Something I have been struggling with for the past couple of years is a sense that the Church is not doing a very good job of reaching many of its people in ways that truly foster a living faith. It is a great source of frustration that catechetical ministers try harder than ever, but somehow we still seem to be losing ground with many of the families that bring children pretty much only for formation for sacraments.
So, how DO we reach the kids while we still have them in formal catechesis - and the adults who need "remedial" formation? By the authentic proclamation of the story of faith and true welcome into the community. We have baptized and initiated people who have not necessarily experienced the kind of life-changing formation that leads to conversion. We have failed to pass on the story. Frankly, if the Church is to continue, we need to do better.
By the "story" I actually mean, the stories. The BIG STORY of Jesus Christ, his revelation of the Father to us through his teachings, his life, death and resurrection - plus the authentic stories of people in the community who have a living faith. We need to proclaim the kerygma again and again, until people hear it. The community of faith also needs to tell its stories. The RCIA process, during which an adult is drawn into the embrace of the community through story, witness and an apprenticeship of relationship to community members willing to share their own faith is a perfect model of how this works.
In my own experience as a convert 24 years ago, I most remember the stories. There was my sponsor, Don, who was schooled by religious sisters who instilled in him a living sense that God loved him. There was Jerry, who as a protestant spouse of a Catholic dutifully attended Mass for 11 years with his wife, until someone finally asked him why he was not a Catholic... so he was one of the first to go through the restored RCIA. There was Sarah, who had been a faithful Catholic all her life, raised a large family, and had been active in liturgical ministry for years. There was the dedication of Sister Theresa, who led the RCIA and enabled people to share their stories of faith and relationship to the Church. As we studied various formational topics and broke open the Sunday scriptures, I not only heard the story of Jesus Christ and his Church, but I heard many stories from the life experiences of those on the RCIA team.
These stories and others, I remember, along with the loving welcome of the community of St. James parish in Rockford, where after the Rite of Acceptance, I was given a warm personal welcome by many individuals that I still treasure to this day. The connections I developed over the next few years were part of what helped make me truly and deeply Catholic, and propelled me into ministry. I may not remember much of the specific doctrinal items that were presented during my RCIA process, but I clearly remember the stories, the people and the relationships.
That puts a huge burden on those "captive audience" moments - the parent meetings and other experiences when they are present. Directors of Religious Education, Youth Ministers, and those who lead these kinds of experiences need to be authentic and powerful proclaimers of the Good News in scripture and story. We don't get many chances to reach people - so we had better not waste the opportunities we have.