Friday, November 29, 2013

Preparing for Baptism

Writing on the spirituality page of the Catholic Times, a priest recalls a conversation with a person who had finished his period of study and was ready to be baptized. Because of a previous commitment on the appointed day, the priest invited the young man to come to the research institute where he works, and they spent a great deal of time talking about the life of faith.

He asked the young man what did he find during the period of instruction the most inspiring. He said it was during the week when his own pastor was on retreat and another priest was giving the instructions that he was moved the most.  And why was that the case, the priest asked him. Was the lesson more interesting or easier to understand?

The  young man waved his hands in denial; as a matter of fact, he went on to say, he did not remember anything that was said.  Even when the priest carefully explained the instructions, many times he had no idea what was being said. "What moved you then?" the priest asked. Nothing that was said, he answered, but after the talk, the priest bowed his head and apologized to the group he was preparing for baptism. He had no idea what was in their hearts or in their heads, he said, for he had been baptized as a baby. Growing up, he considered the Church his second home, and after high school, he went to the seminary. "I have no idea what you people are going through," he told them, "but I will pray that you will have  joy living in God's  love and as a member of society." These words, the young man said, brought tears to his eyes.

When the priest had acknowledged to the group the difficulty of understanding everything being taught, the young man said he was grateful. It made it easier for him to admit  that the more he learned the more difficult it became to understand the lessons. And when this difficulty was directly addressed by the priest, it  gave him the strength and courage to continue. 

Though there are words and teachings that are difficult to understand, it is important that the catechumens be encouraged to open themselves up to the graces being given. When they are given encouragement, they are more receptive to the faith life being given, bringing more understanding as the newcomer to the faith is experiencing the joy and movements of the spirit.

While it's always gratifying to help those who are entering the Church for the first time, it's sobering to realize that the number of church-going Catholics has decreased in recent years, and those who have been baptized are not finding the life of faith as satisfying as they anticipated during their years of preparation. One reason is that our culture does not enforce what the newcomer has learned, and because the temptations are many. Better than the lecture method--though the easiest--to convey the teaching would be to enable the catechumen to put into practice in daily life what was learned in the classroom--as it was being learned. It might be a better preparation in dealing with an unfriendly culture,and surviving the many temptations that may seem even more daunting than they were before entering the Church.

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