This is the week that those who have long journeyed in RCIA finally reach the great Sacraments of Initiation Font, the Fire and the Feast. My years working with the RCIA in Tallahassee and Iowa were some of the most rewarding as those candidates and catechumens offer to the rest of us more or less sleepy Catholics a wake-up call, challenging us to value what we have received.
A woman I walked with through the RCIA process in the late 1990s once said to me the Thursday after she entered into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil:
You know what the greatest gift you…we…Catholics can provide to help inspire us to evangelize? Having communities of faith that really look like the beautiful vision of faith we learned about in this last year. I mean, it’s so beautiful! The idea is that when ‘outsiders’ like me first show up knocking on the parish door, calling the parish office or coming to Mass with someone who’s Catholic who invited us to come, it’ll feel appealing and inviting. What grabbed me here at this parish was when I came to Mass with my Catholic neighbor — who was really devoted — was that the people at Mass all looked really convinced, engaged. They sang, responded, and after Mass someone my friend introduced me to even told me he’d pray for me; and told me how awesome it was to be Catholic.
In the future, when I start to take the risk to witness to my new-found faith and I try to invite someone to ‘come and see’ my faith-in-action at the parish, I really want to be proud of what they will find when they come to visit my faith community. I want them to meet people who are proud to be Catholic, happy to be Catholic and love to live Catholic. Who love Jesus and Mary and the saints and the Mass and all that. Who want to make a difference in the world. I want them to meet Jesus here like I did.
Just two Saturdays ago I heard a lecture by a Maryknoll priest at the seminary who gave a striking description of ‘the model parish’ that he heard when he lived in El Salvador: “For those who wish to love God and neighbor, you have a home here.”
Ambassadors of Christ
Evangelizing parishes like my RCIA acquaintance described can be very creative in their approach. I know a priest who preached this message in his homily to his parishioners on Palm Sunday:
Next week we have a rare opportunity: our Church will be filled with seekers who are looking for Jesus. When the Christmas-and-Easter-Only Catholics, or non-Catholics show up at our Church on Easter let’s make them feel like they are welcome here; let’s show them that God is here; let’s invite them to encounter Christ. Show them your faith in your heartfelt prayer, in your reverence, in your joy and your welcoming smile. Strike up a conversation in the parking lot or parish hall with someone you don’t recognize; make them feel welcome; share with them your faith as a Catholic in the Risen Christ; and if they’re alienated or unaffiliated, invite them in to come and see. To come to our RCIA Inquiry classes. See in your pew a pamphlet with all we offer in our parish, what they can connect with — faith formation, service, spiritual enrichment, sacramental confession. Give them something concrete and specific. Make sure they take the book with them [Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Catholicism]
And when I share with those present, just before holy Communion, that only Catholics in a state of grace should receive the Eucharist, let’s help them discover why that should make them not feel shunned or excluded, but rather awaken them to the hunger they have for Jesus, for the Bread of Life; for reconciliation. Why are you sad you cannot receive? Because you are hungry for full communion in faith with us? We’re sad too; we grieve.
Pray for this to happen next week, brothers and sisters; and before, during and after Mass, witness to that by the way you act and talk!
That’s a brilliant strategy. It not only challenges Catholics to own their irreplaceable role as living witnesses of the faith, but it encourages them to deepen their appreciation of the the divine Gifts they have been given by God. We believe in a faith professed and handed on by martyrs, and we need daily pray to have the same courageous passion they did if we are to prove worthy stewards of so great a treasure. I’ll end with a well known story to highlight this point.
In Abitene, a small village in present-day Tunisia, 49 Christians were taken by surprise one Sunday in the year 304 A.D. while they were celebrating the Eucharist, gathered in the house of Octavius Felix, thereby defying the imperial prohibitions. They were arrested and taken to Carthage to be interrogated by the Proconsul Anulinus.
Significant among other things is the answer a certain Emeritus gave to the Proconsul who asked him why on earth they had disobeyed the Emperor’s severe orders. He replied:
“Sine dominico non possumus”: that is, we cannot live without joining together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. We would lack the strength to face our daily problems and not to succumb.