By Kathy Horan
‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
These final words of Jesus to the disciples provided them with a significant challenge, a way forward, and the promise of his abiding presence with them for all time – and no handbook of procedures to follow!
A concern of the early Christian community was to find a way of sharing their faith in the risen Lord with those who came to them, seeking to become part of the group. In a time of uncertainty and confusion, the disciples and other early Christians knew their need of banding together as a community for support and encouragement to carry out the Lord’s mission.
So they continued to meet together, to share the story of Jesus, to ponder more deeply on his actions, his values and teachings, and, importantly, his ability to stand alongside the most needy and vulnerable in the community.
In this context, they also broke the bread, prayed and gave thanks to God. Such was life among the believers. As chronicled in the Acts of the Apostles, ‘they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, and the sharing of their resources with all in need’. (Acts 2:42-47)
At the beginning of John’s gospel, there is an account of an interaction between Jesus and two of his disciples who pose the question:
‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ to which Jesus replies, ‘Come and see.’ (John 1:38-39) They accepted the invitation and spent the day with Jesus. They were curious and seeking something more or different in life, and accepted the invitation to follow Jesus. Did they know what they were getting themselves into? Certainly, there was an attraction to Jesus and a desire to get to know him and what he was on about, but, understandably, they still had questions, doubts and confusions as they travelled the journey. As for ourselves, their journey in faith and search for deeper meaning in life took many twists and turns and called them back to ponder Jesus’ question: ‘Who do you say that I am?’
This is the dynamic at work in the first stage of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, when adult inquirers come along to begin the journey, initially, of getting to know who Jesus is and then developing a personal relationship with Jesus through prayer and reflection on the Scriptures.
They do this in the context of a local parish, where they experience firsthand the community at prayer, celebrating the Eucharist, sharing their lives as followers of Jesus, and being of service to all in need. As adult inquirers journey with the community, they are supported by the whole community in their desire to become Catholic; they then take part in more formative learning about the faith with a view to becoming Catholic through the sacraments of initiation.
This follows the ancient practice of adults being baptised, confirmed and then admitted to receiving the Eucharist for the first time at the Easter Vigil. As for the early Christian community, so for our parish communities today: it takes a community to nourish and welcome new disciples through the RCIA process.
Many parishes are in the process of beginning the RCIA process at the moment. As missionary disciples of Jesus by reason of our baptism, how can we continue to go out to the whole world and spread the good news of Jesus? What can we do at the local level to invite would-be inquirers to ‘come and see?’