By Deacon Mike Monagle
Like many people, I have a membership with several organizations: credit card companies, airlines, hotels, car rental firms, and numerous retailers. All of these companies promise “exclusive” benefits and rewards. As the old American Express ad slogan used to say, “membership has its privileges.” I think the same things can be said about membership in the Catholic Church. But what does it take to become a member of the Catholic Church and what “exclusive benefits and rewards” does the Catholic Church have to offer?
To become a member of the Catholic Church, it takes more than simply filling out an enrollment card or responding to an altar call during a Sunday service. The membership process prescribed by the Church is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Generally, RCIA classes begin in the Fall and conclude at the Easter Vigil the following Spring, though the process can be longer or shorter depending upon the readiness of the individual. “Wait a minute,” you ask, “it can take 6 to 24 months – or longer – to join the Church? Amazon promises a drone will one day soon be dropping my merchandise on my doorstep within hours of my online order. Why can’t the Church get more in line with the times?” Well, that’s a fair question. Let me ask one in return. Would you make a lifelong decision and oath based on a first date? Of course not! You would want to get to know the other person and build up a lasting relationship before making a permanent commitment. That’s what the RCIA process does. It allows each person the time and space they need to form a personal and lasting relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church before making a permanent and lifelong commitment. The RCIA process isn’t about memorizing the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nor is it about obtaining a degree in philosophy or theology. RCIA is primarily concerned with helping people come into a full and lifelong loving relationship with Christ and His Church.
So, what are the benefits of obtaining full membership in the Catholic Church? The benefit is salvation and eternal happiness in God’s heavenly kingdom. Obviously, it’s not as simple as clicking on the “I agree” button to the iTunes 60 page terms and conditions of use (who reads that anyway?). But membership does equip you for your journey toward that final goal. “Wait,” you object, “Aren’t there many paths to God? What about the other religions in the world? Aren’t all Christian denominations basically the same?” Well, in a word, “no”! The Catholic Church is the only church that proclaims the Fullness of Faith, i.e., its beliefs and practices are based on Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. Don’t believe that? Attend RCIA in your community and find out for yourself.
Although the RCIA process is intended for those who are not yet validly baptized, in most parishes it is also recommended for converts (those baptized in another Christian denomination), or for returning Catholics who fell away from the Church at an early age and never completed the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist).
To find out more about the RCIA process, consult your parish bulletin. If there is no established RCIA program in your parish, contact your parish priest. If you are in one of the communities in the diocese that does not have a Catholic Church, contact the Office of Ministries and Missions at the Chancery Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Church has no more solemn obligation than helping others explore their interest in full membership in the Catholic Faith. So what are you waiting for? The rewards of membership are priceless!