I've been coming to the conclusion, based on my experiences with some friends, that at least in some instances, RCIA programs may not be doing enough to let prospective Catholics know ʺwhat they're getting into.ʺ These friends seem to make it to about the 2 or 3 year mark post-RCIA and then return to their Protestant faith or just leave the Catholic Church altogether. It seems that their doubts, questions, and discoveries about Church doctrines come back in force, and the joy they had in being Catholic seems to have evaporated away.
I'm deeply troubled by this and want to help these people, but it's tricky. I know only God can move their hearts but I try to gently explain - I've studied a fair amount of apologetic materials and I also try to relate what I'm saying from the heart and with love and tailored to the person's individual situation. Sometimes the person gets defensive, other times they see my point but just aren't ready to consider returning to the Church, or they're still indecisive as to what to do.
Back to my original question, though - is there really time in a year for RCIA to give a prospective convert ʺenough to go onʺ to make an informed decision? I sometimes wonder if it wasn't better back in the day when converts would study individually with a priest and make their Profession of Faith whenever they were ready. I worry that in the preparation for Easter Vigil there are folks who are suppressing doubts and going ahead with the process when they really aren't sure deep down inside. What do you think?
Answer: RCIA programs can certainly always be improved; there's no doubt about that. I myself have often pondered the question of why about half of Candidates leave the Church within one year of their joining. But from my personal invovlement in the Blessed Sacrament RCIA I know that we are doing the best we can. The curriculum deliberately focuses on the most controversial topics of the Church so that the candidates know exactly what the most disputed and least popular teachings of the Church are (along with why we believe them to be true) before they become Catholic. After our curriculum there can be no unpleasant surprises in terms of Church Teaching. They are encouraged to ask tough questions of us and are invited to see Fr Jirak or myself privately for more lengthy discussions over questions that are important to them. We also show them where they can find resources for further information on whatever topic that they might be curious about. So the problem cannot be lack of information. At least at Blessed Sacrament, all candidates know that they can have any doubt, question, controversy discussed at length and adequately. They are also free at anytime to request that baptism be delayed. We would not object and would in fact greatly support their desire to learn more before embracing the Catholic Church in its fullness. So why do so many melt away after baptism or profession of faith? I don't know fully why but it might be related to the fact that the emotional fuel for their conversion has dried up (which is very normal; after a certain point God wants us choosing goodness because it is the right thing to do not because it feels good). Since they no longer get a spiritual high from attending mass, the temptation to go back to what is familiar can be very strong. Also, the high moral demands of the Church may be great in theory but sudedenly become painful when put into practice. Even cradle Catholics fall into this trap. Others may discover that not all Catholics are nice, warm and fuzzy, (in fact that many are jerks, cruel and annoying). The shock of meeting such persons (without reflecting that all institutions have such persons) might drive them away. Then there is just the old fashioned reason that what is familiar and habitual is more comfortable than what is new and untried. These are speculations of course but it is imperative on all of us Catholics to constantly pray for our new members, to always ask them to bring up any doubts they may have, and to try to make them feel as welcome as possible. Certainly, if we have a friend who wandered away from the faith soon after joining it, we should always gently encourage them to return to Jesus' Church.