The Emmaus story in Luke’s Gospel [Lk 24:13-35] directs our Christian faith with Christ as our guide, our eyes are opened to recognise Him; we then set out to share this Good News with our companions. This lived discipleship is the reality of Mystagogia. From the moment of The Rite of Acceptance the Church embraces the catechumens and candidates with parental affection;
“From this time on the Church embraces the catechumens as its own with a mother’s love and concern. Joined to the Church, the catechumens are now part of the household of Christ, since the Church nourishes them with The Word of God and sustains them by means of liturgical celebrations.” [RCIA #47]
As every household knows, the loving bond nurtured within never ceases, but rather must become open to enable those within to mature in their own particular manner.
A certainty in life is growth, hopefully progressive, which involves moving from one stage of life to the next. The depiction of the RCIA Rites as doorways that lead candidates from one phase to the next is familiar to us. Human life is a series of continuous doorways we pass through; for example primary to secondary school; student to professional; single to married life; couple to family. This movement often encompasses feelings of loss, yet the excitement of newness, spurs us on to further discovery and confidence. The subjective process of transition depends on our character, attitude and support services. The two disciples in the Emmaus narrative begin their journey despondent over the tortured death of their hero, Jesus. Though Cleopas and his friend are joined by Christ as they return to Emmaus, something prevented them from recognising Him.
During the catechumenate, the role of the RCIA team is to ‘begin with Moses and all the prophets, and interpret to them the things about Christ Himself, in all the Scriptures;’ [Lk 24:27] affectively representing the presence of Christ to the Emmaus candidates. The example Christ presents us with in the Emmaus story is that as soon as the two disciples receive the blessed and broken bread from Christ, He physically vanishes from them. Christ’s attendance to their needs takes on a deeper understanding, since now, by His nourishing from within, He is food for the mystagogical path forward. This natural transition also applies to the RCIA team, who move from weekly meetings to walking alongside the neophytes as we are communally fed and joined through the Paschal Mystery.
The Elect may be viewed as an adolescent on the bridge to adulthood, which includes developing an understanding of rights and responsibilities, with faith understanding of lived discipleship embodying the caritas of love for others. The RCIA team must remember that while it has nurtured with a mothers love the faith development of Christian initiation, we are walking with adults, not children. During the phase of Purification and Enlightenment the team in developing an expectation of independent ownership of faith, can lay the seeds of affirming The Elects’ autonomy and commissioning at Pentecost. This parallels the natural stages of life, and prepares The Elect to understand that the discipleship of their relationship with Christ will involve experiences of struggle, growth and inertia; that the Ordinary Time in the Liturgical cycle supports continued faith development.
Throughout the process of RCIA, we nurture and guide those on the conversion journey home to Christ, humbly appreciative that we too travel this same road to our heavenly destination with measured and continuous purpose. “Thus a dynamic process develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of His definitive and absolute love in the entire personal and social life of man. Therefore an educational growth process is necessary, in order that individual believers…may patiently be led forward, arriving at a richer understanding and a fuller integration of this mystery in their lives.’ [Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981) # 9]
The need for a welcoming and supportive parish for new members in the Church is well acknowledged. The Liturgical celebrations gradually acquaint candidates with the wider Parish community and simultaneously make known to the Parish the joy of adult Christian initiation in their midst. The role of sponsors, to introduce and deepen this sense of belonging is essential to developing comfort and familiarity with the Parish and wider Church. Invitation to join one of the many Parish ministries develops the sense of the individual becoming part of the parish community through active involvement in the mission of the Parish life.
At what point does the RCIA team release the bonds of ‘motherhood’ which have developed? If we analogise that received into the Church at Easter, the Neophytes begin the probationary time to drive alone, then the commissioning of them at Pentecost involves their maturing into independence. The experiential reality of life is undefined, that “continuous, permanent conversion …is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward.” [Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981) # 9] The integrity of faith demanded by the RCIA team is to encourage this freedom, while appreciating that the permanency of conversion will include times of struggle and doubt. The RCIA team, while remaining available to the Neophytes, should create a sense of free will, whereby the Neophytes begin to take ownership of their faith and how they will live their mystagogia.
The great conversion story of St Augustine reminds us that our life is in constant tension of choice. Augustine’s theology explained that we each possess emotional baggage that makes us who we are; it is inescapably part of us and should be viewed as strength of our humanness to learn, choose, change and develop. It is part of our being human that we search for our maker, seeking completeness only when we unite with our divine architect: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” [The Confessions of St Augustine] In the fast pace of life today, if our intentions are not met quickly, there is a tendency to drift away or move on. The role of RCIA is to meet those on the journey to Emmaus, while being reassured that Christ will open their eyes and walk alongside us all. Our challenge is to kindle the spirit within, sharing our Christian faith and belief in ‘The Way, The Truth and The Life’, [Jn 14:6] and continually pray for each other, united in human sympathy, for together we journey home to Christ.