WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Bishop Gerald Wiesner says an important aspect of the RCIA is welcoming the gifts of others.
Jesus had time for everyone, including society's outcasts. He forged friendships among all types of people, from adulterers and the disabled to lepers and tax collectors.
Likewise, people who view Jesus as a friend will have time for everyone, especially those seeking to learn more about him and the Catholic faith.
The Church needs those same friends of Jesus to guide inquirers, candidates and catechumens through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
This was a message of Oblate Bishop Gerald Wiesner, a pioneer of the RCIA in Alberta.
"It is amazing how many people in the world today have not heard the message of Christianity," said Wiesner.
"They are the first group that is being called, but I wouldn't say they're the most important group. The other group is those who once lived the faith and no longer live it."
Wiesner, bishop of Prince George, B.C., since 1993 and a former president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, led a Sept. 14-15 RCIA workshop at Providence Renewal Centre. More than 50 people on RCIA teams, catechists, coordinators, sponsors, pastors and deacons attended his series of six talks.
In the late 1970s, he led a six-person team that introduced the RCIA to the Catholic Church in Alberta. The team gave sessions to large groups of people in Edmonton and Calgary.
"I was teaching at Newman Theological College in the area of liturgy and sacraments. The whole RCIA was really part and parcel of the course. I started to give a course at Newman on the RCIA, and from there it spread," said the Saskatchewan-born bishop.
Today, most parishes in Alberta have some form of RCIA, welcoming newcomers to the faith.
Wiesner was also instrumental in developing the program in the Prince George Diocese in the early 1980s, and continues speaking on the subject and hosting workshops.
The RCIA workshop coincides with new initiatives in the Church.
"The Synod on New Evangelization that is to take place this fall, as well as the Year of Faith, are a real call to all of us to be evangelizers, and to be living and promoting the message of Jesus. The new evangelization is calling us to that," said Wiesner.
For those looking to evangelize, they do not have to look too far. People can be apostolic and proclaim the message of Jesus to friends, family, co-workers and lapsed Catholics, he said.
The RCIA process is a period of reflection, prayer, instruction, discernment and formation. Since everyone learns differently, there is no set timetable and those who join are encouraged to progress at their own pace.
"One of the things I try to remind people is that the RCIA is a process, not a program. It must take into account the situation of the individual people who are coming in, and tries to respect their approach to the faith, how they respond to it," said Wiesner.
An important aspect of RCIA, said Wiesner, is the ability to see what is positive in others and to welcome their gifts. The spirituality of community recognizes that their individual gifts could significantly impact those around them.
"I was working with a group of about 18 people, and we were talking about gifts from God. We took about five minutes for each of us to sit quietly and think about our own gifts, then we shared one on one, and then we shared as a group what our gifts were.
"We discovered that with the gifts of those 18 people – just ordinary common people – there was very little we collectively could not do. That is the spirituality of community," said Wiesner.
Remembering that people can move mountains and accomplish extraordinary achievements when they work together is what community, conversion and discipleship are all about.
"That is an important part of our whole journey in the RCIA, that we try to work on discipleship, and that we try to bring about the type of community that God wants," said Wiesner.
Another essential element in the RCIA process is discernment. Sponsors and godparents play a role in discernment. But ultimately people must recognize what is unique in their own faithful searching and must respond to God's call to a fuller experience of life.
"Discernment is an art. It's the art of clearing away what is not worthwhile, what is not life-giving from that which is authentic and life-promoting. It is about responding to God's invitation to continually embrace the reign of God," said Wiesner.
God's free act of grace empowers one to make decisions. There is no guarantee that one's decisions in life will be the right ones. Being mindful of God communicating with us helps in the process.
"When we look at all of these things from a theological point of view, we can say that discernment is an exploration into the wonderful mystery of God," said Wiesner.
"Discernment can be messy, and we shouldn't be too surprised that it is. With discernment, there are no clear-cut answers, and the hammer doesn't come down on one anvil very clearly."
The process of determining God's desire for one's life is never a quick-fix. Discernment takes calm, rational reflection. The interior search for answers is usually ongoing.