Tag Archives: RCIA retreat

Preparing candidates to be received into the Church

Meeting Christ's mercy in Confession

Helping people discover the mercy of Christ

A couple of weekends ago, it was a joy to join my old parish’s candidates and catechumens on their weekend retreat. Once again, we went to Ampleforth Abbey – it is really the perfect setting for such a retreat. I have said this a million times and I will never tire of saying it – what a great joy and privilege to accompany people as they prepare to enter fully into Christ and his Body, the Church. We had a weekend of teaching from Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, Fr Sebastian (who I’ve mentioned here) on the Mass and the lay vocation. Saturday afternoon was dedicated to First Confessions. After a thorough preparation, Fr Sebastian spent several hours hearing each candidate’s First Confession. There was not one candidate for whom this experience was not deeply moving. The joy and exhilaration in our group afterwards was palpable. At breakfast on Sunday morning, the laughter was contagious. This was a group we had felt never particularly ‘bonded’ – perhaps this was true on a natural level, but on a supernatural level, there was real communion. People who had previously been quiet and reserved came out of their shells. It was beautiful to see. What Confession can do!

So…on this topic, allow me to make three points:

1. Don’t become one of the (disturbingly numerous) parishes whose candidates do not go to Confession┬ábefore being received – If we experience in our own lives the transformative and life-giving power of this sacrament of conversion, why fail to introduce it to those who are precisely in the most fundamental process of conversion?

2. Don’t downplay or minimise this sacrament in an effort to make it ‘easier’ or seem less intimidating – I’ve heard of people being told they don’t need to confess every sin. How very sad. This means that we’re allowing a person both to make an invalid Confession and to not experience the full impact of Jesus’ love and mercy which we receive when we empty our hearts fully of everything

3. We must be lovers of Confession and frequent this sacrament ourselves – As a catechist, how can I convey the love and mercy of Jesus in Confession unless I receive it regularly, frequently? I would suggest that as catechists, desiring to be the best witnesses of Christ that we can be, we should go at the very least once a month, if not fortnightly or weekly. Christ strongly desires for us to allow his love and power to work through us – so let’s keep getting rid of everything that stops it.

One woman, on the weekend, said that she couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t be at Confession every single week, it sounded so wonderful to her! This is the kind of response to Confession that the Holy Spirit can stir in a person’s heart… if we witness to it well.


The Challenge of Conversion


This weekend saw our Catechumenate retreat at Ampleforth Abbey. The retreat comes at just over halfway through the year-long Catechumenate and is a wonderful way to deepen conversion, enter more fully into prayer and make resolutions regarding one’s spiritual life ahead. Ampleforth was a perfect setting – silence, beautiful liturgy, wonderful hospitality, and some good walks – for our Catechumenate to open their hearts to God.

For me, the RCIA process constantly throws up questions around the dynamics of conversion. Every single person in any given Catechumenate is different. Someone’s conversion to Christ may have happened very deeply, and now they need some doctrinal understanding to make their conversion firm. Some people may want the Catholic Faith – but on their terms – not ready or open to making too many changes to their lifestyle. This requires some work, and a retreat is a wonderful opportunity for such a person to come away from all the things that ordinarily consume their consciousness, and face both God and themselves. Some people may have accepted everything in their faith – authentically and wholeheartedly – but there may still be one obstacle which for whatever reason they cannot face to change. Hopefully a retreat will given such a person perspective, an ability to perceive that this change is actually possible because of the abundance of God’s grace, and that no problem, no obstacle is bigger than God. The truth is that, God has so much he wants to give to an individual in the Catechumenate – as catechists, how can we lead people to an awareness of this?

Two of the things which helped over the weekend we just ran were, firstly, an hour of Adoration with guided meditation on the Gospel. Only when a person experiences the love and grace God pours out in Adoration – only when they sit there for an hour in prayer – do they begin to realise how much God wants to give them in the Eucharist. The second example was lectio divina we did with one of the monks from the abbey. This experience awakened the candidates to the inexhaustible depths of Scripture. These two experiences were ways that God revealed to the catechumens and candidates the limitless abundance of his love and grace, in sources (Adoration and Scripture) that they can continue to return to. Only through this love and grace can seemingly difficult conversion be made possible.