Over the past year, I have had the pleasure of journeying alongside someone who is going through the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program. Gwyneth Howard, a senior in high school in Cleveland, Ohio, made the decision about a year ago to enter the process of becoming Roman Catholic. Through Saint Raphael Parish in Bay Village, Ohio, Gwyn has spent the past year completing the RCIA program offered there.
RCIA dates back to early Christianity, when “candidates,” or those who were to be welcomed into the Church, would spend several years testifying to the Catholic faith before finally being baptized on Easter. In modern times, RCIA is a year-long program dedicated to educating the catechumens about the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church. This process is divided into the Period of the Evangelization, the Period of the Catechumenate, the Rite of Election, which occurs on the First Sunday of Lent and is when all the names are enrolled for Baptism at the Easter Vigil, and the final Period of Purification and Enlightenment during the forthcoming days of Lent leading up to the Easter Vigil, when the catechumens are fully initiated into the Church through Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist.
One’s journey of conversion and faith is ongoing and continuous. This is certainly the case with Gwyn. She points to a period of questioning her faith and beliefs in the years leading up to her decision to become Catholic. She says that a funeral Mass that cemented her decision: “I had a moment that I now refer to as my calling from God to convert and join His family. A neighbor and dear family friend had a violent stroke and passed away very suddenly at age 60. His family members were devout Catholics, and my mom and I attended the funeral. At some point during the service I heard God speak to me and say ‘Go, go be with them. Go be a part of that’, in reference to the Catholic faith. It was the strongest message and closest I have ever felt to Him.” This moment of conversion has guided her along her journey through the RCIA program and has allowed her to grow in her faith.
The RCIA program has allowed Gwyn to grow in her faith in God. She has learned that she is not alone in this journey of life. Perhaps most importantly, RCIA has taught her that God is in our everyday lives: “I have learned to incorporate my newfound faith into my everyday life. It’s as if I see life through a ‘holy/faithful’ lens, put in place by God. This has helped me to be a better person, governing my life by God’s will and his expectations for us has made my life much happier, and full of love. I have learned a lot about the Catholic faith, but I do not think my thirst to learn will ever be fulfilled. I feel older, wiser, and that I have a better understanding of what my purpose on this earth is: to live my life full of blessings with as much grace and faith as I can.”
This is a beautiful explanation of RCIA. Though it has prepared her most immediately for the Easter Vigil, RCIA has also allowed Gwyn to explore the role of her faith beyond her baptism into the Church. She understands God’s will for every person, and she has learned to look at the world with a holy lens. She talks a lot about thirst, which is something we all experience. Not thirst for water, but thirst for something greater. Jesus, when dying on the Cross, said “I thirst” (John 19:38). Jesus thirsts for our hearts, and we thirst for a relationship with Jesus Christ. RCIA prepares one’s heart for that thirst to be fulfilled through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, and through the saving power of the Sacraments.
Perhaps the most important question is how RCIA has prepared one to carry out his or her faith after Easter. Gwyn says, “The lessons I have learned from RCIA give me a strong foundation to continue my faith journey even after my Confirmation at Easter Vigil Mass. God’s mysteries are so complex and perfect that I know I will reflect on them for my entire life. RCIA has also taught me how to incorporate my faith into my daily life.” Understanding God’s plan for us in an ongoing process, and RCIA prepares a place in our heart for Jesus to enter: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:1-3).
RCIA has prepared Gwyn’s heart for Jesus to enter more deeply and completely. This should not be limited to just RCIA catechumens, but rather we all should open our hearts during this Holy Week. The Easter Triduum is an opportunity for all of us to renew our hearts in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, as he has prepared a spot for all of us in His Kingdom. Just as RCIA has taught Gwyn the role of faith and love in everyday life, may we “thirst” in Jesus’ unending and agapic love for us this Easter season.