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!