The next section of our chapter on formation in the Aparecida document asks us to consider “Initiation to Christian Life and Permanent Catechesis.” The outline doesn’t tell us much:
i. Initiation to Christian Life
ii. Proposals for Christian Initiation
iii. Permanent Catechesis
But the key word here is “initiation.” Christian life, the true discovery of Christ, and of the Trinity, is not automatic.
We discover, says this chapter, several different kinds of people in need of formation. There are those who have never heard the Gospel, to be sure. But then there are baptized children: how do we make sure that we follow him on their Baptism by truly drawing them into the fullness of Christian life?
So too there are “insufficiently evangelized baptized adults.” Some of them come to Church, some regularly and some irregularly) and some of them don’t.
The real insight of this section is to recognize that all of these are problems of “initiation.” “Evangelization” is also a good word, but “initiation” ties it more deeply into formation. The goal is not just to tell them the good news, but to launch them into the kind of encounter that leads to conversion, discipleship, communion, and mission. How do we get people started?
And then, in permanent catechesis, how do we follow up on the insight that we need constantly to be restarted?
Perhaps we should note some repetitiveness in this section of the document. I think it is intentional: we need to be very clear on the core of the formation process.
So our chapter on “The Formative Itinerary of Missionary Disciples” has four main sections:
6. The Formative Itinerary of Missionary Disciples
a. A Trinitarian Spirituality of Encounter with Jesus Christ
b. The Process of Formation of Missionary Disciples
c. Initiation to Christian Life and Permanent Catechesis
d. Places of Formation for Missionary Disciples
When we get to part “d” next week, we will finally consider “places of formation”: actual programs we can run. The heart of Aparecida’s message, however, is that programs mean nothing if we don’t know what the programs are about.
Formation must be very forthrightly about “encounter with Jesus Christ,” ongoing “conversion” and repentance, “discipleship” and continued study, “communion: with the Church as a whole and with her members, and “mission.” It must form us spiritually and intellectually, as well as for mission (“pastoral formation”) and community (“human formation”).
And most of all, formation must lead us to Christ. So part “a” is about encounter, part “b” is about a process rooted in encounter, and part “c” is about “initiation” into that encounter. Let us never talk about programs and “places of formation” until this point has been thoroughly driven home!
What does it look like to be truly “initiated”? Aparecida gives a fantastic description: having as center the person of Jesus Christ, our Savior and fullness of our humanity, source of all human and Christian maturity; having a spirit of prayer, being a lover of the Word, practicing frequent confession and participating in the Eucharist; cheerfully being a part of the ecclesial and social community, showing solidarity in love, and being a fervent missionary
Despite the subsection title, there are precious few “proposals” in this section. Aparecida doesn’t tell us what to do. It tells us what to try to accomplish.
Let us be clear: this is the task before us. It is up to us, those who are serious about the Catholic spiritual life, to be creative, and find the means to meet these ends. More than that, it is up to us who are initiated to share that initiation.
That means talking about prayer – about “having a spirit of prayer,” infusing our lives with prayer. It means talking about the Word, Scripture, which is the lifeblood of our prayer and which teaches us what it means to be a Christian. It means encouraging frequent confession: by doing it, offering it, and talking about why it is a good. It means encouraging true participation in the Eucharist: frequent Masses, truly prayerful Masses, a spirituality that knows how to enter into the liturgy of the Mass – and, of course Eucharistic adoration.
Do our parishes do this? Do our other Catholic organizations clearly promote these things? How could they? What organizations should we, my friends, be founding to promote these things?
How could we, simply and straightforwardly, encourage “cheerful” participation in our Catholic community. Solidarity in love? And fervent mission?
What could you do to promote an initiation into the encounter with Christ that leads to conversion, discipleship, communion, and mission?
What organizations can you imagine that would get people going in Christian life?