When I was in my junior year in high school, I had an awakening of faith. It wasn’t spectacular or miraculous — unless you’re me. That is to say, it was somewhat private, and there was no dramatic “before” and “after” that anyone around me recognized. But I felt completely different. I was energized and enthusiastic about my faith.
With my new energy, I started to read. I read the Bible, I read books by spiritual writers, and I read the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Within those texts, I discovered the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. What I read there confirmed a lot of what I was feeling and helped me identify my vocation.
For every Christian, a vocation
Up until then, I thought only priests, brothers, and sisters had vocations. The decree on the laity, however, says that all Christians have a vocation. And that vocation is to be “apostles” (see paragraph 2). To feel and act like an apostle is not a role reserved to the clergy. It is the normal state of being for all Christians.
An apostle is a messenger. My vocation is to get the word out that Jesus saves. This vocation is not singular or rare. All of us who are baptized share it. There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world. That means there are 2.2 billion messengers of the good news. And it is because we are apostles that the RCIA says of us:
Therefore the community must always be fully prepared in the pursuit of its apostolic vocation to give help to those who are searching for Christ. In the various circumstances of daily life, even as in the apostolate, all the followers of Christ have the obligation of spreading the faith according to their abilities. (RCIA, 9)
When I started in RCIA ministry, I was pretty aware of my own vocation. But I didn’t think much about the vocation of the community. As I said in an earlier post, that was a mistake. The energy of announcing the good news and providing help to the seekers is primarily the role of the parish community — not the RCIA team. The longer I engage in this ministry, the more strongly I feel that the role of the RCIA team is mostly about helping the rest of the parish come to their own awakening of faith and encouraging them to live into their vocation as apostles.
How your RCIA team can help
The first place we do that is in the first stage of the initiation process: the period of evangelization and precatechumenate. The RCIA says that during this phase, “the faithful should remember that for the Church and its members the supreme purpose of their apostolate is to bring Christ’s message to the world by word and deed and to communicate his grace” (9.1).
It will take more than a few notices in the parish bulletin to make this happen. The subject of every RCIA team meeting and training should be focused on this question: How do we awaken more parishioners to their apostolic vocation? The role of the parish in getting the word out is crucial to our mission as church. It is the reason we exist.
The RCIA lists four ways that RCIA teams can help their parishioners live into their apostolic vocation. I don’t think this list is exhaustive, but rather a baseline starting place.
- Challenge the community to show what they believe. The rite says “give evidence of the spirit of the Christian community” (9.1). The seekers should be able to see in the actions of your parishioners what they believe being Christian means.
- Set up dinner invitations. The rite says parishioner should “welcome [the seekers] into their homes” (9.1). RCIA teams can play matchmaker, finding parishioners who will invite seekers over for dinner or some other family event on a regular basis.
- See a seeker, talk to a seeker. The rite says parishioner should “welcome [the seekers]…into personal conversation” (9.1). As RCIA teams, I think we have to get creative about getting parishioners out of their comfortable conversation circles and speaking to newcomers. Because I travel so much, I am a newcomer in lots of parishes. I am seldom invited into a conversation with parishioners unless I take the initiative. At your next team meeting, brainstorm 20 different ways you can help your parishioners open up to newcomers.
- Show and tell what goes on in your parish. Most RCIA teams will invite the head of a committee or parish group to come to your RCIA sessions and say a little bit about their group. I think the RCIA is asking for a deeper immersion of the seekers into the community. It says we should welcome the seekers “into community gatherings” (9.1). So next time, instead of asking a committee member to come to you, take your seekers to the committee meeting. Make it a regular practice to get your seekers sitting in on all the various activities of the parish.
If your team can take on these simple but powerful actions to encourage your parishioners to live into their apostolic vocation, you will be amazed by the change you will see in your seekers — and in your community.