A holistic catechesis for any Catholic must always include a a deep appreciation of mystery and the slow unfolding of God’s plan in the world, and in our lives. When this is missing, especially in the process of adult catechesis, we can end up shortchanging and even robbing from our catechumens a preeminent feature that is essential in any true search for God and his will in our lives. To be sure, the history of our Catholic tradition has always upheld the importance of the mind, and reverenced the intellect. From St Paul whose writings are brilliantly crafted, to the early theologians like Justin the Martyr, Athanasius, Irenaeus, Augustine, Ambrose, and mystics like John of the Cross, right up to our present days in the writings of Karl Rahner. Mother Church has rightly shown a leaning towards theology, philosophy and the richness of the mind.
But when faith and religion mainly takes the gathering of facts and information as the sine qua non for formation, and runs courses and lectures as the primary focus of a journey of faith that leads the catechumen towards baptism (which essentially is a life of Christ), the church can end up with baptized Catholics who may only know a lot ABOUT the Church. They may have a lot to talk and discuss ABOUT the Church, and perhaps even have a sizeable storehouse of apologetic responses handy in a debate on theology, but may only have a smidgen of an appreciation for mystery and prayer, and are clueless about the need to mystically live the life of the Church.
This is a great bugbear of mine whenever enquirers of the RCIA process ‘shop around’ from church to church for the fastest “course” for baptism, unable or unwilling to appreciate that being inserted into the life of Christ requires far more than just the absorbing of facts and history; more than the assimilation of knowledge and a capacity for logic and reason, and the chalking up of an attendance sheet. A transformation requires most of all, a hunger for conversion of heart AND mind, where one no longer lives for oneself, but extends one’s living for the greater Body of Christ.
Perhaps what may be missing from true and adequate formation is the appreciation for prayer. The entire RCIA process has to be a school – not just of a mind-learning but a heart-learning as well, where one’s heart learns to beat in tandem with the heart of Christ. It has to somehow be also a school of asceticism, which is a hurdle that seems to be very difficult to cross even on the part of the Catholic Sponsors in the RCIA process, because I have encountered many sponsors who themselves are somewhat unacquainted with this very important part of the formative process. It would be wonderful if all priests guiding the process of formation are themselves living this out in their lives, and are hungry to instill this need in the catechumens while the intellect is formed simultaneously. Of course, I am not talking about saying and learning by heart the many Catholic prayers that we have as part of our tradition.
Why is this important? Largely because when one becomes a part of the living Body of Christ at baptism, one’s life becomes an open canvass on which one allows God, the master artist of life, to do as he wills. And it will be in his time that he will reveal himself in our lives. Prayer at its heart must always be something that gives us the ability to hand over our wills to God’s, where we meet God at his best. Where was his best? When he handed himself over to us at the Covenants he made with us, and chiefly, at the Incarnation and at Calvary. Prayer is the allowing of mystery. Prayer is far less the telling God of what to do, than for us to ask him to do to us what is necessary for our lives to be godly. When this becomes not just an option, but something de rigueur; something non-negotiable, and it is imparted as such right from the onset of our spiritual formation, then together with strong intellectual formation, what we develop is a much stronger threshold for mystery and a patience for the unfolding of the flower of our life in the Divine.