Walking round the local mega-supermarket last year in Autumn (part of a well known ‘family’) was like entering a time-warp. In the same aisle were Halloween costumes, Bonfire Night essentials and a few early reminders that Christmas wasn’t too far away. In the milk aisle, the plastic cow was mooing and the plastic chicken clucked next to the eggs. In the background, over the PA system, someone was giving a commentary on life in the store – bargains on aisle 26, Golf Clubs on aisle 2 – oh, and “Sandra on aisle 24 is 40 today, lets all sing: Happy Birthday too you…”. By the time I got the shower-gel aisle, I was completely overwhelmed with the endless choices – Which water do I want? What kind of bread do I want? What kind of cereal, soap, ….? The experience became somewhat surreal and for a moment, time stood still and I began to feel like I was caught in some weird sci-fi universe in which “resistance is futile”.
So, what has this got to do with RCIA? The key thing is to trying not to overwhelm people all at once with the speed of the process and all that’s on offer.
As many of our parishes will be preparing to welcome new enquirers over the next couple of months maybe we need to be aware that in new situations people can easily feel overwhelmed, carried along by the momentum of the group and end up feeling a like there’s no way out – or that ‘resistance is futile’. We often speak of meeting people ‘where they’re at’ and not where we want them to be. This requires discernment on the part of the enquirer and of catechists – and it requires us as catechists to be aware of any of our own desires and tendencies which might be coming into play. It also means avoiding the temptation of the October – Easter ‘course’. RCIA is a gradual process, not a treadmill. How does the way we work in parishes allow for the different speeds at which enquirers will journey?
We also need to avoid the RCIA curriculum approach – we’re not about putting everything our faith brings to us on offer all at once – like the supermarket shelves. We are about creating space for an encounter with Christ. As Pope Benedict said recently, Christianity is not a moral code or a philosophy, but an encounter with a person. In speaking of Paul on the road to Damascus he said “this change of his life, this transformation of his whole being was not the result of a psychological process, of a maturation or intellectual and moral evolution, but it came from outside: It was not the result of his thinking but of the encounter with Jesus Christ.”
In exploring the implications of conversion for us as Christians today, he said “We can touch Christ’s heart and feel him touch ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians. And in this way, our reason opens, the whole of Christ’s wisdom opens and all the richness of the truth. Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us, so that, in our world, he will grant us the encounter with his presence, and thus give us a lively faith, an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world.”