Category Archives: Communion of Saints

Evangelisation: From the Mission Field #2

stag4clemente

“‘In the desert, people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive’ (Benedict XVI). In these situations we are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink. At times, this becomes a heavy cross, but it was from the cross, from his pierced side, that our Lord gave himself to us as a source of living water. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!” Evangelii Gaudium, 86

In this series of posts, “From the Mission Field”, I am sharing some inspiring stories… people open to the Holy Spirit, allowing him to do amazing things in their corner of the world. May these stories encourage us to keep fanning into flames the little fires we’re starting in our own little corners…

#2 Evangelising Birmingham – Collette Power

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I met Collette a few years ago at a Youth 2000 leaders’ weekend: straight away, it was like meeting a kindred spirit. As soon as I mentioned I worked for a parish in Balham, Collette shared her own passionate love for evangelisation, and we were off…

Collette is 26 and lives and works in the Archdiocese of Birmingham. Over the last few years she has led and developed the 2nd Friday project in Birmingham, a lay-led young adults’ movement with a focus on discipleship and evangelisation. She has now turned more towards parish ministry as well as freelance social communications work for the Church.

Collette, give us a snapshot of some of the evangelisation initiatives in your parish and in Birmingham – what’s going on?

During the two and a half years I led 2nd Friday, a small team of us – through the power of the Spirit – grew the group from six to over 100 young adults at each meeting. The meetings included Confessions, Mass and Adoration, teaching and fellowship. The focus at 2nd Friday has always been recognising how isolating it can be to be a young adult in many of our parishes, gathering young adults together for fellowship and formation and then sending them back to their parishes and places of work and study to bear fruit. We encouraged various works of evangelisation such as running the first NightFever in Birmingham, creating Scripture resources, founding the UK’s first March For Life, running a Life in the Spirit series, hosting a Youth 2000 retreat and much more.

This is separate from what I’m doing in my parish. Within the parish, I think you could sum up our work in one sentence: “If we aren’t leading people closer to Jesus, we are wasting our time.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Here are three highlights of the last year: each is incredibly basic in approach, but going back-to-basics has sparked something of a renewal across the parish…

We held a study group on finding God in the workplace and we witnessed some really beautiful conversions here. It was amazing to see parishioners realise that God wants a relationship with them Monday-Friday as well as weekends. Work is meaningful to God and He desires to meet people there.

Another little thing was offering parishioners something on daily prayer. We printed a sheet with a brief outline for morning and evening prayer and taught the parish to pray. People were encouraged just to add one minute in prayer to the start and end of the day in prayer and to increase this as they felt more at ease in God’s presence.

Finally during Lent, we organised a Life in the Spirit-style series, with the simple aim of helping parishioners have a more personal encounter with Christ. Each week we met for adoration, fellowship and a talk on the basic message of the Gospel. We were blessed with about 60-70 parishioners coming each week, including many who don’t do “extra-curricular”, lapsed Catholics and also evangelical Christians from the local churches. The climax was a night of renewing or making our commitment to Christ. I was moved to tears as I witnessed parishioners dashing to the foot of the altar to say yes to Jesus. About 120+ people attended this session and it was an incredibly graced moment in the life of the parish.

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These sessions also set a compass for “where next?” I was blown away at the final session when parishioners (and some of the unlikeliest people) were firing out ideas for mission. “We need to get out there and share Jesus with the whole of our town” was the common theme. It highlighted for me, what Pope Francis talks of in Evangelii Gaudium about an evangelising community going out in boldness because they know the Lord loves them and He takes the initiative. There is definitely an air of ‘holy boldness’ about the Church at the moment.

Going forward, we have a parish and school mission with the parish community next month. We are also looking at increasing adoration in the parish and are in the process of establishing cell groups.

Has it always been like this? How did it all begin?

No, it hasn’t always been like this. I left my parish to seek fellowship with other Catholics my own age and to grow in my faith. In doing this, I realised that there was very little on offer in my diocese for people my age and I ended up being asked to look after 2nd Friday. This was a catalyst for a whirlwind of young adult formation, activity and evangelisation in our diocese. In recent months I have felt called back into my parish to minister and witness in this setting. I would say the catalyst for renewal in the parish has been a small group of intentional disciples and our parish priest. We have got over “numbers”, focusing instead on growing this small group of disciples and in 12 months we have seen a domino effect in the parish as more and more people thirst to really know Christ. The witness of a life lived for Christ is very powerful and very attractive.

I think it begins when you recognise something is missing or not right in your community and you realise that you are being called to respond to that situation or need. At 2nd Friday there was the realisation that there was very little on offer for young adults in our diocese. In the parish, it was the realisation that we needed to renew our relationship with Christ, we needed to cultivate discipleship.

I truly believe that God places you in certain settings and shows you certain things because he desires you to do something about. Feel annoyed that there are no young people in the church? Does it irritate you that you have to travel outside of your parish to get faith formation? Maybe you wished your parish had more outreach to the poor or even a NightFever. Whatever it is, take it as a personal invitation from Christ to remedy that ill. He has no hands but yours. That’s how any mission starts…

Can you tell a couple of stories where you could see the Holy Spirit working? What has God done?

Parish mission flyer

Parish mission flyer

There are four stories (among many others) that I want to mention…

2nd Friday was really a beautiful gift from God. I was asked to look after the project, not even a year after coming back to the Church. I felt completely out of my depth but I begged God to send me young people and my, did He deliver! The Lord sent young people in their abundance, he sent priests to minister to us and he sent all the resources we needed to do his work.

Another story: years ago we hosted the UK’s first “March for Life” rather unintentionally. What started as a local event to mark the halfway point in our 40 days for Life campaign, ended up on Facebook six weeks before the event and we were soon welcoming people from across the UK. We had six weeks and no money to pull off this event; but through the power of prayer, the Lord sent us everything we needed. It was a testing time for all involved and we spent the best part of that six weeks storming heaven, but the Lord answered our prayers so beautifully and each time we received something we were back on our knees praising! “Thank you God for that power generator”; “We bless you Lord for sending us more helium”. The holy high we had at the end of the March was indescribable.

Another amazing thing that happened in the last few years: my friend, Lise and I founded a blog called ‘Generation Benedict’ in the wake of Pope Benedict’s abdication as a response to all of the negative press. The blog simply shared the stories of young people whose life had been impacted by the ministry of Pope Benedict. What began as a little idea quickly went “viral” and we were fielding interviews from across the world on the “youth and B16”. The blog was later nominated for a new media award and we received correspondence from the Vatican thanking us for our work. The whole project highlighted to me how God can use social media in such a powerful way to spread the Gospel and I’ve been hooked ever since!

Finally, we ran Nightfever in the parish about 18 months ago with the help of Youth 2000. It had an incredible effect on the parish, particularly how it renewed belief in the power of the Blessed Sacrament. It also made a great impression on our parish priest, who was initially very resistant to hosting Nightfever. He talked at Mass after the event of how the Lord changed his heart that night and how we just need to get out there and share the Gospel because people need it and God will equip us. This had a profound effect on the life and mission of the parish.

In your view, what are some of the key ingredients to fruitful evangelisation?

March for Life

March for Life

Prayer, prayer and prayer: essential! Pope Francis has often spoke about evangelisation starting on our knees in prayer, and this is so true. In prayer you cultivate your personal relationship with Christ and this is vital. Once your life has been touched by the life and love of the Risen Christ, you can’t help but want to share it with others. Prayer is also a vital place to test ideas for mission. Evangelisation is God’s work, we are just his instruments so we must always ask, “Lord is this what you want? Lord show me your will. Show me what you desire for our parish…”

I also think a passion for God’s people is another essential. When you launch a new initiative or project, it isn’t about ticking a box, it involves real people. Working with people can be really messy but God desires to enter this mess and it is where he works best. A passion for people means never giving up on a soul because the Lord thirsts for that person more than we can ever begin to imagine and he desires to use us to lead that person to Him.

Finally surround yourself with a good team! I am very blessed to have some close friends and priests in my life, to bounce ideas off, sharpen vision for certain projects and just pray together. We share a lot of the same desires and it is great to be able to encourage, challenge and inspire each other as we seek to do the Lord’s work.

From the outside, evangelisation in Birmingham seems to be flourishing… But what are some of the most difficult things that confront you? What discourages you and how do you deal with discouragement?

Youth 2000 Retreat

Youth 2000 Retreat

I think one of the hardest things is resistance to anything new in the life of the Church. You expect it from people outside the Church but when it comes from the people who should be on the same team: that’s tough. But I think that is probably a common experience across the Church and one that doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I find criticism of what we do and even of what we aren’t doing hard but my response to that will always be “so what are you going to do about it?” The call to build the Kingdom is given to everyone, not just a few. If you aren’t happy that something isn’t happening in your parish or diocese, then maybe God is calling on you to do something about it.

I think one of God’s best gifts to remedy this has been working with an incredibly supportive Archbishop and also with Priests who have got your back. Archbishop Bernard has always been a great supporter of our apostolate, he would personally invite young people to 2nd Friday when visiting parishes across the diocese and would write and speak about our various initiatives. Unity with the our Bishop has always been important in our apostolate and knowing he supports our work, gives me a confidence that we are on the right path and helped me rise above difficulty and discouragement. In the parish setting, the support of a priest who believes in his young people and gives them real responsibility for mission in the parish because he values the gifts God has given them is a great remedy to discouragement. This unity with the Church brings a great peace in the face of difficulty.

How do you balance your work in evangelisation and the rest of your life?

To pay the bills, I work part time for Clinique at the moment. I don’t think “balancing” features in my vocab. To evangelise and share the good news of Jesus is such an integral part of my baptismal calling – it is hard to separate “evangelisation” and “life” because they are so closely tied. Through my secular employment, God has entrusted me this mission field and affords me many opportunities to share the Gospel here. For many people I am the only contact they have with the Church. So I pray for moments to share the Gospel throughout the day and to be able to spot the opportunities given to me to witness to the Gospel. The other night I was at an Irish Dance class (it is one way I take “time out” from Church “stuff”) but even in that class I ended up having a conversation with two ladies about IVF and contraception. I was able to speak about the beauty of the Church’s teaching into this situation and it just illustrated to me, we don’t get time off from the mission, even if we try!

If you had one piece of advice to a budding evangelist who wants to ignite a blaze, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid of doing something new for the sake of the Gospel. It’s from the Lord, he will send you all you need to accomplish it. I truly believe God honours those who seek to do His work; be confident that God has got your back. As the Popes have often reminded the youth, the Church needs your creativity, generosity and enthusiasm today not tomorrow. So be bold and dream big! And always stay close to the Church and your priests.

Any final words…?

Love Jesus. Love His Church. Love His people.


Evangelisation: From the Mission Field #1

stag4clemente

“‘In the desert, people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive’ (Benedict XVI). In these situations we are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink. At times, this becomes a heavy cross, but it was from the cross, from his pierced side, that our Lord gave himself to us as a source of living water. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!” Evangelii Gaudium, 86

Anyone in need of some ENCOURAGEMENT?!

In this new series of posts, “From the Mission Field”, I want to share some of what I can see the Holy Spirit doing through some wonderful people around the country. These are just some people I have come across, whose openness to the Holy Spirit is achieving marvels that most will never hear about.

Here, I ask them about how they evangelise in their corner of the world, what God is doing, and how they face challenges and discouragement. My hope is that it will bring you courage as you evangelise in your own corner of the vineyard…

#1 Salisbury Youth Ministry – Xanthe Dell

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So, kicking off with youth ministry… I first met Xanie on a week’s silent retreat in France. She was accompanied by several teenagers (kinda normal for Xanie). Being in silence, we didn’t speak to each other the whole week, but at the end I felt like I knew her as a sister in Christ. I haven’t stopped being impressed by her ever since…

Xanthe is a Deanery youth worker in Salisbury, a role which includes chaplaincy work in a secondary school. She is mum to Daisy (16) and just celebrated three years as a Catholic.

Xanie, we hear amazing things about the youth ministry in Salisbury. What do you have happening? 

We have five weekly groups for varying ages, a monthly youth Mass and retreats here, there and everywhere, and seasonal activities.

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We’ve also started a mission team, called ‘The Third Hour’. The idea came from a visit we did to Nailsea for a youth Mass. Sadly not too many young people came at that time from the parish, but it did strike me that we seemed to have a complete mobile youth Mass on our minibus (except the priest!). The next thing that prompted us was that convincing our Confirmation group to come on Youth 2000 retreats seemed so difficult. I realised that because they had never experienced any sort of youth retreat, they couldn’t raise enthusiasm to come along. The two slipped together and so we try to take a mini youth retreat to young people in other parishes, in the comfort of their own church. The lovely thing is that it is not just a Salisbury based team now, young people from all over the country come to help out running the programme. There is still some polishing up to do to make it smooth and professional but the impact is powerful.

Has it always been like this? How did it all begin?

Fr Tom (Dubois) started three of the groups: a youth SVP, ‘Source’ for young people aged 10-14, and ‘Upper Room’ once a fortnight for those age 15 and up. It was those very small groups that really became the foundation of the youth ministry. It doesnt matter how fantastic your programme is or how dynamic you are as a youth leader – you need a few enthusiastic young people to start things off. It is the young people who bring the other young people in.

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Where have you seen the Holy Spirit working? What has God done?

I think the most powerful work of the Holy Spirit I see is the transformation of some of these young people through the sacrament of reconciliation. The more they struggle to take themselves into Confession, the more they seem to receive from going – it is truly beautiful to see them emerge unburdened and free and always deeply touches me.  

There are times when you see the light of Christ just come alive in them – when you get a text at 1am in the morning because they have just had the most special time of prayer, or have just had a deep conversation with an atheist friend and they are desperate just to share that.

Those times when you think no one is getting it, that everyone seems to be turning their back on their faith, and then 10 young people walk in for a weekday Mass just because they can – that’s amazing. So many graced moments.

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One that particularly stands out to me was during a session that I do at the school for girls. The girls had a piece of cord with a crucifix on the end, the idea was to tie a knot in the cord for every worry or burden they were carrying and then to pray a Hail Mary on each of the knots all day, keeping the cord in their pockets. One girl I noticed had run out of cord there were so many knots, I asked her if she really had that many problems or had she just got carried away. She started to tell the saddest story to the group: her father had left, her mother couldnt keep her older brother out of trouble and he was potentially going to be taken into care. When I looked around I noticed the girls had all started tying another knot in their cords, I looked puzzled but one of them explained that they were going to be praying for this girl’s burden too. I was so touched by the beauty of this unspoken understanding and compassion from mostly unchurched children that it still gives me a lump in my throat.

In your view, what are some of the key ingredients to fruitful youth ministry?

Christ and prayer. It may sound obvious, but I get a lot of pressure from parents to provide table tennis or pizza nights.

While this has its place, Jesus has to be the centre of everything we do here. The moment I push Jesus to one side I’m not serving any purpose other than being a child-sitter. There is the misconception that if you mention Christ, all young people will run in the opposite direction. The reverse is true – if all we do is just whisper his name in an opening and closing prayer, we are saying that this is not going to interest you; what we have is not important or worthwhile. It is now very countercultural to be religious! Shout about it and they will too. When we dilute our faith for young people the flavour that is the desirable part is what we remove.

SYC2From the outside, the youth ministry in Salisbury seems to be flourishing. But what are some of the most difficult things about it? What discourages you and how do you deal with discouragement?

The hardest part is when you see young people who have had an intimate encounter with Christ still turn away at times – this breaks my heart, but over time I have come to realize that sometimes God lets them choose: like the Prodigal Son they come back stronger, more focussed, more in awe and with a real first hand knowledge of just how merciful God can be. Even knowing this it still breaks me to see it.

The lack of parental support for their children’s faith is quite often an issue too. While I see so many parents sitting without their children at Mass, praying for them to come back, there are just as many that see swimming or ballet or the Duke of Edinburgh award as far more important than anything that is happening in church. There seems to be a fear that they will become too religious, which surprises and saddens me. There is a huge opportunity for someone to evangelise the parents though!

Is work-life balance important in youth ministry and how do you manage this?

The straight answer is, I dont! They are merged into one. It is not a job that fits neatly into set hours and days, I am available 24/7 and they know that. If Im cooking a meal and three young people show up, they join us. Some of the older over 18s have a key to my house and it is not unusual to find them sitting round my table having a cup of tea and a chat or watching a film when I come home. Its never been abused. It is an open door and thats the only way I can find it works for me. It wouldnt work for everyone and Im blessed to be in a position to give in this way. Its very difficult to differentiate between work and service. Do I stop being a Christian at 10pm on a Sunday evening even if I’m not being a youth worker? It is something that became too tricky to separate. I know the signs now of burning out and I take myself off to a convent or retreat somewhere and restore and refill.

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If you had one piece of advice to a youth minister just setting out, what would it be?

Just one – live what you teach! If you are not going to Mass or Confession or living a moral life, its very hard to bring others to do it either. Your own relationship with God should be given more importance than the young people’s. It is always God who does the work through us, we are just a pen in His hand, writing on someone else’s page. We have to pray to be a useful tool and not a hindrance to what He wishes to do in these young people’s lives. When I’m living as I should then I can trust the things that dont always look so good are all in His hands.

Any final words…?

I once read a youth ministry article asking, ‘would you die for your young people?’ Its a big ask; far harder and more rewarding I think is to live for them. We are always given the patience and wisdom that we need for that young person at that moment. So many times I have looked to God aghast saying, “Well, you put me here, help me! and always, always He does. 

(Photos courtesy of Salisbury Young Catholics; used with permission.)


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)


Lent, the Year of Faith, and an unusual time for the Church

Lent feels somewhat different this year, somehow more intense and real. When the Holy Father made his announcement, one thing that struck so many of us was how much more intensely we need to pray for him, for the bishops, and for the whole Church. For me, it was a bit of a wake-up call to the greater sacrifices and prayer we need to contribute to the communion of the Church. I wonder whether this has made Lent, for many of us, a more significant one this year… we have entered it at a seemingly vulnerable time for the Church, yet knowing that Christ is always victorious (as Pope Benedict said to the priests of Rome recently).

Significant, too, is that this situation arises during the Year of Faith, a year of grace during which we return to the vision of the Council, the real Council which has, as the Holy Father also said recently, had “difficulty establishing itself and taking shape”. This Year, the Church is called to recommit to implementing the vision of this real Council. And this involves each one of us renewing our own faith.

Recently I came across this wonderful quotation from a talk given by Dr Caroline Farey, who clearly calls us back to the essence of renewing our own faith:

How is the heart ever going to know what is good if we don’t use our mind to inform the heart? Don’t let anyone say to you, ‘don’t worry about all that study, all you need is to get your heart united to Christ’. Yes, we need our hearts plunged in Christ… be led by Christ but let your mind be led by Christ through the Church so that your heart can follow what is actually good, and not just what is an awful lot of opinions of what must be good… The Catechism is there to help us.”

Renewing our mind through more rigorous study will lead to strengthening our commitment and love this Lent. And this is surely what the Lord and the Church need from us at this time: greater commitment and love.


January Quick Takes…

London's little sprinkling of snow...

London’s little sprinkling of snow…

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I had the wonderful opportunity recently to venerate the relics of St John Bosco in Westminster Cathedral. It was quite a quick, early Saturday morning visit with a few others from the Youth 2000 leadership team. St John Bosco is one of our patron Saints which is why we decided to make the visit together. For me, St John Bosco has the added significance of being a good patron for catechists. He is the patron, for example, of the wonderful Franciscan University catechetics conference. I was so inspired in the summer by Fr Louis Molinelli SDB, a Salesian who gave a brilliant presentation at Franciscan on the use of St John Bosco’s preventive system, an inspiring pastoral method of evangelising young souls. These are principles I have tried to encourage our own Confirmation catechists and youth leaders to foster in the way that we pastor and relate to our young people. So, kneeling beside St John Bosco’s relics, I had the young people of Youth 2000 in my heart as well as the young people in our sacramental programmes. He had a wonderful gift I pray we could see in today’s youth ministers – let’s pray for God to raise up more evangelists of the young in our own day!

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Wow – so, who’s seen Les Miserables?! I would go so far as to say – “life-changing”! It was absolutely sensational, wasn’t it?! Here is the human person, presented in his relation to God, raw and real, not distorted through a post-modern twisting of human nature. The film very beautifully portrays the moving themes of this rich story: ultimately, a story of redemption, the strength of love and mercy over justice and law, the story of grace and of having the humility to receive it. The emotional power of the film (the bitter plight of poverty, the agony of love, the pathos of the cruel treatment of the downtrodden) means that you leave the cinema emotionally exhausted but revitalised by a true, beautiful vision of what being human means.

There are many, many images here that can be used for catechesis: in particular, the unexpected and freely given gift of mercy to Jean Valjean at the beginning which renews his dignity and gives him a new beginning, which he later extends to Javert, but who is unable to accept it.

Overall, it’s wonderful that we have a film whose worldview includes the existence of God, the soul, and Heaven. I’m happy that millions of people will spend 3 hours watching a film with this presupposition. The more this seeps into culture and people’s mindsets, the better… After all, they were made for him 🙂

Here’s Fr Robert Barron’s commentary… (spoilers alert!)

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Finally, I’ve just discovered this awesomeness: check it out!


Marriage as a path to holiness

I have already written about this from different angles. In this post, I want to offer a married couple as a model for holiness. Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St Therese, are often referred to, and when I was researching for the recent Faith Matters talk, I came across this inspiring, French-Canadian couple (not yet beatified) who were in the diplomatic service: Georges and Pauline Vanier.

This couple shows us that holiness means fulfilling the duties of your state in life and your profession to the best of your ability. Georges Vanier went into the diplomatic service after the First World War in which he had served. During the War, he had had his right leg amputated and suffered pain from the wound for the rest of his life. When he was invited to become the Governor-General of Canada, he accepted this appointment despite his constant pain. One friend commented: “Good heavens, Vanier, you’ve already got one foot in the grave,” to which Georges replied, “I know, but it’s been there 41 years.” He said, “If God wants me to do this job, he will give me the strength.” This sense of service marked the Vaniers’ public and private lives. Recognising the importance of family life and discovering great joy in it themselves, they established the Vanier Institute for the Family, to give aid to families in need.
 
The Vaniers lived a life of entertaining prime ministers and dining with royalty and when, in the 30s, they lost much of their wealth, they had to continue to keep up appearances within all of these duties. Pauline Vanier stated that the hardship of these years had in fact been the best thing that happened to the children. She suffered from her own personal problems, tending to be highly strung and suffering from depression. Yet, without being overly pious, the couple quietly devoted time each day to prayer, meditation and spiritual reading. In relation to prayer Georges told his daughter: “We can all find time to do what we want.”
 
In the 50s, most of the Vanier children had grown up and left home – one became a doctor, one became a Cistercian monk, and one became a painter. Their fourth son, Jean, who had studied philosophy in Paris, later found his own vocation – he bought a house near Paris and took two men with mental disabilities to live with him – this was the beginning of the L’Arche community, where Pauline Vanier herself would go to live towards the end of her life.
 
There is nothing remarkable in the Vaniers’ life, which I think should be encouraging for us. As husband and wife, they were faithful in carrying out their duties both within their family and professional life. In this faithfulness, we can see what the kingly aspect of our baptismal vocation looks like – to govern and bring order within our lives and the field in which we work. Lumen Gentium explains this by saying, “it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will” (LG 31).
 
Finally, it could be said of the Vaniers that they grew in holiness together. Georges experienced a spiritual awakening in 1938, after which he resolved to accompany Pauline to Mass each day and did so until his last days. Their friends said of them, “We always think of them together”. It is true of all of us – whether married or single – that we grow in God’s life with others. In relationship with others we are in the image of God because that is who God is – an eternal relationship of three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a life of endless joy we are invited to share.


More Saints

Continuing the theme of some wonderful twentieth-century saints, here is some more on my personal favourite, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Again, I gave this talk at the Faith Matters series.

My second example is a young man from Turin, Italy, who was blessed with many qualities that are valued in today’s world: a great personality, good looks, a strong education, athletic ability, social status and wealth: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. In Blessed Pier Giorgio’s life, we see that holiness means witnessing to Christ in every part of your life – even the hidden parts. The Church teaches us in Lumen Gentium that when lay people witness to Christ it has “peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world” (LG 35) and this was definitely true of Pier Giorgio. His life was filled with parties, mountain-climbing and practical jokes – and yet all of this, because of his faithfulness to Christ, was marked by a deep holiness. I think his witness to Christ was stronger precisely because of his great passion for life.

It is true that Pier Giorgio achieved many heroic things: fascism was coming to power in Italy and he was known to be a political activist, often getting arrested in the midst of protests. He showed unbounded generosity towards the poor – for whom he saved the little money he was given by his father. His family and circle of friends suspected the kindness and charity he showed towards the poor of Turin, but little did they know of the vast number of poor he had helped: on the day of his funeral, a flood of the city’s poor came to pay their respects.

However, I want to suggest that what cost Pier Giorgio even more than this, were the more hidden sacrifices that he made. He came from an unhappy, rich and not very religious family – an authoritarian father and a highly critical mother. And in this context he suffered a lot. He relinquished his strong desire to marry a young woman of whom he knew his mother would disapprove, saying, “Why create one family to tear apart another?” Again, when his father planned a career for his son at the newspaper he owned, Pier Giorgio accepted despite this path being contrary to everything he wanted for himself: “Do you think this will please Papa?” he asked the friend who passed on the news. When he nodded, Pier Giorgio replied, “Well, tell him I accept.”

In Pier Giorgio’s life we see the prophetic role of our baptismal vocation. When we proclaim Christ in the ordinary circumstances of our lives, when we evangelise very simply through friendships and through showing the attractiveness of the Christian life, and when we are unashamed to defend our faith, we are acting as prophets, the second part of our baptismal calling.

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I would add to this that I highly recommend the book written by his sister Luciana Frassati on his life, A Man of the Beatitudes. Many incidents in this book show with poignancy the deep emotions Pier Giorgio felt, especially towards those he loved. Often we think of Christian love as predominantly charity and rarely hear about the saints’ deeply emotional (or what would be classed as eros) love for those in their lives. Pier Giorgio was definitely a saint who loved much.