Category Archives: Adult Formation

HTB Leadership Conference

I can’t let this week go without writing about the HTB leadership conference… Now, nearly a week later, it’s like trying to grip onto the wonderful gifts of God we received, and not to forget anything.

As ever, it is hard to know where to start. The greatest blessing of the conference I think had to be Rick and Kay Warren. They were mind-blowingly honest, open, humble, passionate, straight-talking, vulnerable, challenging… I just want to pick out a couple of things that really struck me.

Kay Warren spoke about Mark 8:34 – picking up your Cross and following Jesus. I cannot do justice to what she said, and I am on the edge of my seat until the full video is online to watch it again. It seriously challenged me. She called us to be “dangerously surrendered”, “seriously disturbed” and “gloriously ruined”… Dangerously surrendered – by allowing God to have authority over everything in our lives. What do I still hold back for myself? Plans about my future, my money, friendships, fashion, my own space? Seriously disturbed – to allow what deeply disturbs the heart of God – injustice, poverty, violence, torture – to disturb us. ‘Picking up your Cross’ does not mean carrying the sufferings of our everyday lives. No – it means stepping outside our lives and picking up the Cross of the world’s suffering and lack of God. Gloriously ruined – whatever we do, suffering will come our way. In the ruins, we can allow God in to transform them, to make them glorious.

On the final night, Rick Warren called us to love passionately the Church. His challenge to us was to be less involved in ‘para-churches’ (I suppose we could say organisations) and more deeply involved in the local church, in the parish. This is such an important challenge to Catholics! Most of the time, we are content to spend an hour and a half at our parish a week. We run a mile as soon as a difficult situation arises, or if the liturgy changes, or if there are personalities we don’t gel with. No, let’s give ourselves to our parishes, difficult and broken though they may be…

There were apparently 800 Catholics present this year, and I know that for many of us it is an enormous blessing. The Leadership Conference has deeply blessed and encouraged me in my life. It seems to have a quality of anointing and of true ecumenism. There were a few things I came back determined to do – to begin our small house group here with friends in Portsmouth; to begin praying together with others at work. This is just scratching the surface. There is SO MUCH we can learn from HTB – their hospitality, their service, the openness and freedom of their worship…

Holy Spirit, renew the face of the earth!


The Church and Discipleship

I came across this video earlier this week. Obviously, it comes from a Protestant context (so their concept of worship is not ours), but essentially, it is saying exactly the same thing that we Catholics have been hearing time and time again recently. Here are just a couple of examples from Evangelii Gaudium (that we by now know pretty well):

I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. (EV, 27)

We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented. (EV, 28)

However, this video raises some questions for me. The experience of a typical English parish is precisely not an overload of programmes or events. If only! From my experience of average parishes, you’d be lucky to turn up on a given evening and find anything going on. (Recently, I heard of a man (not a Catholic) who contacted the local parish of a town he was staying in overnight with business. He wanted to know if there was a prayer meeting, or something else he could attend in the church that evening. The response he received from the parish secretary? “Sorry, nothing’s going on.” How sad! What a missed opportunity.)

It only makes sense to send out disciples to evangelise. After all, “A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody” (EV, 266).

So the call of this video (and to some extent, Pope Francis’s call, too) seems only to make sense to a parish community which already has disciples –  which provides formation, has a sense of purpose and mission among even a small percentage of its parishioners.

Earlier in the week, a post from an evangelical Christian friend of mine appeared on my newsfeed. He spoke about how his church has grown over the last two years: they have built a community projects building which houses projects such as a food bank, money advice, child bereavement support, and youth and children’s ministry. He finished by saying how his church is reaching 600 members on a Sunday. 600! This is what they have achieved with up to 600 disciples. Sadly, how many Catholic parishes of 1000+ parishioners could claim anything like this?

The reality of most parishes is that we’re at ground-zero, and you’d be fortunate to find your church even open during the day, let alone to stumble across a core group of disciples. It’s not possible to send out Mass-going Catholics who are not disciples to proclaim the Gospel. What will they be calling people to? To be a part of a cultural ‘club’, rather than a life-giving relationship with Jesus? Unless we are disciples “in love” with the Lord, we will evangelise no one.

My response to this video, then, is that, for a first step at least, there’s a need to concentrate on programmes and events, of awakening within the baptised their call to holiness and evangelisation, before it is possible for people to be sent, to “go out”.

 


Thresholds of Conversion and RCIA

trust in god

This is a much-discussed topic at the moment. A lot of us are waking up to the fact that the ‘catechetical’ aspect of RCIA is the relatively ‘easy’ bit. We have some clear guidelines for catechesis (e.g. through wonderful organisations such as the Association for Catechumenal Ministry). It should be Christ-centred, scriptural, liturgical, systematic, kerygmatic. OK – so far, so good.

The difficult thing is the evangelisation bit.

One priest shared with me recently that when he moved to a parish, he implemented a thorough and solid doctrinal programme for the RCIA. And do you know what? The outcomes of this resulted in conversions seemingly no deeper than the previous, less thorough, less doctrinal programme had yielded. 

This is something we really need to take on board. Doctrinal catechesis does not necessarily lead to conversion.

I have been re-reading Forming Intentional Disciples on the thresholds of conversion (for a summary, see pp.129-130). Just to recap:

1. Trust: A positive experience, or friendship, which leads someone to have a relationship of trust with God or the Church

2. Curiosity: Someone is intrigued to know more – about Christ, or about some aspect of the faith

3. Spiritual openness: The person acknowledges to him- or herself that they are open to the possibility of personal change (this is not yet commitment to change)

4. Spiritual seeking: Moving into this threshold involves shifting into an active gear – an active search to know this God who is calling him or her begins.

5. Intentional discipleship: The decision to “drop one’s nets”, to make a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the Church

Sherry Weddell suggests that the fourth threshold (spiritual seeking – the first active stage) is the perfect time to enter the formal Catechumenate in RCIA. This makes sense to me. Only when one is actively seeking God is one open to receive catechesis, the handing on of Christ and the Faith of the Church in relation to him. This fits in well with some principles in the General Directory for Catechesis. There it speaks of the importance of the “activity” of the catechised (n.157) – catechesis reflects the pedagogy of God himself, which invites an active response. Unless someone is at the beginnings of a relationship with God, there is little hope of a response in the way that catechesis, by its nature, requires.

So, this leaves us with a big question… How can the evangelisation/enquiry period of RCIA usher a person from ‘curiosity’ (which presumably they have in order to come at all) through to ‘spiritual seeking’ before they celebrate the Rite of Acceptance?

This big question can be broken down into smaller ones, which I am pondering, and invite you to share your thoughts on, too!:

  • What length of time should generally be expected for this shift to take place? Is a standard enquiry period of 12 weeks long enough?
  • How soon do we discover which threshold a person may be at? Perhaps a conversation with a priest or experienced catechist or sponsor early on could help to establish this.
  • What precise goals can we create for enquiry to lead someone towards the beginnings of an active faith?
  • And what do we do when someone cannot manage to pass through the thresholds, but is eager to enter the Catechumenate?

Some biggies… but ones I think we should tackle! 😉


“Where next?”

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It often happens that you get to the end of a really fruitful programme/course/series in your parish, and people start to ask, “What’s happening next?” “We want to continue, this has been the experience of something new!” If your parish has a strategy for adult formation, then the answer is easy, because perhaps you have a number of options lined up for people who have just dipped their toes in.

But, the reality is, there are few parishes out there with a strategy for adult formation. If only!

And yet, the time at the end of a course that has awakened people’s faith, ignited their enthusiasm, and formed community, is absolutely crucial. All these little ‘sparks’ of faith and enthusiasm have been lit, and we now need to take responsibility to ‘fan’ them into stronger flames, help conversions deepen, mature, and equip people to start reaching out to others.

Firstly, if there is any chance at all of forming a small team of intentional disciples to look at adult formation, if your priest is keen, and together you can draw up a strategy, I think this is ideal. This way, a team can look at the general demographic of the parish in the light of “intentional discipleship” – what do people need? Which ‘thresholds’ are people stuck on? Which particular groups of people do we need to reach out to? There is never a single answer to address everyone’s needs, which is why I think parishes that offer lots of different formation alternatives, at different levels, are the most successful.

Secondly, if there is no possibility of such a strategic approach – perhaps your priest is not really on board, or perhaps it seems you are the sole intentional disciple in your parish! – you can still ask some of the questions above, only on a smaller scale. Above all, pray. Learning how to discern the next steps is essential, and this means frequent prayer to the Holy Spirit to show us the way. We might want to ask ourselves: Which is more urgent – deeper formation for those already committed, or primary evangelisation of the Mass-on-Sunday-Catholics? Perhaps the former needs to happen first, in order to gather a team for the latter? Prayer must underpin our efforts – especially if we are few in number, and especially if we have lots of different ideas – so that the Holy Spirit may lead us to invest our efforts where God wills – and this will be different from parish to parish.

It’s important to remember, too, that the evangelisation and formation of our parish is a matter of pastoral governance, which means that our priest needs to be at the heart of it – he’s the spiritual father of this community. So, while we are free as a bird when it comes to evangelising our friends (in fact, it’s a duty of our Baptism), when it comes to the parish, we need the priest at the centre (even though he’s not the one doing everything – and he shouldn’t be). Maybe in some cases the very first place we need to start is in praying for our priest…

Finally, nearly two years ago, I wrote this post on leadership after being at the HTB Leadership Conference and being blown away (excited to be going again in May!). (There is nothing like a bit of evangelical Christian passion and vision to blow away the negativity and blame-game-approach we often experience in the Church (sorry… but it’s true)!) One of the main points I took away was that you do not need a position to lead. Often we wait for someone to ask us to do something. But if you see something that needs to be done, and you have a passion for it, just go ahead and do it! That was two years ago and it’s still with me…


Quick Takes

Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast Abbey

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I cannot let another blog-post go past without mentioning the new School of the Annunciation. This is a wonderful initiative of the new evangelisation, much needed in this country. I am just going to quote their prayer, which is beautiful:

Mary, Mother of the New Evangelisation, as you prayed continuously with the Church at the beginning (Acts 1:14) be united with us now in prayer. Help us to return to the school of Nazareth and to echo your words in the hour of the Annunciation: “let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). Help us to rejoice in the wonder of the Incarnation and with you to treasure all these things and ponder them in our hearts (Lk 2:19). Obtain for us the courage to take our stand with you beside the Cross of your Son (Jn. 19:25) in the hour of Redemption. Guide us as we set out along all the ways of the earth to bring to our brothers and sisters the light of faith, hope and charity (Lk. 1: 39). All to the praise and adoration of the Most Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit both now and for ever. Amen.

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Pancake_and_crumpet

By now, the last of the pancakes have been polished off, and Lent has truly begun. I somehow feel grateful for Lent this year. In the words of Blessed John Henry Newman,

Let not the year go round and round, without a break and interruption in its circle of pleasures.

This is the time when we refuse to accept “bread” from the devil in our wilderness, but rather, learn the words of Christ to the woman at the well: “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (John 4:32).

I read recently that the virtue of temperance (which is a virtue for all year round, not just Lent) is a memory of the taste of God – meaning we do not need to lose ourselves in other things, but know simply that God alone is enough.

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This Lent, our Bishop is offering a weekly online catechesis on the Gospels of Lent. The first one, on Jesus’ temptations in the desert, is here. There are also questions for reflection to accompany each video.

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Crossofashes

Now is also the time of ‘Purification and Enlightenment’ in the RCIA process, when catechumens and candidates prepare for their Baptism or reception into the Church. If we are catechising or sponsoring someone this Lent, let’s offer our prayer and penance for them. How can we help them live a good Lent? Here are some ideas…

  • Do everything we can to help them prepare for a good Confession (more here) – not only is good catechesis on the sacrament vital, but also practical help – a thorough examination of conscience, talking through the steps, ensuring everything is prepared for the day of the first Confession, arranging somehow to celebrate it afterwards
  • Invite them to make a Holy Hour with you
  • Talk about choosing good spiritual reading for Lent and perhaps buy them a book… Anything by Jacques Philippe is good, e.g. Interior Freedom
  • Offer an extra mortification or penance for them each week
  • ACM offers a wonderful ‘home retreat’ for sponsors – see the Sponsors’ Handbook. Do this for yourself, and offer it for your catechumen / candidate
  • Chat about the Triduum – including all the signs, symbols, meanings – as often as you can. Get them excited…!

Happy Lent, everyone!


Three Journeys

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I’m re-reading Forming Intentional Disciples, people… Yes, in fact, I think I could read it three or four times. You might want to revisit with me some of the key points, because often we can read something, think how wonderful/true/insightful that is, and then promptly forget about it. In this instance, the concept that has struck me is the idea that discipleship involves three distinct journeys, which should happen together, but often are treated separately. Just to remind you (from p. 54):

  •  The personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ resulting in intentional discipleship;

  • The ecclesial journey into the Church through reception of the sacraments of initiation;

  • The journey of active practice (as evidenced by receiving the sacraments, attending Mass, and participating in the life and mission of the Christian community).

The interactions of these three journeys play out in many ways. We all know swathes of Catholics who have completed the middle (sacramental) journey without the first or the third becoming a reality. Perhaps they are even lapsed. We might even know many who are well-advanced in the second and third journeys – they bake cakes for the fundraising event, take their children to and even teach on sacramental programmes, and sit on various parish committees.

But if the evidence of the book is correct and only 5% of parishioners are “intentional disciples”, this means that a staggeringly large percentage (95%?) are ‘stuck’ in this third journey. Perhaps they enjoy the community of their church, perhaps they appreciate the liturgy, perhaps they are keen for their children to be brought up in the faith. But they have not experienced the life-giving and transformative power of a personal, intimate, daily relationship with Jesus Christ.

Which is what it’s all about!

Let’s be clear that this is the main reason of existence for our parishes. We can draw people in to sing in the choir, be on a buildings committee, help with a First Communion programme. But unless these are the first steps into a living relationship with Jesus, we seem to be missing the point.

What do you think? In your experience, how do you see the interactions of these three journeys in your own parish life? 


“Let’s just stop catechising children”

classroom

Joanne McPortland over at Patheos has been causing something of a stir… She is proposing that what is wrong with the parish formation set-up is that it has, for too long, been catechising the wrong people – children, not adults. It’s true that the Church attempted to make the shift from child-centred catechesis to adult-centred catechesis certainly since the General Directory for Catechesis (GDC 258 “Adult catechesis must be given top priority” is just one reference made to the paradigm-shift in this document), if not before that. But, on the whole, this ‘paradigm-shift’ has remained in the catechetical documents of the universal Church, and the national documents of the Bishops’ Conferences, and has not been translated into reality.

Why? I think one reason is that it is far easier to focus on children’s catechesis than adults’. There’s an institutional set-up in schools and sacramental preparation which means that children are captive audiences. Catechising adults is the Mount Everest we still have not conquered because it requires evangelising people first (exceedingly hard and slow work) in order to get them there. And, if we are parents, it is so much easier to focus on our children’s faith formation than our own.

But, we can’t deny that focussing on adults is the real deal; this is where it’s really at. The fact that it is so relentlessly difficult shows us that this is precisely where our efforts, energy and resources need to go.

I think to some extent Joanne is right. I would love to see the results of a parish stopping all their sacramental programmes one year and focussing all its energy into evangelising and catechising adults. I’m fascinated by a new approach in a parish in Wales. Here, the parish priest has announced that this year he will not, as they normally do, invite the archbishop to confirm candidates after a short course. Rather, young people of Confirmation age are being invited to undertake twelve months of learning discipleship – through mentoring, attending Mass and the sacraments, service, and prayer. What a courageous move, and one that I am sure the Lord will bless, since it seems faithful to his desire for us to be his disciples, not just sacramentalised, tribal Catholics.


Great Adventure

jeff cavins

 

Earlier this week we began ‘A Quick Journey through the Bible‘, the Great Adventure eight-session course, and were maxed out with around 70 participants showing up. I was excited to get this comment from someone during the week:

I think I learnt more about the Bible in three hours than I have done in the last 30 years!

Amazing… well, amazing that a Catholic can go through 30 years of life with no Bible teaching, but also amazing for the prospects of this course. Someone else said they never thought they’d see the day when a long line of Catholics would be queuing up for Bible study on a Monday night. Adult formation just has to be one of the most richly satisfying tasks when it works, and having programmes such as this from Ascension Press make it easy. If your parish has not done this course yet – go out and buy it! There are some great webinars from Ascension Press telling you exactly what to do to set it up in your parish, how to facilitate a small group – really, everything you could need. If your parish does not have a strong history of adult catechesis, the Bible seems to be a fascinating topic for just about anyone, so it is a great place to start. My advice, for what it’s worth, don’t hesitate – get cracking 🙂


Quick Takes…

Praising God - Youth 2000

Praising God – Youth 2000

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Wow – I have a whole new empathy with all who volunteer in the Church. In catechesis, evangelisation projects, outreach, or whatever. It is one thing when it is your job, and you have all day to work at it, but quite another when you’re drafting an email late at night, or snatching a few moments in your lunch hour to sort some arrangements. This is what life is like now, as I am beginning to help out with a few things in my parish. I now realise what a luxury it was to do this work full-time! I am wondering how on earth the mums with full-time jobs in my last parish also helped with catechesis – I suspected they were super-women and I was probably right…

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One of my projects at the moment is writing a chapter on Bl John Paul II and catechesis, in a book for young people (18-25). Although it is not an academic chapter, and there won’t be much space to discuss foundations of his thought, it has been really interesting to research this a little bit. I would be fascinated to know what you think: what do you think was Bl John Paul II’s greatest impact on the catechetical world? I am still working out how I would respond to this question, but would love to hear your thoughts.

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In a week’s time, we will begin ‘A Quick Journey through the Bible’, the introduction to the Bible Timeline from Ascension Press. At the moment, we have around half the number of people registered that I am hoping for, but you always find that most people sign up last minute. I always think it is a good idea to begin an adult formation session with a proper time of prayer. By ‘proper’ I mean not a quick, rushed prayer concluded with an Our Father. I think it’s good to have music if possible, a Scripture passage, a short time of silence. I really like this guide that Joe Paprocki has put together – a helpful resource.

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Finally, I leave you with the video message of our wonderful bishop’s Pastoral Letter, issued today. It’s great stuff. On the written version there are plenty of footnotes to reflect on at home.


Warming Hearts in the Family of the Church

family love

Pope Francis spoke recently on priestly formation. This is off-topic for this blog, but a lot of what he said has meaning for all of us in the Church. Pope Francis painted a picture of a seminary that has become a cold, loveless place. Instead, the Holy Father said, the task should be to “form hearts”. 

Hearts cannot be formed without love, without warmth, without family spirit. How important this is for the whole Church. At times, the Church – our parishes – can be cold places. Any place that is merely a service-provider will inevitably be cold. Only when a church is a place where people want to be, not to get something, but to be themselves and with others, will the heart of the parish be love, a place that can start “forming hearts”.

This Christmas, I spent quite a long time at home with my family. A lot of us were there for several days together, and it was an extremely joyful time. Long hours were spent in front of the fire, not doing very much, simply being together. There was lots of laughter, jokes about each of our own weirdnesses, funny games, endless chatting and sharing our thoughts, and love and forgiveness. I found myself asking, “Why isn’t the Church more like this?” It seems obvious – the Church is the “gathering together” of everyone into the Father’s house. It should be the place, par excellence, where we want to hang out, rejuvenate ourselves, before going back out into the mission. It should be the place where we joyfully spend time together, not out of duty, but because we love and energise each other. This seems to be a reality within new movements (e.g. Youth 2000, Communion & Liberation, Neo-Catechumenal Way) and in good university chaplaincies (I feel blessed that my own faith was nourished in a brilliant chaplaincy). Our joyful family life (where we are blessed to experience this) should be a reflection of the warmth and joy in the heart of the communion of the Church. But often this community in the Church is a rare exception rather than the rule.

Then I asked myself, “How can the Church be more like this?” Clearly, it is down to each of us. Pope Francis has been asking us endlessly to “warm hearts”, and there are a million ways we can each do this, according to our own charisms. One thing we can do is encourage “family spirit” especially among our peers in our parish communities. Make time to meet someone for a coffee if they are going through a hard time. Be interested in people’s lives, pray for their worries, go out of our way to tend to their concerns.

Above all, we need to care for our priests. I am sure crisis in the priesthood is down to loneliness. How can it be good if one of our “Fathers” spends most of his days alone? Who can exist without love, let alone give of themselves? (Blessed John Paul II said in Redemptor Hominis, 10, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”) Priests especially should be surrounded by love, drawn into our families, have a special place in our daily prayers. 

The renewal of the Church will come from “raising the spiritual temperature” of our parishes with acts of love. As we know, St John the Apostle repeated often, “Little children, love one another.”

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.” (1 Jn 4:7-11)