LITURGY MATTERS: Christian Initiation celebrates a love story

After Mass on Saturday night a young woman I used to work with came bounding down the aisle to say hello. We‘re often at the same Mass but there has not been such bounding before. What prompted the bounding?

Love! She’s engaged! Her week long fiancé was with her and introductions were made. To say she was transformed would be an understatement. She was beaming, and together they wanted to tell the world their good news.

My friend and her fiancé embodied the readings we had just heard at Mass. Not only last weekend, but through all these Easter weeks the readings have resounded with the story of God’s love for us, God’s desperate desire that we remain in God’s love, and the imperative to spread the word of this Good News by loving one another in the same way God loves us. Love, of its nature, cannot be contained, as my friend and her fiancé demonstrated on Saturday night.

On Friday Fr Andrew and I began a formation journey with the participants in the diocesan Pastoral Placement Program. Over six sessions we are exploring the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). We began by considering what the following reflection might bring to our understanding of Christian Initiation.

Fall in love, stay in love, it will decide everything.

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Often attributed to Pedro Arrupe SJ. The actual author is Father Geger SJ

At its heart, Christian Initiation – whether of children or adults – is a story of falling in love, with God who drives us out to love our neighbour. As the reflection above indicates, love changes us and becomes the measure and criteria of our everyday choices. As that wonderful song says, Love changes everything! It is this love that makes lifelong disciples.

The thing about love stories is that they unfold in their own time. My engaged friend and her fiancé have known each other for maybe 15 or 20 years. They started to ‘fall in love’ about 18 months ago. I asked if they had any marriage ideas. And no, they don’t. They will take the next step when the time is right.

Falling in love with God is no different. It runs according to the movement of the Holy Spirit. This makes it very tricky! As I alluded to in the last ‘Liturgy Matters’, the faith community who is eager to share the Good News of God’s love always has the initiation door open for whenever people are ready. This applies as much to families with young children, as it does to adults.

The group of Pastoral Placement Participants reflects the truth of the importance of ‘readiness’. It is quite a diverse group in age, experience and faith journey. I do not suffer under any illusion that there are hundreds of young people out there just dying to spend six afternoons with Andrew and me reflecting on Christian Initiation. The Pastoral Placement Participants are there because they are ready to take up an opportunity that was offered. Their faith, their experience of God’s love, has made them ready to seek understanding. Our best Initiation intentions often get in the way of the right ordering: Love first, understanding second.

Over recent weeks a lot of us have had the opportunity to participate in Synod Reflection Days with Bishop Bill. He focused on some of Pope Francis’ key themes. One was this quote from Evangelii Gaudium a. 47

The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. … our church doors should always be open …  There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.

In the light of this quote, Bishop Bill reflected on the Sacraments of Initiation.

These three experiences are leading me to ponder what the process of Christian Initiation – its preparation and celebration – would look and feel like if its purpose was to support, nurture and celebrate people’s desire for and experience of God’s love for them, and their choice to love God and neighbour in return?

  • It might be intrinsically relational, focused on ‘getting to know’ each other – the family and the faith community.
  • Conversations would be about love:
    • people’s human experience of love, the community supporting families to explore these experiences as sacraments of God’s love.
    • pondering the cross as the ultimate sign of God’s love which holds our human experiences of joy and pain, life and death, gift and sacrifice, mercy and forgiveness, helping us to find meaning in it all.
  • Parents would indeed be the best ones to ‘prepare’ their children. They may feel more confident to do this because the focus would be on snuggling up with their children and sharing their story of love, in its [age-appropriate] joys and challenges, a story that includes parents, grandparents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends … and pets should never be forgotten.
  • Members of the parish community would be keen to share their experience of being loved by God and of loving God and others, as they seek to live as missionary disciples.
  • The whole Sacraments of Initiation experience would feel loving, and ‘feeling the love’, families might be moved to continue to be part of the community because they find life there.
  • Preparation might include prayer and ritual focused on love and forgiveness.
  • Confirmation would be celebrated a couple of times across the year and First Communion would take place at any Sunday Mass when candidates are ready.
  • The parish community would be present at the celebrations of initiation, lending its experienced voice of love and faith to the liturgical celebration.
  • The community would continue to accompany the newly initiated (children and their families) after initiation.

It takes a whole community to ensure that the doors of Christian Initiation are always open. It takes a whole community to embody and tell the story of God’s love and to help new members find their place in the community of God’s love. It takes a whole community to help each member remain in God’s love as lifelong missionary disciples.

In the previous Liturgy Matters I said there is general agreement that the Sacraments of Initiation of children is not working. I asked you to ponder what ‘working’ might mean. I invite you to keep pondering. If Christian Initiation is a journey and a celebration of falling in love with God, what might ‘working’ look like? Perhaps there might be more bounding down the aisles of Churches, more transformation, more beaming faces, more uncontained desire to tell the whole world the story of God’s love! 

And by the way, has anyone knocked on the parish door and offered to help with the ministry of Christian Initiation? Initiation is our shared responsibility and all of us need to be part of a solution?

How would you tell your story of falling in love with God and neighbour? What helps you remain in God’s love?   

Acknowledgements

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Louise Gannon rsj Image
Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Co-ordinator of Liturgy.