Saturday, February 8, 2014
RCIA, as many of you know, is the process by which we initiate adults in the Catholic Church. Like most parishes, we tend to take a more academic approach to RCIA, in which we follow the academic-year and weekly class sessions. This approach provides important structure, community and focus for the participants – those seeking initiation. However, like any classroom setting, no one-size-fits-all – every participate is at a different place in their faith journey, with different motives and desires, support, and capacity to participate and learn. So, the challenge is to help them understand what the Catholic Church teaches – why and what – as well what we do as Catholics; the even bigger challenge is to lead them to embrace the mystery of God – His love, joy, and mercy – which gives us meaning and purpose and is the context upon which every other thing that we might share with participants – Scripture, Sacraments and sacramentals, morality, and Church structure. This was the same challenge that St. Paul had almost two thousand years ago. After many year of trying to lead others to embrace the mystery of God with “words of human wisdom,” likely with mixed results, Paul went to Corinth and used instead the Spirit and power of God. Paul speaks of a loving Father, a grace filled Spirit, and most powerfully, in Jesus Christ how suffered death for us – giving himself completely for us out of love. As Pope Francis wrote in his Encyclical, The Light of Faith, Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfilment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. This encounter with God – his words, his creation, especially other persons, and his presence in the Sacraments – transform us. Pope Francis puts it beautifully in his exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Transformed by our encounter with God, and following Christ’s example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives. This is the point of the Prophet Isaiah in today’s First Reading, as he relays God’s message to the Israelite people who had returned from exile only to experience continued struggles and hardship, and at the same time limited their religious activity to personal rituals. Isaiah’s message is that we experience the Lord when we remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; and when we do this light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday. See, there is a clear ‘cause and effect’ in our encounter with God. Going back to the first reading, if we seek an encounter with God, we must: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own; and if we do this we will experience: light, mercy, healing, peace, power – we will know with certainty God’s presence: When you call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! Jesus is even more direct in today’s Gospel. He says that we are to BE salt and to BE light – to bring life and light where there is death and darkness. For the Gospel writer Matthew, who was a Jewish convert to Christianity and was writing to a community of Jewish converts to Christianity, he needed to stress to them that to be a Christian disciple required more than just following a set of rules well – that it is not simply a private or personal matter, rather a public and communal matter. First, we find strength and support in a community of believers – so it is good that we are here celebrating this Mass together, it is good that we have things like That Man Is You and our upcoming Men’s and Women’s conferences, and is good that we have a strong catholic school system, parish school religion, and, of course, RCIA. Second, we are called as Christians to seek an encounter with God and share that with others – to share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when we see them, and do not turn our backs on those in need. And then, we are called to share with others the cause and effect of our encounter and their encounter with God – the light, mercy, healing, peace, power – that we will know with certainty God’s presence when we do these things. By your experience of God this celebration, may you be salt and light to all you encounter this week.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:54 AM