RCIA is not a journey that is meant to be taken alone, so, I want to offer 7 Practical Tips for Sponsors. Many of these I’ve generated from looking back over my experience as an RCIA sponsor. These are things I wish someone would have summarized for me.
*Disclaimer: each tip will alternate between masculine and feminine pronouns to represent both without adding the bulkiness of constantly writing he/she, him/her.
1. PRAY, Pray, pray
PRAY: If/when you are asked to be someone’s sponsor, go to prayer about it. Is this something you should accept? Do you have the courage to have tough conversations with him? Do you have the compassion to walk with him through the struggles? Do you have the understanding to be patient when Catholicism just seems WEIRD to him? Someone who takes this journey seriously is not going to be offended by your discernment, he will be comforted.
Pray: If you accept, make a habit of praying with the person you are sponsoring. Help this person feel comfortable praying as he always has as a non-Catholic and help as he (possibly awkwardly) becomes familiar with some of the distinctly Catholic styles of prayer.
pray: In secret, wrap this person in a blanket of your own intercessions. He is entering a time of growth and change and you have agreed to support him with your prayers.
2. Commit to Her more than the Goal
If you discern to be her sponsor, commit to a relationship that goes beyond your “role” or “use.” Too many of our relationships are shaped by utility. We figure out the use of someone in our life and after they have served their purpose or if they fail to, we discard them. This should not be your relationship as sponsor. After Easter Vigil, you still have a place in her life and vice versa. Even if she doesn’t become Catholic, your relationship doesn’t end. You have agreed to be invested in her spiritual life.
3. Articulate Why He is Becoming Catholic
You need to be able to articulate why the person you are sponsoring wants to become Catholic. If you can’t articulate why, how do you know that he knows why he is doing it? Also, there are going to be times that he will need you to remind him of why he set out on this journey in the first place.
4. You are Vouching for Her to the Church more than you are Vouching for the Church to Her
Yes, you might help answer questions, but there are plenty of books, radio shows, and people who are incredibly skilled at answering questions about the faith. And, yes, these are important for you to explore together. However, few of these people or resources have the same level of relationship that you have with the person you are sponsoring. So your job is to vouch that she is ready to make this commitment and understands what she is undertaking.
Since you are expected to vouch for this person with integrity — I’m serious about this. You are asked, in front of everyone, in the middle of Mass, if you truly believe he is taking this journey seriously and is ready to proceed — you might have to hold him accountable about some things. So yes, you have the challenge and honor of being his accountability partner through this whole journey, but he should take heart, everyone in the Church needs accountability, which leads to number 6.
6. Equipping Her for the Human Side of the Church
Try as you might to take your candidate or catechumen under your protective wing and shield her from the humanity in the Church, she will undoubtedly encounter the scandalous side of the Church; us. In the words of Pope Francis, we are a “field hospital.” Even the wounded soldier is probably disturbed to see the wounds of others. In the same way, as sinners entering the Church we are disturbed to see the sins of others. We can either take from that a spirit of despair and scandal, or we can take heart that this is where sins are diagnosed and treated.
So as a sponsor you have a choice, shelter her and leave her woefully unprepared or help prepare her so that the wounds of others don’t become her own crisis of faith.
7. Emotional Grounding
Finally, this process can be difficult, taxing, exciting, scary, joyful, anxiety ridden, and lonely. You are here to help this person. As gifts from God, emotions aren’t bad, but we sometimes need help sorting through them. If you can, help him celebrate the positive and work through the negative. If you can’t, don’t leave him to face those emotions alone. This doesn’t always mean that you are the person to walk through those emotions with him. Sometimes all you can do is go back to number 1 and go with this person before the Lord in prayer and hand it all over to Him.