The testimony of Christian living means that fellowship and love should be tangibly present from the first contact with inquirers. Catholicism is emphatically not a “me and Jesus” form of the Christian faith. The task is not to lead people into some vague state called “being a Christian,” but to invite them to become Catholics.
Pope Paul VI has written that, for Catholics, evangelization is not “an individual and isolated act; it is one that is deeply ecclesial” (Evangelization in the Modern World, 60) and that “the community of believers… is the Church, the visible sacrament of salvation” (23). For this reason, Christian fellowship is called the foundational means of entering in to the mystery of Christ, and the RCIA ritual book stipulates that the “initiation of catechumens… takes place within the community of the faithful” (RCIA 4). Catholic evangelization is aimed at making someone a member of the Body of Christ and leading him or her to become active, practicing members of a parish, so they can be pastored into deep, spiritual, ongoing, communal growth.
A Community That Reveals the Mystery of Christ
Christian fellowship is not solely a question of “How do I do it?” First, it is a question of “Who am I?” and “How do I live my life?” What a person is comes before anything a person does; to be an effective evangelist, a Catholic must himself or herself be transformed in Christ. Pastoring in the Christian initiation process is not professional counseling or spiritual direction, and does not require a college degree. It consists of one-on-one encounters with individuals at any stage of the Christian initiation process. What happens in these moments, whether brief or prolonged, is crucial to conversion, and the RCIA team needs to be aware of these opportunities and be prepared to make the most of them. Christian fellowship – communio – is produced and exemplified in these ways:
Within a setting of true Christian charity, the explanation of the faith seems truly reasonable – because the Christian faith is founded on love. Love is the whole of the commandments of God. To be presented fully and truly, explanations of the Gospel must be enfolded in an atmosphere of generous love.
Pastoring therefore is always welcoming. A genuine love of those whom God has sent to RCIA is reflected in delight at their arrival, getting the cup of coffee or tea when they’ve come in the door just as the session is starting, engaging in conversation beyond comments about the weather or the weekend sports scores, getting a spare Bible out of the closet when someone has forgotten to bring one, inviting a new arrival to sit “near me” rather than allowing him or her to hunt for an open chair, giving a warm farewell when the session is over, making sure that no one discovers that a car battery has gone dead after everyone else has left the parking lot.
Setup is completed and cleanup is not to be so hasty that people feel they’re being rushed out. Many of the best conversations take place after the session is over and there is nothing else that must happen. An atmosphere of welcome can, within a matter of weeks, result in the inquirers beginning to help with various cleanup tasks, a sign that they want to pitch in the same way as the other “members of the family.”
Charity also creates an environment of respect. There are many ways this can be communicated, such as beginning and ending sessions on time, being well-prepared for the session, and ensuring that bodily needs and comfort are addressed. Time before and after sessions, well-timed breaks, and allowing refreshment and discussion can be as important as formal catechesis.
Everything that is said and done in the RCIA environment proclaims the living Word that is Jesus Christ, the Word that God has given to us, the Word of eternal life that is Jesus Christ: “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5). An evangelist is not satisfied with living the Gospel, but is impelled to proclaim it. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council also wrote that “an apostolate… does not consist only in the witness of one’s way of life; a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ” (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 6).
Those who proclaim the Word of God have gotten to know the Word of God in Sacred Scripture and have learned the fullness of the Word of God as expressed in Sacred Tradition. Pope Paul VI wrote that a “sign of love will be the effort to transmit… certainties that are solid because they are anchored in the word of God” (Evangelization in the Modern World, 79).
The Gospel cannot be proclaimed except by people who do what they proclaim. St. Paul admonished the Corinthians to imitate the way he imitated Christ (see 1 Cor 11:1). Evangelists witness to the Word of God by living it in their own lives, as St. Peter admonished: “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy‘” (1 Pt 1:15-16). The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote that “all Christians, wherever they live, are bound to show forth, by the example of their lives and by the witness of the word, that new man put on at Baptism and that power of the Holy Spirit by which they have been strengthened at Confirmation. Thus other men, observing their good words, can perceive more fully the real meaning of human life and the universal bond of the community of mankind” (Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, 11).
Inquirers will discover that the Christian charity they encounter originates in an encounter with the living God, and that this charity is not something “put on” for their sakes, as a form of attractive “window dressing,” but is the necessary result of that Divine encounter.
People are buried under mountains of sin, fear, and depression. When Jesus walked the earth, he “went about… preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity” (Mt 9:35). When Jesus sent out his apostles, he authorized them to do these same things, as well as cast out demons (see Lk 9:1-2). Talking to the sick, the fearful, and the worried, saying, “I hope you’ll get well” is not sufficient. Pastoring is action: praying with and for them and proclaiming the promises of God. God will also send spiritual power to fight the devil and his minions. Manifesting confidence in God by word and action is a means of bearing witness to the truth that no problem or crisis is too big for God to handle. Faith can move mountains (see Mt 17:20), and the world needs to see the community of the faithful moving mountains.
Confidence and Trust
Pope Paul VI has called the Holy Spirit “the principle agent of evangelization” (Evangelization in the Modern World, 75). It is the Holy Spirit who impels the faithful to proclaim the Gospel, and it is he who causes the Word of salvation to be accepted and understood. The evangelist is confident that each individual’s desire to know about Christ and his Church, even those with flimsy motives, will respond to the loving presentation of the truth of the Word of God by the graces given them by the Holy Spirit. Those responsible for pastoring are themselves clearly trustoworthy, so that participants can confide in them knowing that what is said will not be revealed without their permission.
Humility is one of the secrets of spiritual power. Jesus is “gentle and lowly of heart” (Mt 11:29). The words that St. Peter wrote to his fellow priests are watchwords in Christian fellowship: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Pt 5:5). St. Paul discounted human efforts: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but God who gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7). The proud are useless to God, and pride is the enemy of Christian fellowship.
Pastoring requires opening one’s own life to those who are in any stage of the catechumenal process. The generous evangelist is available to participants, befriends them and invites them into conversations, and opens his or her home and life to them. Generosity prompts the evangelist to be available to talk at any time – on the phone, over coffee, by email. Being willing to listen and pray with them are especially powerful means though which God can work.
Responding to a specific individual’s needs, whether it is simply listening, praying with the person, offering advice or words of counsel, or rejoicing with the person as God works in his or her life, demands prudence. Everyone on the RCIA team must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit when deciding what to do in each situation, keeping in mind the power of the Holy Spirit and remembering that it is God who is ultimately responsible for an individual’s conversion.
Lack of time to pray to God and to learn about God is a sign of a life out of order. Before anything important was about to happen, or any important decision, Jesus prayed. He, who exclaimed about his urgency to accomplish his work (see Lk 12:50), had time to pray. Christian fellowship draws strength from calling continually on Christ, who, “is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).
Angels announced joy when they proclaimed the birth of the Messiah. They declared tidings of great joy to be shared with the whole people (see Lk 2:8-14). The faithful are God’s Easter people, God’s people of hope, and God’s people of joy! St. Paul identifies joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Gal 5:22) – it’s typical of Christians. He wrote about the joy that he saw in them (see 2 Cor 8:1-2) and identified the source of joy: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom 15:13). Christian fellowship is attractive, and leads individuals into desiring to “have what they have” by the hope and joy that they see.
Chosen and Sent
Catholics are expected to be different, because they are different. Each Catholic is an integral part of a Church that God founded to convert the world – to win souls, every soul, for Christ and his kingdom. The world needs to hear about Christ through each and every Catholic. St. Paul implored the Romans to “never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom 12:11). Catholics are called upon to be a light in the home, in the parish, in the workplace, on the playing field, in the restaurant, in the hair salon, in the grocery store, and in traffic. If Jesus had waited for a safe time to bring the Good News, he would not yet have come; there is no “safe time.” When St. Peter and St. John the Evangelist were arrested and told not to teach or speak again in the name of Jesus, they prayed, “Grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). As a result, a second Pentecost shook them and the whole house and “they were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
If every Catholic lived up to Christ’s expectations, hearts would pump the blood of Divine life into sterile neighborhoods, arks of hope would fill with floundering souls desperate for a home, vigorous vine branches would bear fruit to nourish famished souls, and parishes would be fertile oases in the desert of the culture of death – if every Catholic ardently desired to be Catholic, to be Christ, to all others. Not only must Catholics lead people to Christ, but those they lead must be nourished as they move through the Christian initiation process, which cannot be implemented without Catholics who are aflame with the love of Christ, and want, as he does, “to cast fire upon the earth” (Lk 12:49).
The above can be found on pages 104-107 of the RCIA Leader’s Manual published by the Association for Catechumenal Ministry and distributed by Liturgy Training Publications.