We received another e-mail last week about what we are supposed to teach in the RCIA process. We get that question frequently, and we’ve answered it many times. I understand why RCIA team members, especially new team members, are focused on that question. But it really is the last question we need to ask.
Educator Parker Palmer suggests we need to go deeper in our thinking. He lists the questions most teachers ask.
- First and most commonly, we ask “what.” What are we supposed to teach?
- Some teachers and RCIA team members will go a bit deeper and ask “how.” What are some methods and techniques we can use to teach well?
- A few of us will go even deeper and ask “why.” This is the question I like to start with. What is our purpose? Why do we even have a catechumenate?
- Palmer says we should move even deeper and ask “who.” Who is the self that teaches? How does who I am at my core inform (or deform) the way I accompany seekers on the way of faith?
Understanding ourselves to shed light on our ministry
This last question—“who”—is a challenge for me. I’m not used to it. Palmer says that to understand our core self, we have to explore three paths: intellectual, emotional, and spiritual.
I’m most comfortable hanging out on the intellectual path. I am a good thinker. I like logical progressions. My world mostly makes sense when I can understand it in my head. But a teacher who is all intellect-focused provides a cold and abstract version of reality. It is not untrue. It’s just sterile.
As I have grown, I’ve gotten better at going down the spiritual path. I have been deeply involved in liturgy for a few decades. Lately, I have been fascinated with Pope Francis’s spirituality. He puts into words many of the things that are in my heart. One of the things he talks about is the “desire for the infinite” (see Joy of the Gospel, 165). Spirituality is all the ways we respond to the human heart’s longing for a connection with the Divine.
I have a harder time with the emotional path. I’m working on it, but it is still a work in progress. I know that if I don’t connect emotionally with the seekers, there is little chance that I will help them fall in love with Jesus. And, according to Pope John Paul II, that is our number-one task as catechists.
Gaining insight to our growth and development
Palmer says that this focus on my own inner landscape might be seen as a bit of navel-gazing. Is any of that really going to help seekers learn how to be disciples? Would it not be better and more practical to offer techniques, best practices, and case studies on how to catechize in real-life scenarios?
And then he answers his own question:
As important as methods may be, the most practical thing we can achieve in any kind of work is insight into what is happening inside us as we do it. The more familiar we are with our inner terrain the more surefooted our teaching—and living—becomes. (The Courage to Teach, 6)
I am going to be spending some time with the “who” question. It feels difficult and a little risky. Which tells me it must be close to something at my core-level. I’m not sure what I’ll discover, but I pray whatever happens, I’ll end up being more helpful to the seekers I meet along the way.
What questions do you reflect on when you think about how you teach in your RCIA process? Who helps you with this reflection? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
3 thoughts on “Have you asked all four of these questions about your RCIA teaching process?”
This post is so very timely. Our parish is in the initiation stages of a very prayer steeped parish renewal. The new mission statement is “to bring God’s love into the world through a life-changing friendship with Jesus.” I cannot help thinking that this is the real purpose of RCIA – to introduce and walk with people who are seeking a life-changing friendship with Jesus. If we are to lead people to Christ, we need to make certain that we are in a deep relationship with Christ or we will be ineffective. That is the “who”. As Pope Francis said, “Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” When we lead from that position, others will see Christ and be drawn to him.
God bless you and your team as you lead us!
Having been a Catechist in RCIA for over a decade, I have learned that the most effective way to connect with seekers is to communicate the “who” of who you are and the “how” and the “why” of how you got to where you are. You cannot teach the need for Faith if you are not a faithful person; you cannot communicate the value of core Christian beliefs like love and forgiveness if your seekers do not see you as a loving and forgiving person. For them to understand this, it often requires personal stories.
We all struggle, in the past and in the present, with striving to be the best version of an “alter Christus” that we can be. Using the subject matter being taught to communicate their impacts on our journey (e.g. the Sacraments) is a very powerful way to do this as it establishes an emotional connection that explains the “who” of who you are, the “why” of the changes you made in your life, and the “how” of how you got to where you are. I have found following up by asking the seekers to provide input, especially in terms of their experience, on the subject being discussed to be not just helpful but to be instructive also.
Teaching the subject matter from a purely academic/intellectual point of view, without including the personal experience, is much less effective.
It is indeed crucial to focus on the person of the catechist (intrapersonal relationship). If we remain detached we might as well become a plain professor and not a flesh & blood companion in the journey of faith.