A common struggle for RCIA teams is how to handle discernment issues. How do we know for sure that a person is ready for initiation?
We have written other posts that focus on discernment, and I am not going to go too deeply into the “how” in this article. However, I do want to point out something often overlooked in the discernment process — the role of the faithful. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults says:
On the day of election, because it is a day of growth for the community, the faithful should be sure to give honest and carefully considered testimony about the catechumens. (9.3)
That is a tall order. The church takes seriously the role of the faithful as the primary agents of conversion in the initiation process (see RCIA 9). Because the initiation of the seekers is the responsibility of the entire parish, the members of the parish should be able to provide an “honest and carefully considered testimony” about the ability of the catechumens to live as Christians.
Why a personal testimony has always been vital
This focus on witnesses who can testify to the behavior of the catechumens dates back to some of our earliest records of the initiation process. A third-century presbyter named Hippolytus wrote about the catechumenate process in his community in Rome. When the catechists believed that a catechumen was ready for baptism, Hippolytus would call for those who had brought the newcomers to the community to testify on their behalf. Hippolytus was more interested in lifestyle than knowledge of doctrine. He would ask the sponsors if the catechumens had been taking care of the widows and the sick. He wanted to know what kind of good works the catechumens had been doing.
If we are going to take seriously the role of the faithful in the discernment of the readiness of the catechumens for baptism, we have to make sure the parishioners not only know who the catechumens are, but also have sufficient time to witness their behavior within the community. Parishioners need to see the catechumens doing good works so that they can, if asked, honestly testify on their behalf. That means that during the bulk of their time in the catechumenate, the catechumens need to be out in the parish, doing what the parishioners do.
Apprentices in the life of faith
Paragraph 75 of the RCIA lists the four broad areas of Christian life that the catechumens need to take on. They must hear and obey the word of God, learn to live as and with other Christians in a community of mercy and generosity, become practiced at a disciplined life of prayer and worship, and engage in service to others, especially the poor, as a witness to the saving love of Jesus.
What many RCIA teams do is teach the catechumens about these areas of faith through a series of lectures. The church really expects more of us than that. In order to provide a complete catechesis, RCIA teams need to discover ways in which they can “embed” the catechumens within the Christian community.
We can think of the catechumens as apprentices and the parishioners as the master crafters of Christian life. If we are successful at attaching the apprentices to the masters, on the day of election the parishioners will have no difficulty providing testimony about the readiness of the catechumens to live as Christians. The testimony of the faithful, who have been working side by side with the catechumens to do the Lord’s work, will be a key factor in our discernment process.
Share your ideas
How have you invited your parishioners to observe the lives and actions of the catechumens? What effects have you seen on your seekers from this? Please share in the comments box below.
2 thoughts on “What Everybody Ought to Know About Discernment”
I do not believethat anyone has the right to decide if a catechumen has “EARNED” his way into the church. “God” calls people to his church. To quote Pope Francis,”Who am I to judge”. I know this is a practice in many parishes but I firmly disagree with it.
Deacon, I don’t think it’s a matter of having “earned” but of being “ready”. Has the person been coming to Mass, if not why not if they want to become Catholic. Is the person praying, if not, why not if that is an important part of being Catholic. Are they taking care of impediments that are in the way of them being “fully Catholic”? If not, why not. Those are all signs of readiness not of having earned anything.