The Harvest of Souls
by Joyce Stolberg
At this time of year I am usually offering a checklist prior to the Rites of Acceptance and Welcome or sharing insights on the moral requirements of the Catholic Church. You can find these in previous newsletters. This month I would like to share something very different --- something that reaches into the very heart of why we are evangelizing and catechizing in the RCIA process. This past month one of our neophytes, a candidate who was confirmed last spring, died. He had already lost one lung to cancer four years ago.
A family man with one young adult and two teenage children, he had been married to a Catholic woman for well over 20 years. Although his children were raised Catholic by their mother, he himself had been wandering through a spiritual wilderness. In September of 2012, he decided that it would be the year he began preparations for entry into the Catholic Church. His interest and participation were exemplary: he attended sessions, retreats, and did everything else we asked, in spite of increasing pain levels and disability.
Although we as team members can identify interest level, responsiveness, and participation and note signs of growth, the spiritual depth that develops under the grace of the Holy Spirit can be hidden behind a quiet demeanor within a group experience. I had no realization, until I was talking to his wife at the funeral dinner, how deeply the Holy Spirit had transformed the heart of our neophyte. She told me that at the time of his initial operation, he was filled with fear and felt nowhere near ready to die. However, this time as death approached, he felt very much at peace and ready to meet his Lord. She thanked me profusely for being such an influence on his life. I felt overwhelmed, perhaps embarrassed, because I was just doing the work I normally do. It wasn't me. It was God who opened his heart and flooded him with the grace that transformed his life and prepared him to meet the Lord at his death.
Along with St. Paul, we can identify our role as planting and watering; we try to soften the ground and make it fertile so that the grace of God can touch and increase the faith of those with whom we work, just as St. Paul affirmed in 1 Corinthians.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. (1 Cor 3:6-14)
I was feeling discouraged last year, because the slow churning of the annulment process was keeping some of our catechumens and candidates out of the major rites and delaying their sacraments. I didn't keep in mind that my task is to plant and water; this is the task we all have. By the work we do we are preparing the way for God's grace to enter the souls of our candidates and catechumens. This grace will bear fruit in God's time, not ours. We never know when we will be preparing someone to receive the final gifts of grace that will prepare them for entry into eternal life.
One final personal note: I myself had cancer surgery in August of this year and I am currently taking less part in RCIA team work than I usually do. My chances of a cure from surgery are excellent and I am slowly recovering my strength. One of my greatest joys at this time is seeing our parish filled with people whom I have taught over the years. We are building up the body of Christ, a few living stones at a time. If they go out and build up the body of Christ, a few other living stones at a time, who knows what the ripple effect might be? When we are all gathered together in that great harvest of souls at the end of time, we will finally see the full fruits of the planting and watering we have done in the Lord's fields.
At this time of year I am usually offering a checklist prior to the Rites of Acceptance and Welcome or sharing insights on the moral requirements of the Catholic Church. You can find these in previous newsletters.
Presenting Catholic Teachings on Morality 2010-11-18
Advent, Mary, and the Incarnation 2010-11-22
When the Time Is Right for the Ritesof Acceptance and Welcome 2011-10-21
Consecration to a Life of Virginity: a Personal Reflection 2011-11-03
Christmas Themes 2012-12-06