The official title is a mouthful, but the pervasive spirit is that of the Baptismal rite: “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy.” Note: joy, not judgement.
I’ve recently renewed my respect for this process of welcoming unbaptized or uncatechized children into full initiation in the Catholic Christian community. While the resources I first published in 1995 have gone out of print, Pflaum has now published the children’s journals (My Path to Easter) in English and Spanish. (pflaum.com 800-543-4383)
When Vatican II restored the catechumenate for adults, with its ancient roots, it became a world-wide source of renewal for parishes. It was adapted for children ages 7-17 in the last 45 years, and still remains vibrant. This week and next, we’ll consider some of its outstanding features.
One of the things I like best is its roots in ordinary experience. So people begin by remembering how they met their best friend, spouse or partner. How did they learn about this person’s favorite foods, movies, stories, quirks, family members and ethnicity? Probably not through the academic process of studying books and subsequent testing. Instead, the goal is that children fall in love with Jesus and continue a life-long friendship with him.
As I remind catechists who recognize the unpredictable, messy nature of such a project, “we do our best, but ultimately, it’s God’s work, Jesus who draws them.”
Some of the key building blocks are:
The Rite has a profound respect for a child’s spirituality. It acknowledges that children have thought long and hard about some of the questions that concern the finest thinkers: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?
Furthermore, the child has a deep hunger for God, an insatiable thirst for love that can be filled only by a God who is love. Whereas adults may think and speak more abstractly, children are grounded in the here and now, the concrete: their five senses are alert antennae.
But it’s hard to fit the development of a crucial relationship onto a time table. Catechists besieged by some parents who “just want ‘em to git their sacraments” find it hard to respond, “it takes as long as it takes.” It’s not a quick fix; it’s the slow, inefficient work of grace, gradual and proportionate to age.
Because institutions can exert only 10% of the family’s influence, the family is encouraged to participate. Some parents learn as much if not more than the children, and should be included as much as possible. If parents decline, the parish can appoint a sponsor or sponsoring family.
This term simply means the power of symbol and story to speak loud and clear. Advertisers long ago learned the value of a jingle or a logo. Over the centuries the community of faith has also developed a ritual language that conveys more than words. Paul Philibert calls this “landscaping the religious imagination.” “The child’s nostalgia for being lovingly touched by the cosmic mother lives on in us. The church meets that nostalgia with washing, anointing, embracing, laying on hands, and gestures of reverence.”
To be continued next week…