Every year I hear sponsors of our catechumens and candidates
for full communion remark that “Everyone should be a sponsor sometime.” These
sponsors have discovered that there is much to be gained from this involvement.
The RCIA process has a lot to teach us about faith formation for the
rest of the parish and is a key vehicle for adult faith formation of both new and established
members. The General Directory for Catechesis says that the baptismal catechumenate
is the inspiration for all catechesis (#90). Those involved in formation for initiation
sense the truth of that statement. The challenge is in bringing the characteristics and
spirit of the catechumenate to the broader community and in integrating these into our
time-worn models and practices of catechesis.
The key seems to be in adopting a mind-set of formation, a gradual
process of formation, rather than strictly sharing information. It involves that 13-inch
trip from head to heart (and then to hands in service) that is so vital in helping faith
to come alive in people’s lives. That’s what RCIA does. (Actually, many in
RCIA seem to start with the heart and seek a Church that gives structure to and helps them
make sense of their experience.) RCIA participants are in touch with a hunger and seek
us out. The trick is in helping busy adults who are already Catholic to identify their
own hunger for more. Being Catholic has been a “head” experience for too many
The formation and welcome of new members to our Church family is the
responsibility of the entire Church community. How can the formation of new members enliven
the faith formation of existing members? Get them involved in some way with the RCIA. The
community forms its new members in a variety of ways: Some are immediate and direct (Breaking
Open the Word, RCIA sessions, liturgical rites) and others are less directed to new members
yet have a great impact on them (liturgy, social outreach, social events, prayer and study
groups). All are integral to helping new members embrace and feel the embrace of the parish
community—to learn what it means to “be Catholic.” Involvement (with
awareness) in any of these efforts can help Church members be more conscious of those joining
the community and connect with their own need to keep growing in faith.
Several years ago, the late Bishop Ken Untener directed that, for
three months, all meetings in the Diocese of Saginaw begin with the same question: How
what they were doing would affect the poor. It was an effective way to bring the poor and
their issues and concerns to the consciousness of those making decisions in the Catholic
community. What would happen in your parish if, at the beginning of every meeting, this
question were asked: How does what we do here affect those seeking to join our Church?
I think that doing something of this nature could raise parish awareness
of the needs and gifts of new members. It may help individuals and groups within the parish
to learn about their role in forming new members. It will lead to a greater and more effective
effort to integrate new members into the faith community. And, through the witness of new
members, it has the potential of helping those already Catholic to get in touch with their
own hunger and need for ongoing faith formation.
I’ve selected a video clip from the DVD Becoming
Catholic: An Adult’s Faith Journey
to share with you (Windows
This program can be used with RCIA participants and parishioners to help them grow
in understanding of the elements of the RCIA process.
May God bless your efforts to both form and feed Catholic adults.