Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, the catechumens and candidates throughout the dioceses of Boston gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to participate in the Rite of Election. I had the privilege of accompanying the group from the parish I assist with RCIA. While the Cathedral is magnificent and has a high capacity for worshipers, it is not conveniently located for public transportation and parking is very limited. Many people would be flocking to this event, so I decided to arrive an hour early. As I stood in the back waiting, my mind began to be enamored and edified by the many different people entering. From teenagers to elderly adults, women and men of many different cultures, races, and social classes, all were coming together to begin the final stages of the RCIA process. God touched each person in one way or another to begin the journey of love into the Catholic faith.
I thought about all the thoughts and emotions that have emerged in their hearts throughout this past year, all the readings they may (or may not) have done, and all the questions that may have asked RCIA teachers, pastors, or friends of the Catholic faith. This made me realize the importance of the role of being an RCIA teacher. As I have reflected and prayed through this past week since the ceremony, it has become clear that for me to hand on the faith through RCIA, I must teach with an acronym that I call CPR: Confidence, Preparation, and Responsibility. By cultivating CPR, I authentically hand on the faith that I believe and let God show me how I can grow as a believer in my own understanding of who God is and who I am.
One time after class, a catechumen said to me, “I’m not sure I love God yet, is that bad?”
I couldn’t help but smile. Her self-insight was edifying. My response was fairly corny and cliché for that matter, but I think she understood what I was trying to say: “keep praying,” I told her. I don’t have all the right responses to authentic questions of one wrestling with faith, but I can be confident that God has a plan for this woman. As an RCIA teacher, I can only go so far. While I could have offered her Bernard of Clairvaux or Therese of Avila, I believe sometimes we have to let God be God. It is here that confidence is so important. It is not I who am making believers, but Christ who guides them. Teaching RCIA has given me the freedom to be confident in the love of Christ for each person.
Secondly, I believe that preparation is essential to authentically handing on the faith. Just because I am a student of theology and was baptized as an infant does not qualify me as an expert in all Catholic teaching. While I may not be explaining Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God, the roots of teaching come from exploring the faith myself. If I grow in my understanding of faith, then I’ll be more prepared to hand on the faith authentically and lovingly. Also, to enter into the mind of any catechumen or candidate and try and anticipate some of their questions allows me to seek answers that I may not have ever questioned. I am learning to articulate things that I have believed all my life. Putting words to faith as best as possible allows me to be captivated by God’s greatness. I’m prepared to love.
The apostles handed on the faith to the first believers. Two thousand years later, we are still handing on the same faith in Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate responsibility. First, that God would trust me, a lowly sinner, to hand on the faith is humbling. I am an instrument of God’s revelation in people’s lives, especially those who seek to follow Christ through the Catholic Church. In this sense, I have a responsibility to set aside personal opinions and biased thoughts to be sure that my teachings are in line with the Church so that new believers are not misguided. Second, I have the responsibility of striving to live what I teach. If I am not an authentic witness, then my words are not living, but dead. As an RCIA teacher, I am challenged to live a more holy life to inspire others to do the same.
CPR is the working of the Holy Spirit in me. My faith in our creator has deepened through the experience of teaching RCIA. I pray that one day, the Catechumens and Candidates gathered last Sunday will also be inspired to hand on the faith as God works in their lives.
Brother Will Tarraza, OFM Cap is a member of the Province of St. Mary of the Capuchin Order. A native Mainer, Br. Will met the Capuchins at the Catholic University of America. He enjoys liturgical theology and watching the New England Patriots. He currently resides at the province’s formation house in Jamaica Plain, MA as he studies at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.