Monday, May 12, 2008

Questions raised by RCIA class

Last Wednesday, we began our new cycle of RCIA classes. Thinking that I would only have three or four, my plan was to have an informal discussion about the universal call to holiness and man's response. This was to be within the context of sharing our stories...I hesitate to use the term "faith journey" as that tends to be overused and trivialized. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a classroom full of people. Many of the questions included (a sampling only):

  1. Why does the Pope think he's infallible?
  2. Do people get cast out of the Church if they don't believe what the Vatican says? (and the variant, what if they don't believe as the Pope says).
  3. Can a priest cast you out of the Church if he doesn't like your confession?
  4. How much of the Catholic Faith do I need to believe to be considered a good Catholic? (i.e., disagreement with teaching on contraception)
  5. How do I get back into the Church's graces after divorce?
  6. Why do Catholics say that other religions don't have salvation? (or why does the Catholic Church believe that it's the true church)
  7. Does Catholicism have variations?
Our pastor was there and so he and I were able to have a back-and-forth discussion on some of the questions. One of the people who came is a pentecostal whose agenda is to convert us all. She didn't expressly state that, but she did say that her purpose was not to be converted but to sit with us and share (riiiight!). She brought her well-worn Bible and declared that she had no questions. But as soon as a question was asked, she tried to get in her commentary. I was silently praying through the class that God would give me the grace of charity as she set my teeth on edge a few times--especially when the topic of "second Baptism" was raised. I will have to be very firm with her to maintain the integrity of class and not allow her a platform to give heretical teaching. *grumble* Second Baptism, indeed!

I was amused by the questions about headcoverings and canon law. However, I came away with a disturbing feeling that there's a "what's-the-minimum-I-have-to-do-to-become-a-Catholic?" attitude. My suspicion was confirmed by our priest in a "decompression session" after class. He sensed that I needed to vent. Very astute of him. Anyway, he charged me with making sure that the class understands that this is a period of discernment and therefore they need to--at the very least--attend Mass and pray.

There are a couple of people there who are pretty serious about becoming Catholics. We had been exchanging e-mails about doctrinal issues for a few months now and they are present at Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. Those two will be in a separate track from the uncatechized and unbaptized. The level of discussion with the rest of the class will only serve to alienate and frustrate them.

One of the things about RCIA that frustrates me is how everyone is lumped in together in class, the uncatechized/unbaptized with those who are practicing Christians. The adult catechesis documents say expressly that they are not to be lumped together. My own experience in coming into the Church was being grouped with people whose basic knowledge of Christianity was seriously lacking. Furthermore, our curriculum was lectionary-based and so the catechesis was thin gruel. "Breaking open the Word" was dangerous country where sharing opinions was all there was. Support materials tended to be hit-and-miss...i.e., "here's Catholic Update on this topic"....which promptly ended in the trash can for me.

Anyway, how is your parish's RCIA program run? How well do you know those directing the classes?


DimBulb said...

# Why does the Pope think he's infallible?
*He doesn't think it: he knows it.

# Do people get cast out of the Church if they don't believe what the Vatican says? (and the variant, what if they don't believe as the Pope says).
*Ask Martin Luther.

# Can a priest cast you out of the Church if he doesn't like your confession?
*No, but I can if I don't like your questions.

# How much of the Catholic Faith do I need to believe to be considered a good Catholic? (i.e., disagreement with teaching on contraception)
*How much of the multiplication table do you have to believe to be considered a mathematician?

# How do I get back into the Church's graces after divorce?
*Avoid making a confession to a priest that will get you cast out.

# Why do Catholics say that other religions don't have salvation? (or why does the Catholic Church believe that it's the true church)
*Why are you here?
# Does Catholicism have variations?
*As opposed to multiplications?

Argent said...

LOLOLOLOL! I am going to have to use some humor with this class. The pentecostal woman is going to drive me crazy.

John said...

You might quietly suggest to your two serious people that this is their first chance to exercise the Christian charity and patience that being Catholic will require. Maybe even that they are needed partly to help the others along...

I was once in that position. I'd already decided I was Catholic before RCIA started, and had read numerous books. So I took it as a discipline to keep my mouth shut and be patient with people who didn't know much. (Fortunately our RCIA program itself is extremely informative, and kept me busy learning new things.)

We collect written questions (our classes are much larger, 50-70 people) and add a selection of Q's and A's to the written hand-outs each week. It's a good way to teach people. They seem to be more interested than if the same info was just presented as a lesson.

Anonymous said...

I have been given Diocesan permission to teach my students, one fallen away Catholic, one Baptist and two non practicing friends, out of the Baltimore Catechism and Father Corapi sermons, for their entry in to the Church.

Maybe you can use the Baltimore Catechism since it is such a straightforward and, with faith, easily grasped source of the Truth.

It raised my grandparents, my parents and us four chilluns in the Faith and it continues to bring men closer to the Almighty since it affords a level playing ground.
Its perfect for children, adolescents, adults who do not know the truth as well as those who belligerantly challenge the Truth

God bless you.
Dan Hunter

Argent said...

Dear John,

Thank you for your comments. The problem is that the catechumenate is really for people who are unbaptized. The national statutes are clear that the baptized in another ecclesial community should not be treated the same as catechumens. Their doctrinal and spiritual preparation should be determined on individual basis depending on the degree that they are living Christian lives.

Any rites that would mix them with the catechumens are expressly to be avoided. There cannot be any confusion between those being received into full communion with the Church and those who are being initiated. This point is stressed quite clearly in the documents for RCIA.

The flaw in parish programs is that all are mixed into one big pot. It's the expedient way knowing how challenging it is to staff RCIA programs let alone get catechists to prepare baptized people for full reception.

Dear Dan,

Baltimore Catechism is wonderful for its pedagogical structure...question and answer. That it has several different levels is also a plus. Baltimore #4 is clear and concise, we all could stand to read through it once a year.

John said...


Yes, I understand that it would be best to treat candidates differently than catechumens. I agree. But it isn't likely to happen.

My point was that your people's spiritual development is more important than their intellectual development. Quite possibly they are not ready to hear that, especially if they are Protestants, or are still wrestling with doctrinal issues. But if they are, then perhaps being patient, and pretending, for the sake of others, to be interested in "baby talk" would do them good. It could be an act of charity.

Part of becoming Catholic is realizing that the Church is for everybody, not just people like oneself. For me, coming from Protestantism, that was a shock and a thrill. And understanding that was more important than most of the book-learning my head is stuffed with.

frival said...

You know Argent, there are times when I would love to have those types of problems. Our RCIA classes are generally small (3-4 people is the norm) and getting anything out of them more often than not is like trying to pull teeth with tweezers. I'm hoping (ever mindful of the rejoinder to "be careful what you wish for") at some point to have someone come through the program who is taking the process as the intensely personal thing that it is.

I'd like to say that we handle our candidates and catechumen separately, but as you can guess from the class sizes that's not the case. Come to think of it, I've not known anyone who does so even though it's clearly called for. At least this year, thanks in part to our new Pastor, we were able to get away from using Catholic Update for our primary material. I'd like to think my complaints about the quality and context of several of the issues last year helped some in making that switch, but I'm happier regardless of why it happened.

One resource we do give everyone is the US Catechism for Adults, thanks in part to Rich Leonardi's recommendation. I'm hoping we work our way into including the modern Catechism soon, and there is just a faint glimmer of hope that we'll also add the Baltimore Catechism some day. I'm still the "new guy" on our RCIA team so I have to pick and choose my spots for suggestions for improvement. I only hope some day to walk into a full classroom of people interested in entering the Church, even with the hecklers that necessarily entails.

Argent said...

Dear John,

I see the point you are making. And certainly, that was the case with one gentleman this year with regards to a classmate who as "not all there". He grew in the virtue of patience and forbearance and in a concrete way, came to understand God's mercy much more than any lecture would've done.

However, I don't see that having the two tracks should be an either/or, of spiritual or intellectual growth. Catechesis should be holistic...a call to conversion (in the widest sense) is the daily dying to oneself and taking up the life of Christ is always a school of charity. The more knowledge one is given is an occasion for humility and submitting to God's will, no?

Dear Peter,

Thank you for the reminder to be grateful for the people God plants in our midst.

BTW, I love the hecklers because they make me dependent on the Holy Spirit's guidance for what to say....knowing that actions and words go together. God shows me time and again that the most vituperous are closer to conversion than they themselves know. Then one day they get it and that is the day of joy.

While RCIA is missionary in focus, it is also an exercise in hospitality, welcoming the stranger and heaping on them all the civility one can muster.