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How to keep Neophytes from sliding away?

It is, to me, one of the greatest problems facing an RCIA program: how do you keep these neophyte Catholics close to the Church and involved in parish life once the “cycle” is complete?  It’s so easy once those heady and intense days around the reception of the Sacraments for the first time are over to slide into a complacent lifestyle, detached from the people around you and what really is the whole of the life of grace.

Fortunately the Rite itself, or more properly, the Order, has a built-in mechanism to help with this to start – the period of mystagogy.  In this period the interaction with the neophytes tends to take on a different complexion as they are engaging in a (hopefully fully) sacramental life for the first time.  It becomes, in many ways, less a purely catechetical process and one which is more close to a discussion among equals.  Yet there is still much catechesis left to be done, no matter how complete the preparation work has been.  The discussion tends to change from one of “this is what the Catholic Church teaches about X” to “this is what it is like to live a fully Catholic life, a fully sacramental life”.

Unfortunately even that period must come to an end eventually.  The Association for Catechumenal Ministry recommends “landing teams” who are tied into but separate from the RCIA team who are there to support the neophytes during their first months – their role is less catechetical and more in providing support and resources for these new Catholics.  The importance of their being separate from the RCIA team cannot be understated.  First, this helps to gently break any bond of dependence the neophyte may have on one or more members of the RCIA team.  Second, it introduces them to people without any predisposition as to their “positions” or “styles”.  Third, it encourages them to meet new people in the parish and share their faith as fully integrated members of the Body, thus making their eventual transition from evangelized to evangelizer more fluid and natural.

After they have truly established their roots in the parish some form of continuing education in the Faith is critical.  Topics learned at a surface level during RCIA must be experienced again as Catholics experiencing the full sacramental life of the Church; rough spots that have developed can be smoothed, questions that they did not recognize or did not want to recognize during the process can be addressed and they learn anew what it means to, as St. Ignatius of Loyola said, sentire cum ecclesia — to “think with the Church”.

All along this path they should be encouraged to investigate different expressions of Catholic spirituality which are within the framework of the Church.  They should be exposed broadly to the many doctors and saints of the Church and the major spiritual schools, including Franciscan, Dominican and Carmelite.  Devotions such as the Rosary and personal Holy Hours before the exposed Blessed Sacrament should be encouraged and even assisted when possible.  The great works of Spiritual and Corporal Mercy should be brought before them so that they can find ways to participate in the distribution of God’s grace.  Living the fully sacramental Catholic life means more than assisting at Mass on Sunday and signing up for one or more “ministry” – it means imbuing the other 167 hours of the week outside of Mass with the spiritual gifts they have received in the Sacraments.

These thoughts are not meant as an action plan but as a broad-scoped view of what can and must be done.  Too many times we hear people give one or another reason for falling away from the Church or returning to their previous faith tradition when in the end all it would have taken to draw them closer to the heart of the Church is a few people with some time, a plan and a minimum of resources.  Being Catholic is not merely something you do, nor is it merely something you are — it is, in the end, only when both are fused into a single-minded state that someone becomes fully Catholic, indeed, becomes fully alive.  “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10b)

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