On the fourth Sunday of Advent, it was my turn to go do "Breaking Open The Word" with the RCIA candidates after dismissal. For those who don't have this in their parish, this involves those in the RCIA program being dismissed from Sunday mass after the homily and before the creed (in the more descriptive pre-Vatican II terminology: after the Mass of the Catechumens and before the Mass of the Faithful) and go to another place (in our case, the parish library) to further discuss the readings with the guidance of a member of the RCIA team.
As you may recall, the readings for the fourth Sunday of Advent center around the messiah (first, psalm and second) and the Visitation. Now, my first difficulty was that one of our deacons had given a homily which covered all of the themes of preparation for the messiah quite well. So I found myself witting at a table in the parish library with four RCIA candidates and trying to think what to talk about for 20-30 minutes without simply repeating the homily in other words.
I spent five minutes tying the themes of the readings together again, but had the feeling that I was losing people. Then inspiration came: "So, are you familiar with the story of the Visitation which we have in the Gospel today? Do you know about what's happened to Mary's cousin Elizabeth prior to this?"
Four heads shake.
So I pulled out a bible and we read aloud the opening of Luke's Gospel, up through the visitation. We talked about it a moment, and then I got the question, "What happens after that? Does Zechariah get his voice back?"
That was easy, we read through the next few paragraphs and finished off the story of the birth and naming of John.
This John, I explained, was John the Baptist. Did people know the story of John the Baptist?
Four heads shake.
That was easily mended. Typical Catholic, I knew the story off by heart, but didn't know the verse citations, so we just closed the bible and I went through John preaching, his baptism of repentance, Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, and John's eventual arrest and execution by Herod.
Then I circled back to the story of the visitation we'd covered in the Gospel and pointed out how the words of the Hail Mary come mainly from Elizabeth's greeting to Mary, and from Gabriel's earlier words in the Annunciation. Then we closed with a brief prayer, including the Hail Mary which we'd just discussed.
As we were leaving, one of the young men stopped to say, "Thanks for explaining all that -- it makes a lot of things make more sense."
I should have caught on by now, but these reminders of the necessity of going over the basics of the Christian story (and the fact that people are actually interested in the basics, rather than immediately questioning them or seeking to read other meanings into them or such) are both useful and refreshing to me. It seems a danger for those well educated in the faith to focus entirely on drawing lessons from the Bible, and forget that for those in the process of formation, the story itself is new and fresh. And, of course, if you always hear people drawing meaning from the scriptures, but aren't well founded in the actual narrative story, it's easy to get confused.