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    A View from the Pew

    Penetrating Soul and Spirit, Joints and Marrow - The Rite of Acceptance

    Penetrating soul and spirit, joints and marrow – The Rite of Acceptance 

    This morning, I gratefully accepted an invitation to worship with the parish community of St. Anthony’s in Mattapoisett, MA. We celebrated the Rite of Acceptance, a ritual that never fails to penetrate my soul and spirit and invade my joints and marrow with unequivocal Christian joy (see the reading from Hebrews on 28th Sunday of OT).  For me, this rite embraces all that we can be as Christian community. We witness in the flesh seekers who desire faith through full communion as Christian disciples. These ‘first responders’ answer an internal invitation to “change their lives and enter into a relationship with God in Christ” (RCIA, 42), which ‘incorporates us into Christ and forms us into God’s people.” (RCIA, General Introduction, xiv).

    The church’s magnificent gift of the Rite of Acceptance gives people who seek Christ the opportunity to publicly “declare their intention to the Church and the Church in turn, carrying out its apostolic mission, accepts them as persons who intend to become its members.” (RCIA 41) This morning, two adults responded to the call of Christ and moved deeper in the process of ongoing Christian initiation. They followed the prerequisite period of inquiry, prayer, discernment with the guidance of the parish catechumenate team and sponsors, to determine that “the beginnings of the spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teaching have taken root in the candidate.” (See Vatican Council II, Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, Ad gentes, No. 14.)

    The heart of the initiation process, the Rite of Acceptance never fails to move me profoundly. As tears of gratitude for the Christian faith freely flowed down my cheeks throughout this morning’s celebration, I saw others experiencing similar emotions as the rite unfolded before our eyes, beginning with a literal knock on the outside door of the church, a sign of requesting entrance into the church. Members of the hard working and committed catechumenate team and sponsors surrounded and supported the candidates, who felt understandably nervous about entering a church full of people. Standing with the processional cross, Fr. Caron met the ensemble at the door and asked, “What is your name?” A significant question; you meet someone by first introducing yourself by name. The community met the candidates probably for the first time; we needed to know them by their names, as Christ calls us by name and who knows us by name. Now named, the seekers now assumed an identity as real people standing before us and actively responding to the call of grace with a desire to be members of the Christian community.

    “What do you ask of God’s Church?” Fr. Caron continued. “Faith,” they each replied. Their heart’s desire is faith. Think about that for a minute in terms of your own faith. The question and answer dispatches a poignant message for us all. If I am a fully initiated Christian and a member of a worshipping community, do I take faith for granted? How would I feel if I was the person standing outside and actually knocking on the door to come in? What would I expect to see, hear and feel? Would I have the kind of courage that active faith-seeking requires?   

    “What does the Church offer you?” Fr. Caron continued. “Eternal life,” the candidates responded. Here’s more marrow to chew upon. Do I place faith in earthly treasures? Do I choose God’s reign or a winning lottery ticket? And if I win the lottery, will I invest the winning in myself or will I follow the Gospel and give the winnings away to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of the sick and bury the dead? How invested am I in actively building the reign of God here and now because of my faith in life beyond here and now? How deeply does the Gospel penetrate my soul and spirit, joints and marrows?

     “Are you ready to accept the gospel way of life?” There it is: the cross greets us front and center the minute we decide to follow Christ. This part of the rite always blows me out of the water. By what other means other than the grace of God would we be inclined to accept the challenge of a man who died on a cross? Once the candidates, team and sponsors come into the church, the candidates become ‘marked’ with the cross of Christ over their entire persons that includes all of their senses. Not only forehead but ears, eyes, lips, heart, shoulders, hands, feet – the whole body belongs to Christ on the cross as a way of life. Christ claims us for his own when we accept his invitation.

    The Rite of Acceptance is a time of almost-but –not-yet for both candidates and the Christian community as we pilgrim together toward Easter. We affirm the candidates and agree to receive them in a working partnership together on a sojourn of ongoing faith. These pilgrims teach us about ourselves in our witness of the Gospel. We promise support in prayer and partnership not only for the candidates but for the whole world in Christian mission. Church, are you ready?

    The Rite of Acceptance is the first of these beautiful rites within the Rite of Christian Initiation. These rites contain the power to transform the church, to penetrate our soul and spirit, joints and marrow. So here’s my question: why don’t we see more celebrations like the one that I saw this morning? Through robust liturgical symbols (and that includes the candidates and assembly), excellent presiding, proclamation and preaching of the of the Word, full-bodied singing led with well executed music and a diligent and devoted catechumenate team, we feasted on the Word, in a full expression of bread and cup that catapulted us with zeal, joy and Christian mission into the work week. Why isn’t this happening everywhere?

    This year marks the 50th year of Vatican II. The result of the Spirit’s prompting made Christian initiation an imperative. The entire Rite of Christian Initiation is based on the documents of the Second Vatican Council. We complain about a diminishing church. We spend countless dollars on programs that attempt to evangelize. We create prayer services and events to appeal, attract and entice people into church. And all those things are good. Yet, so many parishes fail to celebrate one of the most magnificent rites that penetrates soul and spirit, joints and marrow right here at our disposal and celebrated when the church convenes around the source and summit of our faith – the liturgy on a Sunday morning. Did I miss a memo that said we just don’t do that anymore?

    My offer my heartfelt thanks to the parish of St.Anthony’s Catholic Church for your diligent work in the Lord’s vineyard. Deo gratias.