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RCIA – Does One Size Fit All?

August 22, 2010

Our church uses the Foundations in Faith from RCL Benziger.com for the lesson material plus a couple other resources. It presents questions to draw reflections on the Sunday readings from the catechumens and candidates, and then offers essays on the readings and on the corresponding Church teaching.

In my catechist training I was told not to relate personal anecdotes; the sessions were about the catechumens and candidates. Let them do the talking (outside of the lesson material of course). Well, this worked pretty good last year since we had a fairly large group and they built on each others comments. So far this year we have one candidate so group discussions are out. I have added  some little anecdotes, but so far there hasn’t been much interaction on the subjects. In fact, they have stated that most of the sessions have been over their head.

I’m not sure how to approach this anymore, and I’m not even sure I’ll have another chance with this candidate, since they are getting married next weekend and the annulments are not completed.

Concerning the material that I present in the sessions I personally learn a lot from it and I think it is very interesting. How does one “dumb  down” the lessons for people that are only casually interested in the Church? Or don’t even try and they have to make the decision for themselves to continue on their journey? I feel like not getting through to them is partly my fault, but the other catechists seem to be having the same problem this time. How have others handled these problems in RCIA?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2010 9:13 pm

    I will speak from experience, since I came into the church in 1987 through the RCIA and have been on teams and have coordinated it on and off over the years. You need the faithful witness (i.e., personal anecdotes) of team members from the community of faith. This is what is most memorable and attractive to those coming in – the life-witness of faithful Catholics – which affirms the experiences on the journey of faith of the candidates/catechumens.

    Do you have a team? There is a growing realization nationally that there is a difference between an RCIA catechist and a team member. The catechist is there to teach doctrine to support the growing faith of those coming into the church. The team is there as representatives of the faith community, giving their life witness of the Catholic faith – on each topic of discussion – and not just in the scripture reflections. If the RCIA is to be an apprenticeship in the faith and not just religious education, you need to explore a format that includes surrounding the candidate(s) or catechumens with the experience of the community.

    And it’s not about “dumbing down” the content. The “material” is there to support the life experience, not the other way around. Doctrine is merely a way to support and organize faith. If your RCIA process is about the head and not the heart, it is natural for people to feel overwhelmed by “the material” . Lesson plans and materials should always be subsidiary to the ways we help the candidates/catechumens to encounter Christ in the community.

    You can do this by immersing them in an experience of the core identity of the community, in the group interaction, certainly, and by helping them encounter people from the community who have a particular, compelling story to tell about a topic. Invite a long-married couple to talk about the Sacrament of Marriage and what it means to live it. Invite someone who takes Communion to the sick to the session on Anointing, someone who works in a food pantry or soup kitchen when you talk about social justice, etc.

    Does this make sense? If you are looking for a good resource, check out TeamRCIA.com and look at the various posts and FAQ’s.

    • catholicwideweb permalink*
      August 22, 2010 9:21 pm

      Thank you Joyce! I am new to the RCIA process, and based on your comments, our “team” is just a bunch of catechists. Even though my director has been in RCIA for 18 years, I don’t think she handles it the way you explained. Thank you again for your insights. I have some great ideas to bring to our team. Kathy

  2. Marc Cardaronella permalink
    August 22, 2010 11:03 pm

    I agree with Joyce that personal anecdotes and the faithful witness of the team/catechists are a must for RCIA to be effective. It is the case that you should be teaching what the Church teaches in terms of doctrine and not just what you believe is true (after all, they need to understand what it is they are committing themselves to and what being a Catholic Christian demands of them). However, they need to understand how you live this and how this affects you in your daily life.

    Just talk to them and find out what they are thinking about the things you are presenting. Try to get to know them and understand what this stuff means to them. What are they looking for in life? What are their interests? What has brought them to the Church? What are they looking for from the Church or what do they hope to get from her? How is this material affecting them? Do they believe it? Why or why not?

    You can get a lot accomplished in one on one sessions…sometimes much more than you can in a group because it’s easier to get personal and Learning about the Church and discerning whether joining the Church is right for someone shouldn’t be impersonal. You and your personal witness to the power and life-changing effects of these truths can become the catalyst for the faith development of this candidate. Ask yourself, why do you believe what you do? How has this affected you in your life? Why do you think it’s important for this person to join the Church? What do you hope for them if they do embrace this doctrine you’re teaching? Once you have the answers to these questions, incorporate that into your teaching. I think their interest might grow.

  3. August 23, 2010 9:00 am

    Kathy – if you are new to the RCIA and have not done so, take a look at paragraph 75 of the Rite book. It explains what we are trying to do: it’s about making disciples who live and celebrate the Catholic life in Christ, not creating experts on doctrine. Turning to God more readily in prayer, being able to bear witness to Christ, considering God when making decisions, – these are things people learn by example… and they need to see examples of people who do this. Learning doctrine is only one of the four basics.

    This post from Jerry Galipeau about a workshop he gave might be helpful:
    http://gottasinggottapray.blogspot.com/2010/08/rcia-time-to-stop-doing-what-you-are.html

    And this:
    http://rciablog.com/2010/08/balance-your-approach/

  4. August 23, 2010 9:36 pm

    “How does one “dumb down” the lessons for people that are only casually interested in the Church?”

    This is a great question. I asked myself the same thing when I went from RCIA/ AdultEd to 6th grade: how do I dumb it down for kids? Turns out I do not dumb it down at all, but simply think about how to explain the faith in a way that captures the kids’ attention and imagination.

    I know this is a brief post, but my point is: don’t think in terms of dumbdown.

  5. catholicwideweb permalink*
    August 23, 2010 9:58 pm

    Thank you all for you very helpful comments! Kathy

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