Next Saturday, my cousin-in-law Aaron will complete his long road through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) process and officially join the Catholic Church. For those unfamiliar, the RCIA program is the process by which adults become full members of the Catholic Church.
It came as somewhat of a surprise when I heard that he had entered catechesis and the RCIA program last year. Since I left Illinois for Colorado, I am often insulated from some family news and this one didn’t reach me until late last year, when I heard this news from my cousin Shanna (Aaron’s wife). I quickly found out that Aaron was taking to the RCIA program with great zeal, and growing deeper into his faith by leaps and bounds.
I must say this came as a relief. I got to sponsor my wife (then girlfriend) through the RCIA program at the local Newmann Center at college, and let’s just say the program lacked the same type of intellectual rigor that Aaron is experiencing. He explained to me the variety of classes, reading assignments, lectures, and rock-solid formation that they are doing in the Pekin, IL and I was tremendously excited to hear all the good work being done for the this class of catechumens.
Having seen two different perspectives on the RCIA program, I thought it might be helpful to provide some advice to those entering the Church this year:
1. Live the Sacramental Life.
This should go without saying, if you had a very in-depth RCIA experience… but live your life within the context of the Sacraments. Ask yourself each week if you are in a state of grace enough to receive the Eucharist. If not, go to Confession and experience God’s Divine Mercy. If you’re married respect your marriage vows, honor your wife and raise your children within the Faith like you promised. Make worship of God through Christ and the sacramental signs he gave us central to your life.
2. Stay strong in your Faith!
You’ve been through a hard road to make it all the way through the coursework, study, readings, and prayer required to approach entry into the Catholic Church. The best advice I can give you is not to rest on your laurels after Easter Vigil and keep growing the gift of Faith that you have received. Buy some books, DVDs, or other resources to augment the lessons taught to you in RCIA. Dig deeper into areas of the Faith that you find interesting. Go to a lecture, conference, prayer retreat, or marriage retreat. It is very easy to backslide if you’re not spending time and attention in cultivating your Faith. (By the way, this step must necessarily include Step #1.)
3. Foster good relationships.
I’m sure throughout the RCIA journey, you have met some pretty incredible people. There’s nothing that says you can’t invite one of them over for dinner, or go out for coffee, or continue the friendship after the Easter Vigil is over. If you’re like my cousin and I, you may even have discovered another “secret” Catholic in your existing family or circle of friends. Lean on that person for support, especially if questions crop up after you have been practicing your Faith for awhile. Use each other to keep accountable for continuing down the important journey that you’ve begun this Lenten season.
4. Lead your home to God.
In addition to fostering good relationships within your Church community, it is important that you also lead your household toward God. Saint Augustine of Hippo called on us to become like bishops of our household, by taking up his Episcopal office (of bishop) in your own home. In other words, to lead your family like a bishop would:
Take my place in your families. Everyone who is head of a house must exercise the Episcopal office and see to the faith of his people … Take care with all watchfulness for the salvation of the members of the household entrusted to you. — Saint Augustine
With any luck, your family has gotten to see a transformation in you as you’ve completed your journey through RCIA and now would be an opportune time to help them further their Faith. Have family dinners together. Pray together. Read religious books or watch religious movies and discuss them together. Instead of carrying on through our busy lives, try to make home a peaceful place that affords at least a little opportunity for prayer and reflection. Heed Saint Augustine’s words and lead your family to God.
5. Lead others to God too.
I have found that new converts to Catholicism bring special gifts to the Church. Share the story of your conversion with others. Utilize the good gifts that you received from your past religious affiliations to bring new perspectives into the Church. Some may have come from a more Bible-oriented form of Christianity, if you did you might be able to lead the best Bible study that a cradle Catholic has ever seen. Some might have been from a more charismatic background, these folks are cut out to help lead parish ministries or assist the poor. Others may have come from a completely different worldview, such as atheism or agnosticism. These people bear a truly valuable story for our society: the story of how they came to have faith.If you feel like you don’t have any special skills, the best way to lead others to God is through your actions.
Don’t become a pew-sitter, get out there and help unload boxes into the food bank for the poor, or participate in a ministry to learn more. Get up and talk about your experiences with your priest, or ask him if he has any other ways that you can live your faith. It isn’t enough to simply have Faith, because in living our Faith we truly open up the opportunity to help those in need and lead others to God.
Don’t be afraid to talk to others about your conversion. Perhaps the only conversation anyone will ever have about Catholicism is the one that you initiate. If you had a good RCIA program that contained some apologetics, you might even be able to answer some of their common objections. If you are interested in learning more about apologetics so you can effectively talk to others about the faith (and are prepared with some of the more common objections), check out Catholic Answers.
On a personal note
I have to take this opportunity to say how proud I am of my cousin, Aaron. I am impressed with the zeal that he shows for the Catholic Church, and I know that he is going to provide a sterling example of how to live a strong, vibrant Catholic life. Even though I can’t be there when he comes into the Church, I will definitely be there in spirit and in prayer.I am excited for the next chance I have to sit down and talk with him about his experience in joining the Church, I know it is going to be a compelling story.