Tag Archives: RCIA

“Those who desire comforts have dialled the wrong number”

This may be one of my favourite EVER quotations from Pope Benedict XVI 🙂

It just makes me smile. He’s bang on! Anyone who tells us that Christianity is easy, that we can go on living a comfortable life, is not telling us the full truth.

No, Christianity is something far greater than a comfortable life.

This is a hard truth to grasp, which takes years of spiritual growth. On the one hand, it definitely does not mean that our life as a Christian is going to be unbearably miserable. No way! The joy of knowing Christ has the power to transform even the worst suffering. Christianity widens our hearts to a greater joy than we could ever imagine in our life before Christ. On the other hand, we must never forget the need for penance and ongoing conversion in our journey with the Lord, which, paradoxically, results in more joy in our hearts.

This is a very hard notion to introduce to enquirers, catechumens and candidates. Recently, I met with someone in the early stages of our RCIA who is eagerly seeking Christ. This person already has a strong relationship with him in many ways. And yet in this person’s life is a string of moral complexities which, let’s say, are not compatible with being a Catholic.

This is a tricky question in the period of enquiry. On the one hand, it is a period of evangelisation, of attracting a person to the beauty of Christ and the life he invites them to live.

And yet, in the early stages anyway, some of the moral teachings of the Church can present themselves as anything but beautiful to enquirers. They represent big and sometimes frightening lifestyle changes which people baulk at. In our culture today, it comes as a massive shock to some people that there are changes in their lives sooner or later they will need to make. When do we let them know this? How do we let them know?

What’s for sure is that our role as catechists and sponsors is more than simply presenting the information and ‘leaving it to their conscience’ (I’ve heard this view expressed more than once before). No, we need to pray for them, walk alongside them, mentor them, offer practical help.

Pope Benedict’s phrase could be addressed to RCIA catechists and sponsors: “If you desire an easy life, you’ve come to the wrong place!” RCIA is hard work, messy and requires much sacrifice and prayer on our part. If we don’t accept this, we will not witness many deep conversions in our brothers and sisters. Let’s have the courage to wisely and faithfully form disciples through the RCIA process. The last thing we need as a Church is more lukewarm Catholics.

With ongoing prayer, support and witness, the gradual unfolding of the teaching, and the grace of the liturgy, God has given enquirers the means to recognise life in Christ as a beauty, not a burden.


Easter Catechesis


This is my first night at home since getting back from holidays. You would think that the post-Easter parish would be somewhat calmer, but you know what? It’s not really the way it works out…

Over the last two to three years, we have developed our RCIA process in a way that is closer to the mind of the Church. We gradually moved away from the September to Easter model (hands up those still on that model!) and into a year-round model. If we really understand that Baptism calls to holiness, then we need to give good formation from the first precatechumenate session a person attends, right through to their first year as a new Catholic, and beyond.

I admit it: it’s exhausting and a bit messy and you need a small army of catechists and sponsors, but it’s totally worth it. We have definitely seen the difference in the ‘quality’ of the conversions. What does it mean right now? Right now, we have three different RCIA strands: the neophytes and newly received who are in their period of Mystagogy; those still in the Catechumenate who were not yet ready to be baptised or received at Easter; those who are coming to the end of the Precatechumenate and ready to begin their year-long Catechumenate. Sound like a lot of juggling? It is. Thankfully, we have a lot of catechists to call on to take on various sessions.

I have a great love of the period of Mystagogy. This feels like the ‘easiest’ period of the RCIA because it is as though the catechesis is an overflow of the joy from the Easter Vigil. It is like we’re riding a big wave from the mysteries of the Triduum. Last night, we had a lovely supper for all the neophytes: it was full of joy and laughter as we remembered together all the events – joyful, difficult, moving, humorous and otherwise – of the Easter mysteries. What an undeserved privilege to journey with these wonderful women.


Preparing Adults for Confession

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For many adults becoming Catholic, Confession can be a necessary evil at best and an anxiety-inducing stumbling block at worst in their preparation to receive the sacraments. Here in the parish, Holy Week is the time when adults to be received into the Church at Easter receive this sacrament. How can we best prepare people to meet Christ here? How can we help people move beyond seeing it as ‘something to get through’ and rather a sacrament of encounter, where we have the opportunity to be touched and healed by the Lord in our deepest being.

Of course, one thing to remember is that as Catholics we take a long time to ‘grow into’ this sacrament, make it our own, and build it into our lives as a regular encounter with Jesus. Growing up, Confession was not a regular part of my Catholic life until I was 17, and it took me a long time for me to feel comfortable with it: now, I feel I cannot live without it. Candidates and catechumens too will need to make this journey, and their first Confession may be an awkward, uncomfortable experience, even if they know that they are speaking directly to the Lord. Like anything that we grow accustomed to, we increasingly become more and more at home, until it is the most natural experience in the world to kneel down in the confessional, unload all our sins, and speak with the priest.

How do we help candidates approach this sacrament? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Most have their whole lives’ worth of sin to confess. Where do they begin? The first point is that they receive a full and gradual catechesis on sin. Most will not think they have sin in their lives when they begin, but through a careful, gradual and complete catechesis on the dynamics of sin, the workings of our soul, and God’s mercy, they will begin to perceive the reality of sin in their lives. So, preparation for Confession happens throughout the catechumenate

2. Make use of the liturgies of the RCIA: the second Sunday of Lent includes a Penitential Rite for candidates, comparable to the scrutinies of the catechumens. This rite can give the grace to aid them in their self-searching and growth in repentance

3. When it comes to preparing for the Confession itself, advise your candidates to put aside some time – perhaps an hour – to prepare. We give our candidates a thorough examination of conscience to go through, and tell them to send the kids off with the au pair, step away from emails and phone, shut themselves away, and begin by praying to the Holy Spirit. He is the one who uncovers the deepest sins in our heart – the ones we thought we’d successfully concealed and now don’t particularly want to remember. But, we tell them, let it all be uncovered. Write it down if it helps you to remember. Know that Jesus forgives you even now, as you remember everything and repent in your heart. Don’t allow fear or anxiety to let you burrow anything back away. Just know that, in the confessional, this will all be wiped away.

4. Give candidates freedom about where, with whom, when they go to Confession. Ensure that they go at a time when the priest has enough time and it won’t be a hurried affair. Make sure the candidates know to tell the priest the frequency with which they committed serious sins. Not numbers, just an idea of the severity. Our Confession should be complete, contrite, concise.

5. Sponsors can be a great help in assuring, calming nerves, answering questions. Perhaps they can go with their candidate to the Confession and take them for a coffee after. We should be there to share in their joy 🙂


“I have chosen you”

Goodbye Krispy Kreme donuts - Hello LENT!!


Much as I struggle with Lent (I am truly rubbish at fasting, self-denial, penance…), this year I am full of excitement because of our inspiring catechumens and candidates. When we met a few nights ago for catechesis on Lent and preparation for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion this weekend, the joy and anticipation in the room was palpable. It is always an exciting time of year for the RCIA, but this year, I feel deeper conversions have happened, and there is more expectancy and longing for the sacraments. One day, I would love to share with you some of the testimonies of the catechumens… they are amazing – the Lord has truly blown me away in amazement at what He will do for people, regardless of our tiny little efforts.

What the Rite of Election reminds us is that God has chosen us. We might not feel that today, with rumbling tummies, looking forward to our big breakfast tomorrow morning 😉 But this weekend, what I pray most is that the catechumens have a sense that God has actually chosen them, all of this is His doing, they are simply responding and receiving. After the Rite, they will be known as “the elect” until Easter. Perhaps this sounds a bit strange to us – it sounds a little elitist, exclusive… But this is actually what God’s love is like for each of us – exclusive! He wants all of us, for himself. He has chosen us, and He will guard us as his precious son or daughter.

For those of us who were baptised as babies, we have no experience or memory of being “the elect”. But this weekend, for those of us attending these ceremonies, let us remember how God has elected us, set us apart, raised us to the incredible dignity of his sons and daughters.


Contraception, Cohabitation, and the Catechumenate

OK, as promised, here’s a post on tackling these issues in the Catechumenate. January to Easter is the time when we turn towards the deepest changes catechumens need to make in their lives, after they have received much grace, teaching, and experience of community.

I said that these two issues were the ones we are challenged with the most in our Catechumenate, and I must say, it is far easier to write about them then actually deal with them. So, here goes…

Firstly, these are emotionally-charged issues. People feel threatened at a very deep level because the Church’s teaching in this area touches the most intimate spheres of their life. We have to recognise this and not blunder in, all gung ho, like a bull in a china shop. You can argue with them about Humanae Vitae till the cows come home, but this is not going to help them change their life. Rather, this is why I believe the Catechumenate (excluding the earlier Precatechumenate) should last at least a year. Because over that time, the catechists and sponsors have had time to build relationships with the catechumens – you know them as friends, they have shared some joyful times with you, they trust you because they know you care about them and want the best for them. They have experienced the lengths you have gone to to answer their questions, introduce them to the parish, help them in other areas of their life.

The second point I would make is that, while we mustn’t charge in, we can’t skirt around the issues either, avoiding them until the ‘allotted session’. Right from the outset, catechumens will be aware that contraception is a particular area where their lives are currently at variance with the Church. So, if it is a question that comes up in the Precatechumenate, answer it fully and clearly. Don’t beat around the bush. At the same time, acknowledge that the Catechumenate is long, and it has built into it the opportunities to understand and learn in more depth how they can realistically put this into practice in their lives. Emphasise the initiative of God throughout – he is leading them on this journey, he gives everything that is needed at the right times. Assure them that everything the Church asks of us leads us to a freer, more fulfilled life, and that God never demands anything of us for which we are not ready.

Sponsors are 100% key in this area. One woman was aware throughout her Precatechumenate and Catechumenate that birth control was an area she was terrified of changing in her life; her sponsor cottoned onto this early on and provided her with wonderful emotional and practical support throughout. It is also vital that the catechesis given is top quality. Every year, I invite an excellent catechist to teach this session because of the angle from which she teaches it. Her teaching is utterly rooted in her own lived experience of the vocation to marriage, and the joy as well as sacrifice of being open to children. She speaks of the benefits of using natural methods for your marriage (it keeps open conversation, and it means the burden isn’t all on one person – e.g. “you forgot to take your pill!”) Then she speaks about the “grave reasons” a couple may have for not having sex in the fertile period. Throughout, she speaks completely candidly about her own marriage, extremely realistically about the difficulties of marriage, and with homespun, practical wisdom about how this fits into your family’s lifestyle.

It is a perfect example of how conforming our lives to Christ’s teaching does not limit our freedom or obscure our individuality (see previous post).

Friendship needs to permeate the Catechumenate to help effect conversion

So, in summary, it’s good to present the Church’s teaching on openness to life within the context of the beauty of Catholic marriage and family life (not by banging people over the head with Humanae Vitae), and it is vital that the person teaching is a living, joyful witness to this life. (An exhausted, bedraggled Catholic mother who has given up on her hair and make-up is probably a living saint, but is unlikely to fill catechumens with joy at the prospect of their new life…)

I am happy to say that, all the candidates and catechumens this year have decided to begin learning natural family planning methods. It is therefore vital that we also provide them with the opportunities to receive NFP classes, that we support them individually in the conversations they have with their spouse, that we pray with them and for them as they take the courageous step of making this lifestyle change.

The other challenging moral question is cohabitation. People are less aware about this than contraception because it is 100% the norm for young couples to move in with each other as soon as it starts getting serious. I mean, why not? It makes perfect economic sense. They can ‘try each other out’ before committing to anything more definite. If you have young, unmarried people in your Catechumenate, it is likely that this is a subject you will have to broach before long. Once again, the sponsor is paramount: a young woman in our Catechumenate who was living with her boyfriend was matched with a young, twentysomething sponsor who was newly married. It is important that we give catechumens and candidates living witnesses, showing them what is possible, and what will bring them fullness of life.

There’s one story I will share with you from this particular genre of Catechumenate obstacles… There was a wonderful catechumen who had had a big conversion and was beginning to discover the joy of life in Christ: she was getting up early to pray before work, she was devouring every Catholic book she could find, she was eagerly evangelising her friends. When we went on retreat, she experienced another beautiful experience of God’s love. But she lived with her boyfriend, was completely oblivious to the fact this may not be a wise idea, and eventually, I had her over to my house for lunch to broach this subject once and for all. We had a lovely lunch, very long conversation, we prayed together, we discussed ways forward, we decided to pray a novena for the next nine days. What a grace that this young woman was open to what God was asking of her. How amazing that the grace of our joint novena began to bear fruit in her life, and she is due to be baptised at Easter.

I admit it, being British we’d run a mile before ‘intruding’ into other people’s lives. But this is the importance of friendship. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have had that conversation with someone I barely knew, or who I didn’t consider a friend. And what’s more, as catechists and sponsors, this is truly a part of our call, what God is asking of us – to care so much for the people he has entrusted to us, that we do all we can to ensure they receive the fullness of life. It does cost us. It is a difficult apostolate. But it is one way we can lay down our lives for our friends.


Freedom and catechesis

How many people think they are truly free and that the Catholic Church would limit their freedom?

One of the most frequent criticisms you hear about Catholicism is its “institutionalism” – how many times do we hear people say they’ll take Jesus but not the Church? Personal relationship with God – yes; religion – definitely no.

To some extent, I can understand a certain trepidation. We don’t want to feel confined, we want to be able to choose, we don’t want to feel we have to do things we don’t particularly want to. I remember these feelings very much as a Catholic teenager. I didn’t want to do any ‘weird’ Catholic stuff, like go to Confession, or venerate the Cross on Good Friday, or pray the Rosary…just because that’s what Catholics did. I didn’t have an inner desire to do any of those things.

Now I see that what it comes down to is freedom: people don’t like these external practices because they find in them no interior correllation. Partly, we need to grow in understanding of these practices so we can understand their source in God’s love for us and nothing else. But also, we need spiritual growth to feel free in these practices. When we grow in interior life, we discover we have a space of freedom within us that can never be taken away. It means that we can fulfill the external practices of our Faith without loss to our individuality, our personality, our freedom. We learn that, “I can be fully myself and fully Catholic” and even, eventually, “I can be fully myself because I’m fully Catholic.”

There is a very real need for growth in this, for everyone in the process of preparing for the sacraments of initiation. As we draw closer to Easter, it becomes more and more real, which can either be a source of increasing joy or of increasing tension.

The catechesis of the Catechumenate needs to recognise this. When we begin somewhere new – a new job, neighbourhood, parish, a new family if we get married – there are a whole host of new people, places, procedures, etiquette, norms or rules we need to get used to. This is part of the purpose of the Catechumenate – catechumens get introduced, not only to parish life, but to the life of the whole Church. The new people they grow accustomed to are not only their sponsor, their parish priest, their parish community – but the entire communion of the Church through their primary relationship with Jesus Christ: their Blessed Mother, their elder brothers and sisters the Saints, the Holy Father, bishops, religious, priests…how everyone fits into the ‘Family’. Like becoming a member of any family, over time we gradually feel more at home as we understand the place and the roles that different people occupy, as we get to know people more deeply. I remember once meeting a woman who had recently been received into the Church who referred to “our Blessed Mother” in such a way I realised that she really knew her. This should be our ideal – that ‘neophytes’ leaving the Catechumenate speak with easy familiarity of their new family.

The same applies to other aspects of initiation – growing comfortable with going regularly to Confession, lighting candles for prayers, how and when to genuflect, blessing oneself with holy water, requesting Masses for certain intentions, making visits to the Blessed Sacrament, not eating meat on Fridays, praying novenas, becoming familiar with the liturgical year.

All of this is part of growing in freedom, as a son or daughter of God the Father, in the Church.

At this time of year, many Catechumenates begin to teach the Church’s moral teaching. For us, it comes after the grace of a retreat has prepared the way… Of course, this is perhaps the biggest and most challenging area of growing in freedom – accepting the moral teaching of the Church, particularly those elements that apply directly to your life. Every year, we find that this is the area needing the most prayer, the most careful planning, the most thoughtful yet no-nonsense catechesis. You can probably guess the two areas which present us with the most challenges each year: contraception and cohabitation.

To be honest, I wonder to what extent many Catechumenates even tackle these problems. People seem surprised when I tell them that, in our parish, catechumens do not receive the sacraments of initiation until they are ready to change their lives in these areas. These are admittedly very difficult obstacles to overcome, since they are often extremely emotionally-charged. In the next post, I want to share some practical examples of how overcoming these problems is indeed possible, and the best beginning for the new life of the catechumen.


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.