Category Archives: Adult Formation

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‚Ķ 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 ūüôā


Quick Takes…

Praising God - Youth 2000

Praising God – Youth 2000

~1~

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…

~2~

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.

~3~

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.

~4~

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.”

‚ÄúBeloved, 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.‚ÄĚ (1 Jn 4:7-11)


Advent & Books

Visitation

I hope you’re getting into the swing of Advent (which is, let’s face it, close to impossible when most people’s Christmas jumpers seem to appear around December 1st). But anyway, we ARE still waiting, and the spirituality of Advent is a wonderful teacher to us when we have things in our life that we are waiting for – perhaps to hear about a university or a job; or if we’re unclear about the way ahead; or if God seems to be ‘slow’ giving us light about a particular situation. Advent teaches us faithfulness and patience. Not to jump ahead of God and decide what we hope his answer will be. It teaches us to adhere to Him, fully.

This particular idea for Advent is a bit late now to do in your own parish, but I recommend remembering it for next year‚Ķ Our parish priest had the wonderful idea of choosing an “Advent book” for the parish. Then, he went out (or more likely, went onto Amazon) and bought 400 copies of the book, and gave them out at Masses on the First Sunday of Advent, for a “donation only”. The book he chose was Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s Come Lord Jesus. If the only way people will read a Catholic book is to give them out for free, what a great thing to do!

51Kz4+b6MqL._SX342_This Advent, I’ve finally got round to reading Pope Benedict’s The Infancy Narratives – a year late, but never mind. In fact, it was my last parish priest who gave one to each catechist last Christmas. Unsurprisingly, this book is a complete joy to read – I think sometimes I could actually read Pope Benedict all day. Somehow, when he’s explaining the ins and outs of a particular exegetical conundrum, the light he sheds on the problem is unmistakable. Suddenly it seems very clear and almost radiant. I think you can tell when a person’s insight comes from both their scholarship and their sanctity, wrapped up into one package. And it is pretty rare, if you ask me.

The final book is a little different and not very Adventy. Last month my book club read Unapologetic – Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense, by Francis Spufford. I have to say, before reading it, I was somewhat dubious to say the least. I mean, why emotional sense? It sounded a bit subjective. And yes, it errs on the side of subjectivity. Spufford claims he only “thinks” God exists, and that his ideas are based on his feelings. The feelings come first. No one can know for sure either way. (Which of course depends what he means by “for sure”.) But, all this aside, and some of the unorthodox Christian premises aside, I do think this book is worth reading. For one, what the author does extremely well, is to be 100%, utterly, painfully honest. (Perhaps too honest.) He is honest about the human condition in a way that we often fail to do as Christians who present the faith to others. We can sometimes be too quick to teach doctrines without looking at the real, experienced life of the people we are speaking to. It is easy to teach and explain doctrines, and not easy to get to grips with the gritty messiness of people’s lives, and to see how God might be at work in their life, or how he might truly transform it. The strength of Spufford’s book, I think, is to say that it is precisely the chaos and the pain that God has come into that causes Christianity to make emotional sense. In other words, other readings of reality – atheism being one of them – don’t come to grips with real life – in the way that Christianity does. Contrary to the atheist slogans on the side of the bus, for most people real life is not “enjoyable”.

This is a challenge for us as Christians, and especially for catechists, those of us who teach the faith. Let us not teach the faith in a way that is utterly divorced from lived experience. Let us be honest about the wretchedness of life for many people (including our own – we all have grey days) – and show that it is precisely this that Christ comes into and transforms.

To finish off, I thought you might like this – Spufford’s stereotyping of believers: “…believers are people who try to insert Jee-zus into conversations at parties; who put themselves down, with writhings of unease, for perfectly normal human behaviour; who are constantly trying to create a solemn hush that invites a fart, a hiccup, a bit of subversion. Believers are people who, on the rare occasions when you have to listen to them, like at a funeral or a wedding, seize the opportunity to pour the liquidised content of a primary-school nativity plan in your earhole‚Ķ Believers are the people touting a solution without a problem, and an embarrassing solution too, a really damp-palmed, wide-smiling, can’t-dance solution. In an anorak.”

This is a great book to read if you’re at the interface between Catholicism and the trenchant cynicism of our post-modern culture. (All of us, then!)


The New Evangelisation and the Desert

Death Valley

Death Valley

Well, readers, I’m aware I’ve been ‘missing in action’ for a while now, without any blogging. To tell you the truth, I’ve been working on an exciting project that I hope to tell you all about before long. It has been taking up my every spare moment. But for now, I wanted just to break the silence with some thoughts on evangelisation…

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But, first! Just to keep you up to speed – a couple of things I’ve been up to‚Ķ I graduated! Here I am with three truly amazing ladies, all working in different fields for the new evangelisation, on our graduation day‚Ķ

And here I am with a certain Jeff Cavins, who gave a wonderful talk at Portsmouth Cathedral last week, which was exciting for so many reasons. He gave us a pot of his own ‘Cavins’ Blend’ English Breakfast tea!

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So – back to the topic. ‘The New Evangelisation and the Desert’. It is something I’ve reflected on a lot recently. I believe it is also the experience of many, many ‘intentional disciple’ Catholics living in the UK. We are hearing, reading, talking a lot about the new evangelisation. But our daily reality, the communities we are living in, are more like a spiritual desert.

As many of you know, I used to belong to a parish where there was a ‘higher-proportion-than-usual’ of truly intentional disciples – people who had ‘dropped their nets’, who were intentionally living for the Lord and raising their families that way. Many people moved to live in the parish precisely because of this vibrant, community life. There was also a high proportion of young adults living real discipleship. Shortly after I moved to Portsmouth, I discovered that I’d been living in some kind of ‘Catholic Disney World’ (or Rivendell, as we used to joke). I guess I already ‘knew’ the reality of other ordinary parishes in this country. But now, I really knew it. And I admit it has been a struggle. I feel I can now really empathise with the majority of lay Catholic real disciples who struggle on in their parishes.

The reality in most of our parishes – let’s be honest – is that “personal discipleship” – where we earnestly try to commit our whole lives, our decisions, our will, to Jesus – ¬†is treated as a kind of “optional accessory” (in the words of Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples). You’re looked on as slightly eccentric if you express a passion for the Lord, or for evangelisation. Being a ‘good Catholic’ means going to Mass on Sundays, Confession once a year, being involved with a charity, making a lasagne for the parish social. It rarely means ‘discipleship’. It’s why increasing numbers of young, committed Catholics are – understandably – finding more formation for discipleship in evangelical churches.

There are many issues here, but what I wanted to focus on in this post, is ‘survival tactics’ – how we cope with being in this desert, and how God can use us to make it a place which is eventually life-giving. These are just some thoughts from my experience over the last nine months:

  1. Open your heart more attentively in prayer: In Scripture, the desert is repeatedly the symbol of where God leads us to (indeed, seduces us) in order to “speak to our heart”. Just because no one arounds us seems to be committed to prayer doesn’t mean we should not be – in fact, all the more reason to be deeply committed to daily prayer! Only with a solid foundation of prayer and sacrifice can God begin to grow new life. There will be many more reasons to surrender ourselves completely to God in the desert – discouragements, setbacks, disappointment‚Ķ As we give ourselves more completely to God in all of this, he is actually using the situation to help us grow in holiness, so that we can be more effective evangelists for him.
  2. Pray for ‘kindred spirits’, like-minded friends:¬†Three or four intentional disciples can be so much more effective than one. For one thing, you can encourage each other – your stamina will be far greater in a small group than alone. Discern together where you can start. Remember you need no one’s “permission” to start a prayer group or a Bible study in your own homes. I truly believe, if we ask God earnestly enough, he will never leave one of his ‘intentional disciples’ alone‚Ķ he is good, and will always gather two or three together in the same place – even if in a way we don’t expect.
  3. Evangelists go out in search of the lost:¬†Have an open heart in all your encounters and conversations with people. Even in the places you’re least likely to expect. You’ll be amazed at the people he will bring into your path. Be proactive in inviting people to things, keeping in touch. Before long, you’ll realise the large numbers of people the Lord has ‘gathered’.
  4. Disciples need formation:¬†Ensure you’re receiving regular formation, nourishment of your mind and heart. In the desert analogy, we need continually to return to the ‘springs’ of water that refresh us and set us on our way again. Perhaps we might need to travel a long distance for this. But it’s vital if we’re going to keep on track.
  5. Discouragement does not come from the Lord:¬†If you’re feeling you’re losing hope in your particular situation, this cannot be “of God”. This is why regular Confession, spiritual direction, and formation helps – it helps us dispel discouragement quite quickly. The worst thing we can do is let it weaken our focus and determination.
  6. Discern the initial plans God has for your area:¬†For me, it seemed quite simple when a friend phoned up and asked if we wanted to host Jeff Cavins at the cathedral. “YES!” was the clear answer. This event will now (with God’s grace) kick-start some adult formation in our parish.
  7. Nurturing new disciples:¬†Emerging disciples and new, growing communities of people seeking to be fed require wise pastoral leadership. Sooner or later, you will need the help of a priest to cultivate the initial work you’ve been doing. The parish (or a new movement) will need to offer opportunities for ongoing deeper formation, for works of service and charity, opportunities for more evangelisation and outreach. Pastoral guidance is needed to cultivate the initial signs of growth, help this new life grow strong, and then equip these new disciples to go out to evangelise others.

A few thoughts. Do you have any ideas to add? How do you survive in the ‘new evangelisation desert’?¬†


In Praise of RCIA

Courtesy of Johnragai

Courtesy of Johnragai

I’m noticing something really interesting in comments surrounding RCIA (on this blog and in other conversations). What I’m noticing is a big gap between the American and the British perspective. I’ll try to summarise this general trend (and be warned – ‘I’m-going-to-be-blunt’ alert – this is generalised):

In the UK, on the whole, I think we’ve had a bad experience of RCIA over the last few decades. Many faithful Catholics in this country rename it ‘Roman Catholics In Agony’ and associate it with watery doctrine, lectionary-based “catechesis”, faith-sharing therapy-style sessions, and lots of para-liturgical actions that don’t mean too much to the participants (or – probably – to God) and make you want to squirm.

OK. I hate all of this just as much as the next person. If it results in people giving up (I know some people who have attempted RCIA three times and more), we have a LOT to answer for. If we are obstacles to people coming to Christ and His Church, let’s please stop ‘being catechists’.

However – I firmly believe that RCIA – faithfully, sensitively, attractively done – has been handed to us by the Church as the best way of people converting to Christ – not just a notional conversion, but a full – whole life – conversion.

I come across many who’ve despaired of RCIA who advocate the ‘one-to-one with a priest’ approach. One-to-ones with a priest are excellent – and should be part of RCIA – but alone, I don’t think it’s enough. Like it or not, we are becoming part of the Church (aka a community which is pretty messy), not a private members’ club. Doctrinal formation on its own is not enough. Spiritual formation is also needed (retreats, evenings of recollection); liturgical formation is vital (the rites along the way of the RCIA are outstanding tools of conversion if done well); and pastoral formation (practical help in changing aspects of our lifestyle – often through the help of a parish-given sponsor) is also indispensable.

When I speak about these other aspects of conversion – spiritual, liturgical, pastoral – I am not referring to twigs, tea-lights, hand-holding or ‘Here I Am Lord’. I am talking about a real, radical conversion of life to Christ.

I am aware I come from a privileged perspective of having seen all this being done well. I have seen with my own eyes some profoundly deep conversions that happened only because the people involved stayed in RCIA for a long time (almost always over a year). Not one week of that time was wasted. There was constant, nourishing, deepening catechesis; regular meetings with sponsors and with the priest; opportunities to serve and become involved in parish life. Sometimes they waited longer (we asked them to, and they almost always agreed they needed longer). We also ensured their formation continued after the mystagogia – many plugged into new movements; one group formed a book club; I can’t think of one person who went through RCIA who no longer attends Mass every week.

On the American side of the pond (in my experience), all of the above seems pretty natural. There isn’t the same reaction against RCIA because many parishes have thriving catechumenates.

If you are at a loss to know where to begin – I strongly recommend purchasing the materials from the Association for Catechumenal Ministry – by far, the very best out there. Evangelium is good for a doctrinal approach, but ACM offers the whole package. Whenever I present this approach to seminarians they are amazed – they have rarely come across this before.

This, then, is a plea to the British readers who are still suspicious of RCIA (maybe because of a traumatic experience involving a middle-aged woman taking your hand and asking you to share your woundedness – haha). When it’s done faithfully, RCIA is the best way. One-to-one doctrinal sessions with a priest cannot achieve the same outcome, because the priest is not the whole Church. And doctrine is not the whole Faith.


Some Quick Takes

september

– 1 –

Right now feels kinda strange… Normally this time of year has that great buzzy feeling of gearing up to the new year of parish activity. Last September we had a ‘Vision Night’ for all our incredible catechists, ‘casting the vision’ for catechesis in the parish for the Year of Faith. It’s a great time of meeting teenagers and children in sacramental programmes for the first time, and meeting with parents, sharing expectations and enthusiasm for the year ahead.

What is your parish planning at this time of the year? Do you have a vision for the year ahead?

– 2 –

Here is the wonderfully moving sermon given by Bishop Hugh Gilbert, welcoming the Nashville Dominican Sisters to the Scottish diocese of Aberdeen. It powerfully sets out the place of religious consecrated life in the new evangelisation… Wow – if we had a few more bishops with the vision of Bishop Hugh…

– 3 –

This is a really interesting and excellent article on the necessity of youth ministry (which responds to this article). Fr Damian Ference does many different things in this one article Рall of which are well-theologically rooted: our spiritual familial relations in the Church are highlighted, as is the legitimate role of the laity in apostolate within the Church (not only outside it). Well worth a read.