My Dear Fellow Disciples,
One of my greatest privileges at Padre Serra Parish is welcoming people who wish to learn more about the Catholic Church. They are school-aged children, teens, and adults who come to us from many different backgrounds and situations. Some are not baptized or have been baptized in another Christian community. Some were baptized in the Catholic Church as infants but were not raised in the faith. Some have been attending Mass with a Catholic spouse for many years and others do not know any Catholics but admire some aspect of our Church. Some seek doctrinal truth, others long for community and a sense of belonging. Many are impressed by our sense of reverence and dignity as we celebrate Mass. Whatever their situation, they all have been touched and called by God who has led them to us.
Because of the varied backgrounds of the seekers, there are various paths to becoming Catholic. We do not have a one-size-fits-all process. During an initial meeting, the seeker and I determine particular needs and set out a plan for them to discern their call, and then perhaps to prepare to be received into the Church. Those who are not baptized or who, although baptized were not brought up in the Christian faith, will take part in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This is a gradual process of conversion which includes rites (ceremonies) with the community which mark their progress, and proceeds to the reception of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
We do not re-baptize fellow Christians but, honoring their baptism, offer them a path to full communion with us. For those who have an extensive relationship with us, the process may last a few short months. Those who are less familiar with Catholicism or who have many questions or concerns may need a longer period of discernment before they are ready to make a Profession of Faith in the Catholic Church. The high point for all those becoming Catholic, by whatever path, is the first reception of Eucharist which is the sign of unity with Jesus and with us, his community of disciples.
Catholicism is not merely a set of beliefs to which we give assent. It is a way of life rooted in a love relationship with God and with each other. Therefore, one does not become Catholic simply by attending classes. Rather, it is an apprenticeship which involves rubbing shoulders with ordinary Catholics as we worship together, play together, serve others, and support one another during life’s ups and downs. It takes every one of us, not just the RCIA team, to bring people into our beloved Church.
Some parishioners are called to support the seekers in a special way as sponsors, sometimes called “journey companions.” Not everyone is able or has the time to fill this role, but we can all do our part in “making disciples” simply by modeling behavior: greeting those sitting near us at Mass, participating fully (that includes singing!), introducing ourselves to the newcomers in the courtyard, and perhaps inviting them to join us at an upcoming parish event. These are simple ways to become “disciples making disciples.” All it takes is a spirit of hospitality and a small step out of our comfort zone.