I am heading up the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for our chapel parish again this year. It is not exactly like "falling off a log" as I'd hoped.
It is my nature to be a rule-follower, it would seem. For me rules provide comfort and structure. I find it annoying and often puzzling when others do not feel as I do.
The Catholic Church is well known for its rules. No artificial birth control. No pre-marital sex. No remarriage after a divorce. Oh, yes. People know this. What they don't seem to know is that there are very good reasons for these rules.
It is easy to assume that the Church is stodgy and old-fashioned and out of touch with modernity and science. It gives its followers rules in order to control them. And of course faithful Catholics are mindless sheep...and perpetually pregnant.
But those of us on the inside know that this is all untrue stereotyping.
The Catholic Church is a large organization that has been in existence longer than pretty much any other organization. It has seen a lot of history in nearly every area of the world. That is a lot of human nature to observe. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which was promised left the world in his human form, the Church has a pretty good idea of what works.
So, should we baptize adults living in irregular unions (ie. not married)? It may seem like a nice thing to do. We are welcoming. The person is so desiring that level of union with the Church. And surely God can bless this person so that they want to 'make things right'?
God can make good come out of less than optimal circumstances. But consider the situation. A young person, newly baptized but still in the irregular union, seeks to receive the Eucharist. This is now sacrilege. Given that, were the baptism and confirmation even valid? Is the state of the person's soul actually worse than it was before baptism?
Parish workers who are closer to following the rules now have to tell the both parts of that couple that they cannot receive other sacraments until things are put right. Imagine the shock. Imagine how mean the Church looks. Imagine how bad the people encouraging obedience look.
Relaxing rules is frequently not a kindness . It is an invitation for someone to heap condemnation upon himself or herself. That is not a loving thing to do. How can they learn if no one tells them they're doing something wrong?
God made us. He holds our owner's manual. We don't. He knows the conditions under which we work best. We get our instructions through the Church He left with us.
I think we've developed a rather distorted view of what love is. We say "God is Love". That is entirely true. What does God want for us? He wants us to end up in heaven. He gives us his Church and Sacred Scripture to help us accomplish that goal.
Why would God give us these tools and then expect us to ignore them? I don't think He would.
Loving people means wanting what God wants...for them to get into heaven. We should want no less for ourselves. Is it loving to encourage people to commit sacrilege, which is a mortal sin, a sin that kills God's grace in us? I would suggest not.
Catechists, those who teach others what the Catholic Church believes, should not make things up as they go along. They need to be kind to those they teach, but they must be careful not to misrepresent teachings. This is false advertising...bait and switch. People will choose to sin, but they should not be encouraged to sin by those they trust to teach them, which is the effect of hiding the truth. And the catechist is guilty of the same sin.
Mark 9:42 (RSV) "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. (from BibleStudyTools.com)
It can be a very difficult line to walk, for the catechist. People seeking to enter the Church are sometimes a bit unsure of what the actual beliefs are. The catechist must be mindful of this; it can be hard to remember a time when it was all new!
The catechist must also try not to project his or her own difficulties onto the catechumen. A catechist is to present the teaching of the Church, not his or her own opinions. There is a time for honesty. There is a time to deflect!
There's really no excuse. We have the Catechism of the Catholic Church which should prevent anyone from being misled. It's the same every time you read it. It's our handbook!
Ultimately, RCIA is a time for the catechist to encourage assent to Church teaching in the catechumens. There will never be time to explain everything, but a catechumen who assents will know in his heart that answers to questions are there waiting to be revealed.
"Dumbing down" Church teaching runs the risk of stifling assent. It can stop someone from even knowing there are questions to be asked and concepts to be understood.
This is a challenge when dealing with a highly mixed group of catechumens. One does not have to meet a certain IQ level to join the Church. Appealing to those who think more simply, perhaps because of relative youth, along with those who are older or more intellectually inclined requires great reliance, on the part of the catechist, on the Holy Spirit to make it work.
As I anticipate my catechist work again this Fall, I pray for myself and for all catechists that God gives us what we need to spread the Good News of Jesus and His Church.