When we think about moving from a school-year type RCIA program to an ongoing, year-round conversion process, the shift can seem overwhelming. In this post, I want to dispel that notion. Here are two things to keep in mind:
- We can take an initial step that doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Take a baby step.
- Once we have taken that baby step, our first task is to be silent.
That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? How does silence help us implement the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults on a year-round basis?
Silence gives birth to ideas
For some insight, we are going to turn to Pope Benedict XVI. In an address for World Communications Day on May 20, 2012, he said that the first step on the path to evangelization is silence. “In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say….”
I cannot stress how important this is for catechumenate teams. We have to know what we want to say to seekers. We have to hone that message as narrowly and clearly as possible. We want to find that one unique thing that makes our parish a powerful, hopeful, saving refuge from the noise and confusion of the world.
This is not easy. We tend towards listing all the things our parish does in the hopes that seekers will be attracted to one of the 132 ministries we do at Our Lady of Perpetual Motion. But in actual practice, the opposite is true. A seeker usually has one dominant need, and he or she is looking for a product or event or store or church that will meet that need. Pope Benedict says that when we inundate these seekers with information, they become overwhelmed, not evangelized:
People today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware. If we are to recognize and focus upon the truly important questions, then silence is a precious commodity that enables us to exercise proper discernment in the face of the surcharge of stimuli and data that we receive. (emphasis added)
A key idea for RCIA teams
In that statement is the key for catechumenate teams. As we begin our shift to a year-round process, we have to spend a great deal of time reflecting on what the truly important questions are.
Because here’s the deal. These truly important questions are seldom the questions seekers ask when they show up at our door. They tend to ask about sacraments for their children, or getting married in the church, or if you have Mass in Spanish, or if you can give them bus fare to get back to Oklahoma, or who knows what else. If we have not put in the time to reflect on what the truly important questions are behind these presenting questions, we will have missed the opportunity to evangelize. We will have not heard the truly important question and therefore not answered it in a profound and meaningful way.
In an RCIA process, what are the questions?
So how do we discover the truly important questions? First we have to examine our own hearts. What is my driving question? What are the deepest issues I wrestle with? What is my greatest doubt? What terrifies me? What is my greatest hope? What gives me bliss?
Next we have to share these tender, quiet, fragile thoughts with our coworkers in the vineyard. As a cohort of people committed to initiation ministry, what are our most important questions?
And then we have to consider our parish community. As a worshiping People of God, on this day, in this time, in this place, what is our greatest struggle? What do we do best to help our parish and our neighborhood have a little more hope today than they had yesterday? Where are we clearly most faithful to the gospel? Where are we clearly most sinful?
The answer to all our questions
These truly important questions only find profound answers in silence—the silence of the Cross:
The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross. After Christ’s death there is a great silence over the earth, and on Holy Saturday, when “the King sleeps and God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages” (cf. Office of Readings, Holy Saturday)
For those of us engaged in initiation ministry, our first task is to be silent. That’s a task that does not require any additional team members or additional catechetical sessions. Silent reflection on the most important questions is, nonetheless, challenging and even difficult. It is not, however, an overwhelming list of additional duties that many of us think of when we think of an ongoing, year-round conversion process.
Just the opposite. When it comes to focusing on the core of our evangelization and initiation ministry, Pope Benedict is challenging us to do less, not more.
Please share your thoughts
Click here to read Pope Benedict’s message. It’s short and it’s powerful. Then please come back here and offer some of your insights.
“Contemplate” courtesy of Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
3 thoughts on “Silence—an unlikely step in moving to a year-round RCIA”
Very good insights on silence. Thank you for citing and referring to the Pope’s thoughts on this subject. I direct the Neophyte Year at my parish, and have to listen closely to hear what their needs are, vs. what I think they need. Often the Spirit will lead me to choose some of both.
Christ the King, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Thanks for your thoughts Elizabeth!
Blessings on all your work.
Thanks for this Nick. I took the web course with Diane about the parish as curriculum, and have yearned for our team to move toward year round, open, formation. There is some resistance, because it does seem overwhelming. Your advice on silence and “baby steps” is so helpful. The first baby step for me is to listen to the team With compassion, to invite them to consider year round with one simple idea, and to provide plenty of time for silent reflection.
Thanks again Nick for your sharing your gifts!