Fr. Gregory Yacyshyn baptizes a catechumen at the Easter Vigil at St. Jude Church in Mastic Beach (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic).

The liturgies of the third through fifth Sundays of Lent give faith communities the option to use cycle A readings for the RCIA scrutinies instead of the current cycle B readings. This Sunday, depending on the presence of catechumens, you’ll leave with the image of an angry Jesus who makes a whip out of cords, overturning tables and driving merchants and money changers out of the temple (cycle B); or with that of a calm and compassionate Jesus at the well, speaking to a Samaritan woman whom it is forbidden to speak to because she is deemed unclean (cycle A). If I had the choice, I’d go with cycle A this year, not because I don’t believe that there is something to be learned from an angry Jesus, but because the reading of the woman at the well makes for an intimate and transformative moment. Faith leaders are presented with an opportunity to evaluate their ministry through Jesus’ humanity and presence to the one person in front of him. Though Christ may have experienced human anger, his ministry was not about scaring people into submission. Young people, especially, are not convinced about the beauty in Catholic religious tradition by the fire and brimstone we get in the cycle B readings.  

In my time as an RCIA director, one of the greatest joys of the ministry was to serve my young adult peers. RCIA is a multilayer, cyclical ministry with various phases. The candidates I worked with, mostly people in their twenties and thirties, would begin the process by gathering once a week for a meeting called “Come and See.” The invitation was simple. “If you are interested in learning about Catholic Christian spirituality, practices, and theology, come and see. If you’ve been thinking about learning more about Catholicism and exploring the possibility of being baptized, come and see. If you were born into a Catholic family but have only recently thought about celebrating the sacraments of initiation, come and see.” There was no commitment, no prerequisite, no registration, only community. It was a safe place to talk about what has shaped our spirituality, to try forms of Christian prayer and meditation, to answer questions, and be introduced to Catholicism. It was in these spaces and through these conversations that an individual discerned their calling. Some would stay, some would leave and return a year later, some would leave and never come back, and that was okay. Flash forward through a person’s journey through RCIA and the first scrutiny of the Lenten season marks the beginning of the commitments a person makes as they look forward to the Sacraments at the Easter Vigil. The Gospel reading of the woman at the well should serve as a reminder of how they encountered Jesus, who never shuddered at who they are, how they experienced a sense of self-respect in his love, and how their spiritual growth and the ebb and flows of faith included an intimate relationship with Christ and community. 

Practices that infantilize the Catholic laity are not so easily accepted anymore, and we should be glad about that.

Last month, the Pew Research Center published a report, Religious "Nones" in America: Who They Are and What They Believe. One important question the study explored was “Are all ‘nones’ nonbelievers?” According to the study, 13 percent of “religious ‘nones’” believe in God as described in the Bible, and 56 percent believe in another higher power. They are saying "no" to an institutional Church, not to belief.

I write this reflection from the Leadership Roundtable’s 2024 Catholic Partnership’s Summit on Young Adult Leadership in the Church. While here, I spoke to someone who shared a concern most people in Catholic leadership circles share: that although the institutional Church may have genuine concern over rapidly increasing rates of disaffiliation among young adults, its various responses don’t seem to inspire them to reconsider their exit. One attendee critiqued statements like, “If only they’d go to Mass then they’d know what is good,” or, “If they would only come to Eucharistic adoration, they would stay” as rooted in the belief that ministry is about “whipping people into shape.” That made me think about this Sunday’s cycle B gospel reading. Was Jesus whipping people into shape? I don’t think so; I’m not sure the merchants and money changers were transformed. Practices that infantilize the Catholic laity are not so easily accepted anymore, and we should be glad about that. Instead, we can choose to see this time as a period in which the institutional Church is called to mature in its relationship with the People of God. Instead of being so easily scandalized, it could sit comfortably with all that makes us human, sit patiently with the complexities of human experience, and seek to understand each person—becoming a better spiritual companion to the religiously affiliated and the “nones” alike, and respecting the degree to which they are willing to commit at any particular moment in their lives. 

Claudia Avila Cosnahan is the Mission & Partnerships Director for Commonweal and an instructor and consultant for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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