frmark_headshot_150x150Several of my recent homilies have touched on the topic of evangelization. By evangelization I mean simply proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, that is, proclaiming the love that God has for the world wherever we are and by whatever means are available to us. This can involve speaking explicitly with others about what God has done for us in and through Jesus. More often, evangelization involves simply letting Jesus love others through us, for instance, by offering others a kind word or smile, rejoicing with others in their good fortune, or being with others in their sadness.

The first purpose of evangelization is not to convert others to our own Catholic religion (though that may sometimes happen, thanks be to God). Rather, the first purpose of evangelization is to let others experience God’s love for them so that they, in turn, might grow in their own relationship with God. As Pope Francis has said, we evangelize in order to share with others the joy of the Gospel.

Nevertheless, if, as a result of our evangelization, another person is moved by the Spirit to ask what inspires our love and what gives meaning to our lives, then we have an opening to speak of our own relationship with Jesus whom we have come to know as Catholics. And if the other’s interest expands into an interest in the Catholic Church, then STM is prepared to welcome them, to engage with them, to listen to their stories, and to share more about our experience of Jesus in the Catholic Church.

Our parish program for engaging non-Catholics who are curious about the Catholic Church and who are discerning whether God is calling them to become Catholics is the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults,” or RCIA. (The program is adaptable for children.) The RCIA program is designed primarily for unbaptized persons, and, if they are willing, leads to their baptism into the Catholic Church, normally at the Easter Vigil.

But RCIA also serves persons who have already been baptized into other Christian traditions but who are interested in entering the Catholic Church. If an individual who has already been baptized completes the RCIA program, he or she is not baptized again, since the Catholic Church recognizes the validity and effect of his or her Christian baptism. Rather, the individual makes a profession of faith and is formally received into the Catholic Church. This happens whenever it is determined the individual is ready to be received, sometimes before and sometimes after the Easter Vigil.

As you might expect, RCIA includes instruction in the teachings of the Catholic Church. But RCIA also assists the individual to become better acquainted with Jesus in the distinctive ways that Catholics have come to know him. RCIA helps the individual discern whether God is calling him or her to baptism or reception into full communion with the Catholic Church.

The RCIA process always respects the individual’s unique experience of the Spirit, and always respects his or her conscientious decision whether or not in the end to seek baptism or to enter the Catholic community through a profession of faith. In other words, the staff who direct our RCIA program and those parishioners who, as sponsors, accompany and mentor the RCIA participants through the program take great care not to interfere with the Spirit who interacts directly with each individual. Staff and sponsors never impose themselves between the Spirit and the individual RCIA participant.

Having observed those staff and parishioners who lead our RCIA program, including Fran and Carl McColman (co-directors), Michele McHale-Pickard (adult faith formation coordinator), Louanne Bachner (catechist), and Richard Joseph (sponsor coordinator), I have come to greatly admire their pastoral skills and their own love for the Church.

This leadership team is even now looking ahead to next year’s program. RCIA has typically begun in September and has continued through Pentecost. However, recognizing that the Spirit doesn’t move in the hearts of men and women only during those six or seven months, the leadership team has decided to extend our parish RCIA program throughout the year. Even though the more formal and more intense program will still begin in September, team members are prepared to meet with persons who express an interest in joining the Catholic community regardless of the time of the year, and they will establish and maintain contact with interested inquirers until the program begins in earnest in September.

To this end, Fran, Carl, and Michele will host an RCIA information session on four upcoming Sundays, the first being May 28th, at 10:30 AM, in the Julie Room of the parish offices.

In your interactions with other persons each day, you will surely encounter individuals who are actively exploring the possibility of becoming Catholic. When you encounter such a one, invite him or her to join you for Sunday Eucharist. Introduce him or her to other STM parishioners. Maybe even encourage him or her to attend an RCIA information sessions. Maybe promise to accompany them.

As Pope Francis, says, evangelization is the responsibility of each of us.

Fr. Mark