Evangelization, Catechesis and Conversion in the RCIA Process

by Gilles Côté


The following text was written several years ago as part of a reflection paper. At the time this was written, I had been involved in RCIA as a catechist for 8 years.

     Before discussing what evangelization is in the RCIA process, it might be appropriate to briefly say what it is not. It is not an attempt to convince someone that our ideology is better than theirs. It is not preaching someone into a corner where they have no choice but to admit that they are sinners and need salvation (or else).

     The Greek roots of the word suggest that it is rather a proclamation of good news. It is sharing with someone else that we have found something that has liberated us and, consequently, has allowed us to find a more fulfilling life. It is telling the story of how we have been so touched by a reality that our life has changed radically for the better. It is pointing to the Jesus event -- to his life, death and resurrection -- as being the source of this transformation. It is living in such a way that people can see that we have found something good, something they would want for themselves.

     When people are evangelized in this fashion there is a new hope that rises within them, the hope that they too could be liberated and given freedom to live a fuller life, a more meaningful life? That is where the process of conversion begins. Conversion is a gradual transformation of the whole person. It has two poles. On the one hand one becomes more aware of God's love pulling us in one direction. At the same time, there is the realization that one needs to let go of things which are pulling us in the opposite direction. This implies both a willingness to divest ourselves of old behaviors and attitudes as well as an openness to a reality which transforms our mind and calls us to act differently.

     Catechesis is a means by which the Good News is transmitted in such a way that it calls others into a process of conversion, sustains them in this process, informs and guides them along the way. It aims at the formation of a mature faith. Catechesis allows the catechumen to hear and understand the Good News, to welcome the God who both calls and empowers one to live a new life, and to realize that self-fulfilment can only be found in a life of service to others in the community.

     Evangelization is much more than words for me. The word evokes a whole series of images in my mind. I see a mother Teresa stooping over an emaciated old man, looking deeply into his eyes and caressing his face without saying a word. I see a Martin Luther King Jr. refusing to hate his enemies. I hear the deep peace in Jean Vanier's voice even when he speaks of the brokenness of human beings -- his own and that of others. I see my grade ten religion teacher whose skills as a teacher left something to be desired, but who could make us feel special by the way he looked at us and the way he treated us. All of these images and a thousand others reveal to me a way of living that I find attractive. These are the people who have evangelized me. In them I have recognized something good I wished for myself.

     When my youngest daughter was three years old, we lived in an old house. It was a two story house with a dining room whose ceiling was fifteen feet from the floor. The stairwell connecting the second floor to the kitchen area was very steep. One day, I had just finished climbing down those stairs, when I heard a tiny voice behind me say, "Papa." I slowly turned around to look up in the direction the voice had come from and I saw a flying grin coming straight at me. My daughter had seen me at the bottom of the stairwell and had decided that this was a great opportunity to have fun. Because there was no doubt in her mind that her "papa" would catch her, she did not hesitate to leave the solid and secure ground she had been standing on at the top of the stairwell to jump and enjoy the flight from a height of fifteen feet.

     Conversion is a bit like that. We are called to leave the old familiar solid ground we have been standing on to take a step into the unknown. The difference in the process of conversion is that it is the "Papa" who invites us to jump. And it is never as easy and carefree as it was for my daughter. As a catechist I have to stand at the top of the stairwell with the catechumens and, listening attentively to their stories, help them discern the call of God in their lives. My job is not to push them down the stairs. It is to tell them my own stories of jumping into the arms of the Father. I tell them how I heard him calling me. I admit that I hesitated to leave behind what seemed solid and that I was afraid no one would be there to catch me. I tell them the story of Jesus who jumped even when everybody thought it was suicidal to do so. I tell them about the great catch the Father made. I explain how this gave me the courage and the hope to follow Jesus down those stairs. I explain how, when I decided to jump, the Father was always there to catch me. I tell them that the more often I accepted to respond to the call the easier it got and the flying became less and less scary and more and more exciting.

©Gilles Côté 2003 - Permission is granted for non commercial use.