Today we had an RCIA retreat day at the University of St. Thomas for our nine catechumens and candidates. Our focus was on Catholic prayers and devotions. I invited several of our seminarians, peer ministers and other members of our St. Thomas Office of Spirituality staff to present on a number of prayers and devotions. We talked about devotions such as Stations of the Cross, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Adoration, prayers such as the Memorare and the St. Francis Breastplate, and modes of prayer like Lectio Divina.
Why focus an RCIA retreat day on prayers and devotions? For this simple reason: Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, is not about giving intellectual assent to a checklist of beliefs. Rather, what Christ seeks from those who would call themselves his disciples is a fundamental transformation of heart and mind – a transformation that changes everything about who we are in the world. Jesus’ teaching of the Beatitudes can lead to no other conclusion: poverty of spirit, purity of heart, meekness, and the rest, are qualities we are asked to embrace in our hearts, not merely ideas to which we give intellectual assent. And they are qualities that arise through a deep love relationship with God.
This is something that I appreciate even more after my years as a Buddhist, which deepened my appreciation of the need for experiential knowledge. The emphasis on experiential knowledge has convinced me of the primacy of relationship with God over rules as a vehicle for personal transformation. If I am convinced to the depth of my being that I am the beloved of God and if I am deeply in love with that God, that will be manifest in the person I am in the world. Adhering to God’s law flows naturally out of relationship, resulting not from forced obedience to externally imposed rules but as a consequence of our recognition of our essential nature as the beloved of God.
My goal in preparing people to enter the Church is not to give people what they need to “check-the-b0x” so that they can call themselves Catholic and plop themselves in a pew once a week at Mass. Instead, my hope is to deepen their relationship with Christ, as well as the Church. As I often quip: Conversion is an experience of the heart, not of the head. Hence our focus on prayer.