Film 'Dances With Wolves' in the Light of RCIA Process & The Challenge of 'Instant Culture'

By Nicodemus Lobo Ratu

Having studied the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) process, I began to ask: "Is there any connection between the RCIA and our popular culture at the present time?" lucky enough, I found the answer in the film 'Dances With Wolves'. Therefore, it is quite understandable if I try to reflect on this film in the light of the RCIA process.

One of the main issues around the RCIA is that people think that the RCIA is only a collection of rituals that will finish at the end of initation process. In fact, it is not only a collection of rituals but it is an on going process in life. This mindset, of course, comes from the trends in our culture nowadays. One of them is the 'instant culture'.

Film 'Dances With Wolves' in the Light of the RCIA Process

Film 'Dances With Wolves' is one of the best films of our time, which is the winner of seven Oscars in 1990. This film tells a story of an American soldier, Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) who went to the Western frontier in the Dakota territory in 1864. In his journey, he found an old soldier fort and stayed there. In fact, he entered the Sioux tribe's territory. In this alien place, then, he encountered Indian people from the Sioux tribe. What struck me in this film is the process of becoming a member of the Sioux tribe. In my view, this process has some similaraties with the RCIA process.

In the RCIA, there are four periods in the process of initiation. They are the precatechumenate, the catechumenate, the purification and enlightment, and the post baptismal catechesis or mystagogy. At the end of each period, it is marked by a ritual celebration.
In the Sioux tribe, there is no clear periods in their initiation process. However, looking at this film based on the RCIA process, I think, the four periods in the RCIA are already part of the Sioux tribe's tradition. Therefore, in this part I want to look at the film 'Dances With Wolves' in the light of the RCIA process:

a). The Period of 'Pre-initation or Pre-catechumenate'

In the RCIA, this period is the time of "inquiry on the part of the candidates and of evangelization and precatechumenate on the part of the Church". It means that somebody who knows a bit or not at all about the Catholic faith comes to a decision that he/she wants to learn about the Church or Catholic faith. At the same time, the Church and Christian faithful preach the good news to him/her. It is clear, therefore, that there are attempts from both sides whether it is to learn or to evangelize.

In the film Dances With Wolves, there is the period of "preinitiation". John Dumbar as a new person in the Sioux land has heard about the Indian but he has not seen them. In his first encounter with them, he was afraid, so were the Indians. However, John Dunbar and the Indians have the sense of curiosity. Both of them want to know each other. The Indian tried to 'evangelize' by sending people to meet John Dunbar. And John opened to their approach with his friendly manners or welcoming attitude.

During this period, the Indian comes to learn that John Dunbar is a good man because he helped one of the Indian woman who was wounded. Also, he told them about the coming of the buffalos. This period ends, I think, when John Dunbar smokes a pipe with the leader of the Sioux tribe. Based on the RCIA, I would say that the action of smoking a pipe is 'the rite of acceptance' to the Sioux culture. By doing this, he began the second period: the 'Catechumenate'.

b). The Period of 'Catechumenate'

In the RCIA, the period of catechumenate is the time for instructions or catechesis. It is time to develop "relationship between our catechumen efforts and our worships life". Also, it is a time to be familiar with the Christian way of life, worship and prayer. Moreover, it is an important moment for the Christian to share the mission of the Church which is the spreading the word of God and serving others.

In the film 'Dances With Wolves', in the period of "catechumenate", John Dunbar was allowed to take part in the Indian Sioux hunting tradition. For example, he went on the buffalo hunt and ate buffalo's heart. Also, he took part in their celebration. Moreover, he learned their language and their way of life. This period finished when he was elected to watch over the Sioux warriors family while they were away. In the light of the RCIA, his election can be seen as 'the rite of election'.

c). The Period of 'Purification and Enlightment'

In the RCIA, this period is one of prayer and spiritual preparation. Lent in our liturgical calender is seen as the best time to begin this period. This period will end with "celebration of the sacraments of initiation at the Easter vigil: baptism, confirmation, and eucharist.
In the film 'Dances With Wolves', this period began when he was elected to watch over the Sioux family. In this period, his faith and his true love for the Sioux tribe was tempted. The Sioux family were in danger because another Indian tribe wanted to attack them. Therefore, it requires his wisdom and knowledge to protect the Sioux family. He was succesful. Also, during this period he got a new name as "Dances With Wolves". In the light of the RCIA, this is probably 'baptismal' action. I think this period ended when he was accepted as a full member of the Sioux tribe when he was allowed to marry one of the woman from the Sioux tribe (In this film, the woman was 'adopted' from a white family).

d). The Period of 'Mystagogy or Postbaptismal Catechesis'

In the RCIA, this period is one of "interaction between the newly baptised and the rest of the faithful". It is time to be integrated more fully into the on going life and activities of the faithful.
In the film, 'Dances With Wolves' began a new life as a new family. He integrated fully with the Sioux way of lfie. He dressed like them. Also, he prepared to move his family together with all the Sioux people to the winter camps. However, in the film, it shows us that his new life was in trouble. The new American soldiers took over his post and captured him. They tortured him. Nonetheless, he was rescued by Sioux warriors. The film ended when 'Dances With Wolves' and his wife left the Sioux tribe's winter camps for the sake of the Sioux tribe's future life and his family. He ran away from the American soldiers who were looking for him.

The RCIA Process and the Challenge of 'Instant Culture'

The film 'Dances With Wolves' emphasizes one of the most inportant aspect of the RCIA, is that, 'on going process'. Lawrence E. Mick says that "the RCIA is not simply a collection of rituals to be implemented in our worship services", but it is also "on going process in life". "RCIA is not finished after baptism, confirmation, and eucharist".

However, the notion of process is not an easy concept to understand nowdays. Many people live in the 'instant culture'. Many things are 'instant' or 'ready made'. For example, instant / ready made food, and ready made clothes. Cardinal Murphy O'Connor on BBC Radio 4, on Monday 14 April 2001, says that "we live in an instant culture where we can turn a switch and have instant this and instant that". This instant culture not only influences peoples attitudes toward things but also it influences peoples mindset and way of life. Hans-Georg Gadener says that "these ready made 'solution' invite the person to abandon the journey of the heart, which everyone begins when they wash out by their mother's womb".

In the context of the RCIA, the 'instant culture' has influenced peoples attitudes towards the RCIA process. The RCIA has been seen only as a collection of rituals. After the initiation process, for example, many people do not care any more with Church activities. In fact, according to Brian Coyle the RCIA is more than a collection of rituals but it is a "journey in faith".

Having discussed about the film 'Dances With Wolves' in the light of the RCIA process and the challenge of the 'instant culture', there are some points that are important to reflect on : a). the connection between the RCIA and other cultures, b). the RCIA is an on going process in life. And c). the challenge of 'instant culture' towards the understanding of the RCIA. By reflecting on these points, I hope, we will have a better understanding of what RCIA is about and probably be able to make the RCIA process as part of our journey in faith.


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