Summertime: Time out --- Time in
by Joyce Stolberg
Mystagogia is formally concluded with a celebration; neophytes are now fully members of the Church; you have been for the souls under your care what Jesus' disciples were for the early Church. Ah --- now --- good old summertime! Plan your getaway!
Yet, while it's time to relax and take that well-deserved vacation, the Church calls us to carry on with a full year RCIA process. New inquirers are calling your church secretary and speaking to your pastor all the time. For those with little or no Christian background, The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults Study Edition (Appendix 3, #6) (USCCB) prescribes a catechumenate lasting at least one full year (from at least the Easter season of one year until the following Easter). This time frame allows for the proclamation of the "good news of salvation," inaugural evangelization, renunciation of incompatible worship, movement toward conversion of heart, opportunity for faith to take root and the beginnings of a Christian life-orientation among those persons who have had no prior faith background.
This call to evangelize is expressed in the summer months, not by imparting a structured systematic catechesis as we do in the catechumenate, but rather by helping the seeds of faith to germinate in a welcoming environment. Lessons should be informal and comfortable, and need not necessarily be held each week. A good part of your session should be devoted to encouraging questions and answering them. Plan lessons, perhaps every other week or even once a month, supplemented by picnics or outings, which serve to nurture these tender seeds of faith. Look in the supplement in your catechetical edition of God Calls You by Name. The first part, New Beginnings, consists of a series of very simple lesson plans oriented toward facilitating simple growth in faith through an initial and informal catechesis. Fifteen lessons are designed; however you may group them or rearranged them to best suit your needs. In contrast with the main body of the text, these supplementary lessons are written for the catechist and offer suggestions for interacting with new inquirers.
These sessions need to be geared toward inquirers and designed for an open group --- that is --- inquirers will be welcome to come and go. At this early time, no expectation will be placed on them to continue and ultimately seek membership in the Catholic Church. That being said, some of them will be seriously seeking the Catholic sacraments and may have already made the decision to become Catholic. As soon as you discern a clear interest, or at least before September brings a more formal catechumenate process, begin to conduct interviews with those who express interest in continuing.
The purpose for beginning these interviews in a timely manner, in addition to getting to know your participants and assaying their intentions, is to establish the marital or engaged status, cohabitation status, or freedom from relationships in good time to both discern any need to obtain an annulment and to advise accordingly, to explain the marriage preparation requirements of the Church, and to clarify and affirm Catholic teaching in regard to intimate relationships and sexual activity. The increasing tolerance of secular society for sexual relationships, cohabitation, and homosexuality has framed our Catholic teaching in luminous contrast to the prevailing conventional morality in which your inquirers may be steeped. They deserve transparency in regard to our moral stance during this early inquiry phase because it will become part and parcel of their decision to proceed to the Rites of Acceptance and Welcome and to advance toward instruction in the catechumenate. Taking the time to conduct these interviews now will pay off tremendously in terms of imparting clear expectations throughout the subsequent formal catechumenate process. Please take this portion of the process seriously: you will greatly facilitate the work in your subsequent catechumenate.