Two more weeks to go! On this the fifth Sunday of Lent, our RCIA teams, the Elect (those preparing to be received into the Church), and their communities will formally celebrate the third and final Scrutiny. The Period of Purification and Enlightenment is drawing to a close and faith communities all over the world are eagerly awaiting the Easter Vigil, when the Elect will receive the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation & Eucharist) and be welcomed into full fellowship with the People of God.
The scrutiny rites typically involve silent prayer for the Elect by the community, special intercessions, and prayers of exorcism. According to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (#141-143), “the scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect” and to “strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good.” The gospel readings recommended for the Scrutiny Sundays (3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays of Lent) are all taken from the Gospel of John: 3rd Sunday – the woman at the well (John 4:5-42); 4th Sunday – the man born blind (John 9:1-41); 5th Sunday – the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). These gospel pericopes are not a chance selection. They are intended to challenge the entire community to “scrutinise” their own need for forgiveness – like the Samaritan woman, for healing – like the man born blind and for liberation like Lazarus.
Scholars point out that in some of his narratives, John’s key characters are nameless: the woman at the well; the man born blind; even Lazarus is described as the one you love. This style of writing invites us to enter easily into the story: I am the woman whose life is out of control and who yearns for the live-giving water of the Spirit; I am the blind man groping in the dark and longing for sight/insight; I am Lazarus, locked in the tomb of greed, selfishness, fear or addiction, waiting to hear the words: “Come out! Unbind him!/Let her go free!”
These gospel stories are also particularly interesting from a catechetical point of view because they illustrate in a dramatic way how many people come to faith. Often it takes a crisis in one’s life or an unexpected situation to challenge our faith to move ‘to the next level’. The blind man for example, when first questioned by the Jews, simply states that “the man called Jesus” sent him to wash, but as they press him further, he comes to the realisation that Jesus must be “a prophet” and he tells them so. More questioning by the unbelieving Jews leads the man to step out in faith and make a life-changing decision. He throws caution to the wind and boldly proclaims: “If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.” His detractors, stunned by his defiance, abuse him and drive him away. Later he encounters Jesus again and his fledgling faith is once more challenged: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “The man said, ‘Lord, I believe’ and worshipped him.”
All three narratives illustrate a somewhat similar pattern of faith development. The key characters are open to the challenge of growing in their faith, and because of their witness, others come to faith. Surely this is the stuff of catechists’ dreams! But how can these conversion stories inform our practice? They remind us that it is the encounter with the living God that changes lives, prompts us to grow in faith, and eventually leads us to own our faith. As catechists we are called to put people “not only in touch, but in communion, in intimacy with Jesus Christ” (Catechesi Tradendae #5), through our own witness as persons in deep communion with him. Our catechesis is not only about doctrines and dogmas; it is essentially about helping people to develop a lifelong relationship with a Person – Jesus, the Eternal Word of God, and there is no better way to achieve that than by the example of our lives. “People in modern times listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Pope Paul VI). As we continue our journey to Easter, I pray that all catechists will be great teachers and even better witnesses!
– Bernadette Phillips, Catechist of St Joseph’s, Scarborough