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. 


Aggiornamento - the Spirit of Renewal 

Welcome to Aggiornamento, the new blog site of The Roncalli Center. We welcome contributors, your opinions and your posts. It’s a big church – come on in!

I associate the word aggiornamento with the Second Vatican Council and with Pope John XXIII. An open minded and transforming act to revitalize a spirit of renewal within the church, aggiornamento contains the potential to create a revolution of generosity, joy, hope, peace, justice and mercy through the tempestuous and unleashed wind of the Spirit of God. Wind creates changes in a landscape. Praying aggiornamento is a bit like praying for a hurricane. But in my opinion, that’s exactly what we need again, fifty years after the Second Vatican Council: a great, big ol’ gale of the Spirit’s wind to stir us up and change the landscape of the church into a new way of being church.  

In his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, Pope Paul XI espoused the word aggiornamento before resuming the Council after John XXIII’s death and wrote, “We cannot forget Pope John XXIII's word aggiornamento which We have adopted as expressing the aim and object of Our own pontificate. Besides ratifying it and confirming it as the guiding principle of the Ecumenical Council, We want to bring it to the notice of the whole Church. It should prove a stimulus to the Church to increase its ever growing vitality and its ability to take stock of itself and give careful consideration to the signs of the times, always and everywhere "proving all things and holding fast that which is good" with the enthusiasm of youth.”  

I write this in the wake of the recent report by The Pew Research Center, “Nones” on the Rise. The article reports finding that one in five adults affiliate with no religion whatsoever. In another article in the October issue of America Magazine, James Gorman and Robert Rivers author a prophetic article How to Evangelize and suggest that any success we might anticipate in the way of a new aggiornamento depends greatly on how we creatively craft a more ‘missional’ model of church. If there was ever a time for the church to “take stock of itself and give careful consideration to the signs of the times”(ES), that time is now.

I propose two things with the creation of this center. The first involves putting aside polemic differences that divides us rather than unites us as the Body of Christ and getting our priorities straight. Why would we expect people to come running to worship when they cannot for the life of them witness a passionate and prophetic church ablaze with the love and justice of Jesus in liturgical life, which includes what happens after we leave the building. We need to connect the dots for our young people, whose natural spirituality draws them to serve the world with compassion and justice. However, they so often fail to integrate their interior spirituality with a worshipping faith community. The church needs to take stock of itself and own up to our absent sisters and brothers. It’s time to put our own differences aside and get to work to sustain the legions of our human family who live on the fringe of the church. We need to seek them out and go to them with the Good News, not vice versa.

Secondly, I propose that we go back to basics and pray, study and reflect together on the beauty and prophetic vision of the constitutions and subsequent documents produced by the Second Vatican Council. Words and terms like ‘people of God’ (Lumen Gentium), ‘full, conscious and active participation’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium), ‘the human community (Gaudium et Spes) and so much rich language gave voice to the Council’s desire for the ‘whole world to hear the summons to salvation, so that through hearing may believe, through belief it may hope, through hope it may come to love’ (Dei Verbum).

Through Living Room Dialogues, upcoming podcasts, vimeos, YouTubes, shared blogs and “Roncalli on the Road” events as we come to you when you invite us, we can all deepen an understanding of ourselves as a mission-based church toward an outcome of service in action for the peoples of the world. In word, banquet and mission, we identify ourselves as Christ’s disciples to find God in every living person and every human experience to establish the reign of God in this time and place.

This is our moment of aggiornamento. The jet is leaving the runway and the sky is the limit! Watch the website for new contributors, presenters, updates and events. Follow us through your favorite social media. Welcome to the Roncalli Center – to the journey!


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