A Season of Graces
Most pastors try not to add any more to their parish schedules than necessary in the month of May. May is already more than busy—with Holy Communion, Confirmation, graduation, Mother’s Day, and a few more weddings than usual.
How do we look at this period? How do we interpret all these events in our parishes?
The RCIA, the catechumenal process of conversion, can serve as a principle lens to understand this post-Easter period as a “Season of Grace”—remind us of the wonderful phrase at the start of John’s Gospel: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (Jn. 1:16) When grace comes, it just keeps coming, multiplying itself again and again.
Just as Easter celebrates the abundant grace given those who are joined to the Church in baptism and the confession of faith, so the time after Easter continues this season of grace. The sacraments received, mostly by our children, parallel the sacraments of initiation given to adults. As each of the Easter sacraments makes real the initiation into discipleship for those experiencing conversion, so each of the sacraments during this Easter time underscores the initiation into discipleship that is happening in the lives of our children and youth.
Let’s leave aside questions about the “restored order”—they can occupy many words in itself. All these sacraments get their meaning from the experience of conversion which is ratified by the gifts of grace which express themselves through these sacred rites. The grace of the Spirit’s work in our hearts—experienced by those being converted upon entrance into the Church, and those experiencing ongoing conversion as part of their growth in faith—expresses itself in the reception of these sacraments.
Indeed, the very response to God’s message of saving love which springs into our hearts, is evidence of the Spirit’s working within us. Whatever we do to prepare for a sacrament does not amount to some claim we can make on God. Rather, God’s grace empowers us to seek and to receive the sacrament—all as part of our growth as disciples.
So, the children, youth, Young Adults, and others, who receive these sacraments all point to the discipleship that is the foundation of our experience as Church. The Church can be nothing else than an experience of shared grace which shows itself in ever-growing discipleship. The pictures and parties we throw for our first communicants are byproducts of the grace the Spirit of the Risen Jesus lavishes upon his community of believers.
Sometimes it can look like conversion and discipleship are skipped over in Catholic life because we most often baptize our children as babies, that somehow we are absolved of the experience of conversion. Something entirely other than this misconception governs the baptism of children: they are being raised in an environment where conversion becomes part of our very lives, where the following of Jesus and experience of the Spirit, form the assumed basics of Catholic life. Parents, upon presenting their children for baptism, promise that the discipleship which the Holy Spirit begets in them will, in turn, become the way of life for their children.
This pledge forms the foundation for the receiving of the further sacraments of initiation for our children and youth. The pledge of the parents’ faith forms the environment of conversion which should permeate their family life, and is a manifestation of the life of conversion which characterizes the whole community of the baptized. As we watch our children come forth for first communion; as we watch them, usually at a later time, process up to the bishop for anointing with oil, we are watching a dynamic that only makes sense if all of our parish life, and all of our family life, reveals the “grace upon grace” of conversion and discipleship that defines Catholic and Christian life.
Of course, what is frightening today are the pictures of our eight-year-olds garbed in white or blue suits, beaming on their First Communion day when, years afterwards, these children are nowhere to be found near their parishes. What scares our whole way of bringing children up in the faith is the way that Confirmation becomes graduation. How can we focus on these foundational sacraments as we do, organizing whole parish programs around them, and then witness their failure to produce anything like committed disciples?
The problem may not be receiving the sacraments so much as our inability maintain, as part of ordinary Catholic and parish life, the themes of conversion and discipleship which these sacraments imply. Our doing sacraments as “business as usual,” starting with the Sunday Mass, and our inability to talk about conversion and discipleship on a regular basis, means that these sacraments are received in a virtual vacuum. “Virtual” vacuum . . . because there need not be one. Our inadvertence to the structures of discipleship and ongoing conversion obscure the context in which we are trying to raise our children.
This Season of Grace can be an invitation for us, in the light of the gift of the RCIA, to renew the emphases of our parishes and reveal the Spirit’s working with greater clarity.