The words that struck me from the first reading last Sunday, St Paul to the Thessalonians, (33rd in OT, A) were simply ‘times and seasons‘. I was reflecting on the times and seasons in my life, and those of my family and friends. Times of good news, seasons of bad news – periods that cause me to think again about my faith, and what faith in Christ means to me in the day-to-day responses to what life brings, and I become an ‘enquirer’ again. My ponderings caused me to conclude that we are all on the journey of initiation, and that every new experience is in itself an initiation. Many of the people we meet and get to know on the doorstep of the community are what we might call ‘returners’ or ‘lapsed’ Catholics, coming back to Church because of a particular time or season in their life. A child has been born, and they are considering baptism, or getting married. A loved friend or family member has died, and they have a good experience at a Catholic funeral. Sons, daughters, neices, nephews are making their first Holy Communion, as Sue describes in the Blog a couple of weeks ago. And many other reasons, times, and seasons. So, I wondered – what does the journey in faith offer people who come seeking after many many years of being away – or even having been baptised as infants and never consciously having been in a church setting since.
The RCIA offers a pathway for returners – in steps and stages, gradually introducing people to the person of Christ, through the community life, the Word broken and shared, various forms of liturgy, and the outreach in service to the wider community. (See RCIA Part II, chapters 4 and 5). The important thing is that we are who we say we are, Body of Christ, and that we build relationships and walk with those who come as Christ, through being sensitive, friendly, and welcoming as a parish community – giving the strong Gospel message, Yes, You Can Belong Here ! And also recognising the treasure they bring to us – Christ welcomed in the stranger.
One vital truth to remember in any process – their conversion to Christ is based on their Baptism, already received, the effects of which they must develop. At every step, we make mention of this fact – and any ritual we engage in respects this too. As with other candidates, and catechumens, we listen to their stories, we share ours, and help them to connect with God who is active in their lives. Other rites may also be suited to their needs along the way – a Presentation of the Gospels, and the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Reconciliation – as signs of God’s grace at work in their preparation for Confirmation and Eucharist.
Last word? Don’t abandon them at any stage – listen, encourage, and reflect with them. Help them to find themselves at home. If you’d like any help with adapting RCIA for returners, please get in touch with the Network via the website.