Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As we continue through Lent, we pray that our practices of fasting (giving something up, Friday abstinence) and adding something (more prayer and increased concern for the poor) will not be in vain, but will unite us with the salvation Christ offers us through the church. As the weather warms and the days lengthen, the promise of spiritual rebirth is tangible. Christ so much wants us to be his.
One of the special aspects of Lent, that often passes unnoticed, is what is happening for those entering the Catholic Church through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). For both the elect (those who have never been baptized) and candidates (those who have been baptized in other Christian denominations), Lent serves as the “period of enlightenment and purification.”
Having had a basic explanation of the Catholic faith and the church and having confirmed their desire to enter the Catholic Church and live this faith, they are now offered these weeks of Lent for getting ready interiorly for the encounter with Christ the Savior. Those of us who are already Catholics want the same.
Christ is our true light, who shatters the darkness of our sins, ignorance, selfishness, and doubt. We turn to Christ in the church to receive this light into the shadowy, dusty corners of our hearts. We need this light. He, the Light of the World, gives us new life in abundance.
Those in RCIA are already beginning to see this light more clearly and are growing in desire for it. Those of us already fully initiated should perhaps ask ourselves if we see the light of Christ in our life more clearly. Our Lenten practices should enable us to receive him more fully. Are there corners of our heart where we are trying to keep God from shining his light? What part of our life needs to have its hunger for Christ’s light renewed?
Christ is the Bridegroom who makes us, his bride, the church, pure by his loving union. Again, we need this purity. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing worthwhile. Those in RCIA are preparing for the clear vision that comes from union with Christ, especially in the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist.
Those of us already fully initiated should also be preparing for this. We too should take advantage of the season of Lent, perhaps for an extra trip to confession, and for the devotions (for example, the Stations of the Cross, or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy) particularly appropriate to it.
How can we proceed a little higher up Calvary with him this year? What part of our life most needs the healing touch of Christ’s mercy? How can we share this mercy with those around us, especially in our families?
Our spiritual preparation allows us to respond more fully to an encounter with Christ. This is what our faith is all about. Whether we are meeting him for the first time, or have already done so many times, each time is meant to be full of Christ’s powerful, lifechanging grace, his light and love. Each sacramental encounter is meant to bring us deeper and deeper into union with him, so that when we die in this life, we will not die separate from him, nor remain separate from him, but remain in that same union forever.
A last thought about RCIA: we sometimes do a poor job of welcoming such newcomers into our parishes. We take it for granted, perhaps, that they will be as comfortable in our parish routines as we are, or we assume that they already know people, or that they have found an area where they can share their talents in some form of ministry. We should ask or invite them to share in our parish life, especially once they enter the Catholic Church and our communities.
Sometimes, we even resent their coming, because “they aren’t from here” or “they’ve stolen my pew.” Such indifference or pettiness is one of the reasons why so many people who join the church through RCIA leave again within just a few years. We can’t afford to lose them – they add richness and diversity to our parish families.
So, this year, I urge all of us to make a special effort to reach out in welcome to those who are joining the church. We should be ready to answer their questions and make them feel at home. If we make a good impression of friendliness and hospitality, they may come back for more, but if we make a bad impression, it’s almost certain they won’t. Nor should they, because the light of Christ is clearly not shining in a heart that takes the newcomer for granted.
Lent reminds us that no matter how much we know about our faith or how long we’ve been in the church, we still need more grace and conversion to be the disciples Christ calls us to be. I urge us all, therefore, not to “crush the bruised reed” in our neighbor, as St. Paul says. Pray for them and encourage them in any way you can. Please pray also for me, as I pray daily for all of you. Let’s use the many opportunities we have to make this the best Lent ever.
Blessings of the Lenten season,
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City