The Converts are Coming!

The converts are coming! The converts are coming!!

Yes, ’tis the season! Converts are coming to an Easter vigil near you! What does this mean to you? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Are you excited? Do you care? Should you care?

You’re darn tootin’ you should care. “True conversion of our hearts and minds” is the point of Lent, according to the U.S. bishops. Well then, here come the people who personify Lent – catechumens and candidates.

RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) is in overdrive during the season of Lent, not that nothing was going on before now, but the activity has been kicked up a few notches as Easter nears. Inquirers seeking to learn more about the Catholic Church have already been asked if they are ready to make a commitment. If the answer was “yes,” one of two things happened. Those who have yet to be baptized went through the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens, making a public declaration of the fact that they wish to follow the way of Christ. Those already baptized (people baptized in the Church as infants who never went on to receive Confirmation, or folks like me who were baptized in Protestant denominations, called “candidates”) went through the Rite of Welcome, and indicated their desire to be reconciled to the Holy Catholic Church. In many parishes these folks have for a while been routinely dismissed from the assembly after the Liturgy of the Word to reflect upon the homily, since they cannot as yet receive the Eucharist. Now is the time for the Rite of Election (for catechumens) or the Rite of Welcome (for candidates), when they are presented to the bishop and are asked to inscribe their names in the Book of the Elect. They then begin the Period of Purification and Enlightenment, a more intense preparation for the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil.

And let me tell you, as someone who’s been through all this, it’s really something. Speaking as a former Candidate, those currently undergoing this process need your help, O Faithful Catholic.

What’s the big deal? Well, the big deal starts with the vocabulary. The word “Initiation” conjures up a mental image of fraternity hazing. The “Scrutinies” which the Elect are told they must undergo can be the source of some pretty deep soul-searching (What are they going to scrutinize? Maybe I should file an amended tax return after all….) There’s the very real anxiety of knowing that you (if you are a candidate) are going to have to make your first confession to a priest (yikes!). And when told that there will be exorcisms, well – it’s a wonder anybody sticks around to find out how it all ends at the Vigil. Don’t believe me? Google around and you’ll find numerous posts on various websites from nervous catechumens and candidates wondering what exactly they’ve gotten themselves into ….

In short, these people need your support – which is exactly what they, in many parishes, do not get. Outside the RCIA team, I don’t believe anyone in our parish was ever introduced to me during the period of my candidacy. Certainly, no one but RCIA leaders and sponsors participated in our get-togethers. There were even difficulties getting sponsors for everyone in our group, with family members of sponsors being “drafted” into involuntary service lest several of us be left sponsor-less (and let me tell you, having a reluctant sponsor is a drag). It was as if the parish at large didn’t really want to own our little group.

And that’s not good.

I think sometimes parishioners see converts as something of a nuisance. The rites that the catechumens and candidates go through certainly do make Mass longer. The average Catholic in the pew doesn’t see the candidates or catechumens as their responsibility. Yet converts need guidance from you cradle Catholics. Don’t shy away because you haven’t memorized the Catechism or never attended seminary. What we need is your experience. How can I best raise my children in my newfound faith? How can I be a blessing to my spouse in my (now) mixed marriage? Where do my talents and experience best fit in here at the parish? How can I make a “good” confession? Am I praying the Rosary correctly? Did you ever have doubts about your faith, and how did you resolve them? Why is the singing so bad here? What’s a scapular, for Pete’s sake??

Just be a friend. It will be greatly appreciated. Oh, and pray. Many candidates and catechumens experience spiritual harassment of a very unpleasant sort as the time for their baptism/First Confession/First Holy Communion nears….

Lent is a call to conversion, and the call goes out to all of us. Given the frequent Scripture references to the virtue of hospitality (Rom 12:13, 1 Tim 5:10, 1 Pet 4:9, Titus 1:8), Lent might be a good time to make a resolution to practice it. After all, as the book of Hebrews encourages us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

May the “angels” of RCIA be a blessing to you this Lent – as you are a blessing to them!

 

On the memorial of the Martyrs of Sebaste

Deo omnis gloria!

8 comments
  1. Gina Nakagawa said:

    Your post had me screaming!!! What is wrong with people??!! When my husband converted to the Catholic Faith two years ago, I was his sponsor. I also became God mother to a young woman from Cote d’Ivoir because no one else would volunteer to sponsor her. Catholics who were blessed by God with being Baptized early in life, as infants, owe God the obligation to help others who are searching for Him and His Church. Holy Mother Church is really a warm and loving place, but I know it can be frightening to those for whom it is an entirely foreign experience. Those who are already Catholic should be God’s welcoming committee!

  2. Praise God for the conversion of your husband!

    In my last Protestant incarnation, all I had to do was stand up in front of the church so that they could vote me in, a mere formality. Since the Catholic Church puts converts through such an extensive process, it really is vital that the rest of us step forward and volunteer to walk beside them! As you said, it’s the least we, the baptized, can do!

    God’s welcoming committee – I like that! 🙂

  3. My wife is a sponsor this year, to a most unlikely candidate: she’s a young mom who graduated from Thomas Aquinas College – as a Lutheran. If you know anything about that college, getting through it without succumbing to the Faith is miraculous in its own strange way. The hardest of hard-core yet faithful Catholic schools.

    Even though we’ve volunteered for years at our parish, they’ve never asked either of us to be a sponsor – I think I’ve scared them off (‘them’ being the people in charge) over the year because I’m both opinionated and lacking in social grace. Yet, faced with a trained philosopher-candidate, one whose intellectual sophistication level was far above just about anyone on the RCIA team, they went to the well and picked Anne-Martine (that’s my wife) because, well, she’s much nicer than me and probably smarter, too. Good move.

    Then – talk about crazy! – they invited us in to speak to the candidates about marriage when that topic came around. What could they have been thinking? They got both barrels: in addition to the ‘we met at church’ cute story, we hit ’em with NFP, daily Mass, weekly Adoration, rosaries. One guy – one of the team, not one of the candidates – jumped in to say that you didn’t have to do all that stuff, and volunteered that one Mass a week was plenty for him. I answered that all this stuff wasn’t some sort of penalty or show of piety – we did it because it is a privilege to be able to and a huge help to our marriage. We did these things because we could and we needed to.

    This concept seemed somewhat foreign.

    Anyway, this week the candidates signed the Book of the Elect at Mass, then went down to the Cathedral (with 39 other RCIA groups – and this was one of two such ceremonies in our diocese! Woohoo!) to be enrolled by the bishop. Of the group from our parish, only my wife’s candidate had already been baptized, so she got a slightly different role (I forget the proper names), wherein the others were specifically welcomed into the Church but not her. She quipped (at least, I sure hope she was quipping) ‘Oh, so no welcome for the dirty Lutheran?’ Anne-Martine had to jump in with ‘no no no – you’re already IN!’.

    So, lots of candidates this year, praise God! And the RCIA is getting better – we’ve progressed over the last 20 years from spotty and heretical to spotty but orthodox. Now, if they’d put somebody like me in charge (muwahaha!)… Boot camp, anyone?

    One of the best things is that we’ve now had a run of 3 great bishops in the last 10 or so years: Lavada, Cordeleone, and now Michael Barber. (Oakland, CA seems to be a staging area for bishops meant for bigger things, so these young guys get brought in for a few years, then, if they prove they can take it, they throw them to the lions – Cordeleone got kicked across the Bay to San Francisco – not a cushy job.) They have started training programs for catechists that have just now started cranking out graduates in any numbers. In a few years, there should be dozens and dozens of highly trained people to start doing this work in the parishes, rather than just whoever happens to be standing around.

    Wow, this comment is longer than your post – sorry! One last thing: overheard my two teenagers, one of whom is in the Confirmation prep program, talking about how, when they grow up, they want to run these formation classes. Very inspiring.

    • Wow – this is what I’m talking about! Having a Catholic couple give a talk on marriage to the RCIA group! In my RCIA we didn’t even discuss marriage, or really much beyond the bedrock salvation history (which was dead boring to someone who had been a Christian all her life. I had to learn the distinctives of Catholicism on my own). I do hope your children can grow up to run the programs. Christian initiation and education should be at the TOP of everybody’s list, not an afterthought…

  4. Thomas said:

    I liked this post, and your blog in general. I am a former Evangelical pastor who left my church last May to convert to the Catholic Church. It has been somewhat of a lonely process. When my wife and I came to really understand the fullness of truth and beauty contained within the Catholic Church we could not stay in my well paying church job. So we left our congregation and close friends we made on staff, we lost many friends(maybe they weren’t really friends), lost comfortable income, but most of all I lost my identity as a “Pastor.” While I believe that our RCIA director is trying to build a sense of community in our class, it just lacks the close relationships that I was used to in my Evangelical church. Plus some goofy presentations by some of our presenters. (I really do not believe that Mary was a peasant and Jesus was a rebel, since “nice guys don’t get crucified.). Many of our RCIA candidates have made similar sacrifices to come into the Catholic Church. There are many stories of stressed family dinners when people told their Protestant family that they were coming into the Church. There are many strained relationships. We need your support, we need your prayers, and at times we need a hug.

    • Thomas,

      Are you in touch with the Coming Home Network? http://chnetwork.org/ It was created for people in your situation, to help you make the undeniably difficult transition from being a Protestant pastor to being reconciled with the Church. I will pray for you and your family faithfully, I promise. I don’t know which part of the country you are in, but I will pray that you will be able to get together with other folks who can identify with what you are going through. I will also pray that your experience and abilities may be a blessing to your parish. Hang in there until you can build new relationships – in a Catholic parish this often takes much longer than in an Evangelical church. Always remember, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is waiting for you at the Easter Vigil – no sacrifice is too great for the privilege of receiving Him. May His Most Sacred Heart be your refuge and comfort!

      • Thomas said:

        I have not been in touch with the Coming Home network. I will contact them. We treasure your prayers. By the way, we live in Indianapolis and before I took my Pastor position, I worked as a missionary with One Mission Society (OMS International). I think I read on another post that you were a missionary in Taiwan. My brother-in-law and his wife are missionaries in Taiwan with OMS International.

        • Oh my goodness! Which part of Taiwan? (if you would prefer not to discuss this in the combox, you can contact me at Renee “dot” deoomnisgloria “at” gmail “dot” com)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: