An atheist, a pagan and a Protestant… This could be the beginning of a really bad joke or it could be illustrative of the type of people that make their way to your RCIA process. Anyone who works with RCIA knows that people come with radically different levels of faith and understanding. If we want to lead these inquirers to a real relationship with Christ and His Church, we must first lay a firm foundation. Let me share with you three real stories I’ve encountered over the years while directing RCIA.
John, in his mid 30s, knows nothing about the Christian faith. While growing up, he did not even learn basic religious knowledge from popular religious holidays. He believes in God, but has never been taught. He has a preteen daughter who has been attending a Catholic school. He has never been married and is living with a woman who is not his daughter’s mother. John finally realized he needed something more and when he saw a religious sister in town, he asked if she could help him. A few weeks later, John was in my RCIA Inquiry class.
Joan, about 20, has learned bits and pieces of Christian teaching, but most of her knowledge comes from media and friends. She is a thinker and has many questions. Joan is willing to believe, but is unsure if God even exists. She has Catholic friends who invited her to RCIA.
Jim, in his early 40s, is a nominally engaged Protestant who is married to a Catholic and has three children. The children are preparing to be baptized in the Catholic Church and while interested, he has the usual Protestant reservations about Catholicism. He believes in Jesus, but has a long way to go to accept the Catholic Church. Since his children are preparing to be baptized, he agreed to attend RCIA and learn for himself.
It is clear from the above cases that each person has specific needs and must overcome very diverse obstacles before coming to conversion to Jesus Christ. The question is, “How does your RCIA handle these diverse situations?”
The greatest disservice we can do to those in RCIA, is run them through the “program” so they can “become Catholic” and yet have no real attachment to Jesus or His Church. If we simply put people on an RCIA assembly line, we are setting them up to be nominal Catholics or future ex-Catholics. For RCIA to be effective, catechumens and candidates must have real opportunities to say “yes” or “no” to Jesus.
So what is an RCIA director to do? One important step is to develop an effective precatechumenate.