One of the successes of the Second Vatican Council was a recovery of our ancient tradition of liturgy that is centered on the word of God. One of the keys to that success was the expansion of the lectionary. So since Vatican II, if someone goes to Mass every Sunday for three years, she will have heard vast amounts of the Bible proclaimed including almost all of the gospels.
Preaching has also shifted since the Second Vatican Council so that now when we are at Mass we expect the homilist to base his preaching on the readings of the day. And many of us send catechumens forth from the liturgy with the express purpose of “breaking open the word,” by which most of us mean reflecting more deeply on the scriptures just proclaimed and preached.
God’s love, revealed
All this is true and good, and I wouldn’t want it to change. What I would like to remind us of, however, is that for Catholics, God’s word and scripture are not the exactly same thing. Scripture is a form of God’s word, but it is not the totality of it.
This is clearer if we think of how a child understands his parents. Jake is my wife’s four-year-old nephew. He listens closely to his parents and can remember much of what they say to him. But they don’t talk to Jake the way they talk to us. They choose words Jake will understand and patiently explain words he doesn’t. They don’t communicate with him in writing since he is just now developing his reading skills. They are both musicians, so they will often sing to Jake. And, of course, they feed and clothe him, play with, hug, and kiss him, challenge and correct him, and pray with him. They use all these tools to say in hundreds and thousands of ways, “We love you, Jake! You are ours and we are yours.”
And even though they have done this every day and night for more than four years, they have not even scratched the surface of what they want to “say” to Jake. Because Jake can only “hear” so much. He is a child. He can just barely comprehend who his parents are and the depth of their love for him.
Before the mystery of God, we are all like four-year-old Jake. God has been speaking to us since time began (“in the beginning, was the word”). But more than speaking. God has been revealing God’s self to us. God lifts the veil of mystery (to reveal literally means to remove the veil) so we can know God.
Jake will eventually grow up and know his parents in a much fuller and more intimate way. But, in this life, we will never know God much more profoundly than we do now. At least, not unless God begins to speak on a level that we can more deeply understand.
The revelation of Christ
Well that has happened! The way that God speaks to us in a way that we can understand is Jesus – the word made flesh. In Jesus, we can know God in ways that transform the core of our being. However, there is an important caveat to this revelation.
God cannot reveal (remove the veil) unless there is someone on the front side of veil. In other words, revelation doesn’t happen independent of someone to whom the mystery is revealed. For example, no one knew Jake’s parents were parents until Jake was born. Jake, most of all, didn’t know that. They required a “Jake” to be able to reveal themselves and their love for their child.
For God’s revelation in Jesus to be fulfilled, there has to be a church. There has to be an ecclesial “Jake” that encounters the Risen Christ and experiences God’s revelation through that encounter.
But (one more caveat) the encounter of the Risen Christ is not only with the institutional church. We first of all encounter Christ personally. That is why Pope John Paul II said the primary task of every catechist is to bring people into intimacy and communion with the Person of Jesus Christ (see “On Catechesis in Our Time,” 5)
Hearing God’s voice in the RCIA
Wherever and whenever we encounter Christ, we can say that is God speaking God’s love to us. That is God’s word. We hear God’s voice in scripture and also in the teaching of the church. We hear God’s voice in the liturgy and in the prayer of the domestic church. We hear God’s voice in contemplative silence and joyful song. We hear God’s voice in the voices of the poor and marginalized. All of these are God’s word.
The challenge for catechumens is to begin to hear God’s word in all the ways God speaks. That, in fact, is their whole purpose as catechumens. The catechumenate is a training process in contemplative listening. By which, we don’t necessarily mean sitting in silence. We mean living with an intentional focus. Once the catechumens have learned how to hear in ways that daily change their hearts, they are ready for baptism. Or to say it more traditionally, they are ready for baptism when they learn to obey God’s word.
This is all so much bigger than scripture alone. And bigger than church teaching alone. Jake’s parents have rules he needs to follow, but it’s not about the rules. It is about forming Jake into a loving human. Just so with our catechumens, we teach them scripture and doctrine not as an end but as a means to an end.
The goal is for them to hear God’s word so deeply in their hearts that they then go out to proclaim that word to world. When we send them forth from Mass after the Liturgy of the Word, that mission is what we expect them to contemplate.
How is your RCIA providing seekers and Catechumens an encounter with Christ’s love? How are they hearing God’s word in your parish? Share your thoughts in the comments below.