirror.” We’re not transformed into God – we are still human, still finite, and still have our integrity as a human being – but we are resplendent with God’s holiness.
  • John Paul II wrote in Dominum et Vivificantem: “man, living a divine life, is the glory of God”.
  • This can only be a reality in one who prays – it is by means of prayer (a living relationship with God) that one participates in this divine life – we can lay claim to our inheritance! (Ephesians 1:13) Who said prayer is a duty?!?

Catechesis and grace
What is the link to catechesis? Well, this transformation of the soul is surely the goal of all human life. Catechesis needs to teach grace, the virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the principles of the spiritual life, so that people can truly be ‘transformed in Christ’. It doesn’t just magically ‘happen’; we need to understand so that we can make informed decisions about how we will grow spiritually.
My sister is studying to be a nurse, and the more she learns about the body, the more she understands symptoms and illnesses and problems. I think the same is true of the soul. We need to know what sanctifying grace is, and how we get it, and how we keep it. We need to know what mortal sin is, and how it kills sanctifying grace – leaving the soul absent of charity and therefore in a helpless state unless God inspires contrition. Adults need to understand the spiritual life.

Who needs a spiritual workout?!

I go to the gym a few times a week. After work, it is packed with sweaty young professional Londoners – they are all investing time and money into being fit, healthy and looking good. We need to care for our souls in the same way. If I wanted to achieve a particular goal at the gym, my instructor will tell me what exercise to do, how long for, and how often. We need the same direction for our souls – yes, in Confession and spiritual direction – but also the basics need to be taught in catechesis: grace, virtues, divine filiation.
Only then can we lead people towards laying claim to the great promise we have in Christ, as children of God:
“In Him you … were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance, until we acquire possession of it.”
Ephesians 1:13