Category Archives: Foundational Truths

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”.

 


Quick Takes…

7-Nightfever

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I love what Mgr. Charles Pope has written in this article on the plan he’s made for children’s catechesis in his parish. What I love most is his realisation…

It became clear to me in that moment that we could no longer do business as usual when it came to catechesis.

I love it because it is so courageous to stand back, look at what you’re doing (which you may have thought is GREAT for so long) and to say – in all honesty – is this working? What Mgr. Pope identifies as key is telling the kerygma. He does it in three sections – Sin – Redemption – Grace. It seems to me that sometimes the most effective plans for catechesis are the most simple.

~2~

I stumbled across Mgr Pope’s article on the Forming Intentional Disciples Facebook Forum, which, if you have not been there yet — is BUZZING. Go and check it out! I cannot keep up with it, truth be told, let alone enter into any of the great discussions happening on there. If I get sick for a week or so, that’s where I’d be spending my time 😉

~3~

In Portsmouth we’re excited that Sherry Weddell will actually be visiting us next June (cannot contain my excitement in fact). Even sooner than that, though, we have Jeff Cavins, creator of the Great Adventure Bible Timeline, gracing our cathedral on 14th November – more details here.

~4~

Just published by CTS is Fr Stephen Wang’s, The New Evangelisation: What it is and how to do it. I’ve started reading it and it’s excellent. There are also very practical examples of new evangelisation initiatives in the UK. A must read!

~5~

Finally, still on the topic of the new evangelisation, I leave you with this wonderful short clip of Nightfever. I cannot believe I have not even been to Nightfever yet, since so many of my friends in London coordinate it, and it takes place every six weeks in St Patrick’s, Soho – a church close to my heart. I am praying that one day we will be ready to host Nightfever in Portsmouth Cathedral – it is such a simple yet brilliant tool for the new evangelisation – inviting people off the streets to come into church, light a candle, come before Jesus. It is EXACTLY what Pope Francis is calling us to do.


The Enquiry Phase

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith

We had an interesting exchange here about the point of the enquiry period of the RCIA. I know of few parishes who even do this, and I feel it is one of the most important parts to get right in RCIA.

I’ve been at RCIA sessions before that are sound and rich in doctrine, and yet because of a lack of affective, spiritual conversion within the participants, little impact is made. It’s like a puddle of water sitting on the surface of the earth without sinking in.

So, I thought it would be good to revisit the principles of this phase – which I believe should be part of a good Confirmation programme, too.

The RCIA tells us that, before they are ready to celebrate the Rite of Acceptance, “the beginnings of the spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teaching have taken root in the candidates” (RCIA, 42). What is meant by “beginnings of the spiritual life”? The rest of the paragraph gives more information: there “must be evidence of the first faith” and there “must also be evidence of the first stirrings of repentance”.

In other words, there must be an initial adherence to Jesus Christ, the beginnings of a relationship with Him, the initial desire to give our life over to Him.

“First faith” is someone’s spiritual awakening, the realisation that “Jesus is Lord.” This simultaneously causes the “first stirrings of repentance”. Part of the process of adhering to Jesus, is seeing our life in His light, and repenting of our sin.

In my understanding, I think this corresponds somewhere between the third threshold (openness) and fourth threshold (seeking) in Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples (see one of my posts on this great book here). It is the bridge between passive curiosity and active seeking. We encounter Christ, begin to ‘fall for Him’, and want to take things further. As one RCIA leader put it, the enquiry phase is the “dating” phase.

Everything in the enquiry phase, therefore, is introducing someone to Jesus, inviting them to “taste and see” his goodness, to lead them to an encounter with him. And to remove any obstacles that may be in the way of this encounter.

As RCIA 37 puts it –

“From evangelisation, completed with the help of God, come the faith and initial conversion that cause a person to feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God’s love. The whole period of the precatechumenate is set aside for this evangelisation, so that the genuine will to follow Christ and seek Baptism may mature”

My experience in the parish was that, once we established an enquiry phase and gave people time for this to happen, the fruits of the Catechumenate were far, far greater. It was like the earth was turned over and the water could sink in.

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In contrast, what do we typically see in parishes? (Here I’m thinking of parishes with a doctrinally solid RCIA.) I think sometimes we see adults receiving catechesis that is too advanced, too soon. They listen to a wonderfully rich exposition of the “four marks of the Church”. But, without a growing relationship with Christ, do they know what this means for their life? Or is it like water sitting on hard earth which will soon float away? All doctrine needs to nourish spiritual life. If the interior life is not yet there, teaching doctrine (unless in a deeply evangelistic way) will have little effect.

So, what do we need to do in the enquiry phase? In our precatechumenate, we started with some simple sessions: ‘What is faith? Why do we need it?’; ‘What is the purpose of my life?’; ‘How can we know God?’; ‘Why did God create?’ We focussed on getting to know people, building community (the first threshold is establishing trust), answering apologetics issues that arose (the child abuse scandal; the problem of evil), helping people to establish a prayer life (bringing them every week – even the first week – for a short time of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament). We can ask catechists or guest parishioners to share their testimony. We can read through one of the Gospels together. We need to try and stay utterly focussed on Christ.

Once again, I think Pope Francis’s words in Brazil speak powerfully to this phase of the RCIA:

We are impatient, anxious to see the whole picture, but God lets us see things slowly, quietly. The Church also has to learn how to wait.

Only the beauty of God can attract. God’s way is through enticement, allure. God lets himself be brought home. He awakens in us a desire to keep him and his life in our homes, in our hearts. He reawakens in us a desire to call our neighbours in order to make known his beauty.


Pope Francis Gold Dust II – Creativity and the Motherhood of the Church

Photo courtesy of tacticdesigns

Photo courtesy of tacticdesigns

Here’s some more ‘gold dust’ from Pope Francis’ address to the Brazilian bishops.

This weekend in the Catholic Herald, Bishop Philip speaks about how we do not need more ‘tradition’ to further the new evangelisation, but rather more creativity. We can get hung up on structures (something that Pope  John Paul II also warned against brilliantly in Novo Millenio Ineunte).

Getting hung up on structures happens at every point of the Catholic “spectrum”: those who think if we use a particular textbook or catechetical method it will solve all our problems; those who are wedded to bureaucracy because it makes everything easier to ‘control’ or manage; those who see ‘roles’ within the Church in terms of ecclesiological power, rather than in the context of vocation or following the Lord’s call. Structures gradually suck life out of our faith if we allow them to.

Pope Francis speaks about it brilliantly:

“Dear brothers, the results of our pastoral work do not depend on a wealth of resources, but on the creativity of love. To be sure, perseverance, effort, hard work, planning and organization all have their place, but first and foremost we need to realize that the Church’s power does not reside in herself; it is hidden in the deep waters of God, into which she is called to cast her nets.”

This has implications for all our pastoral work. I think it’s important we never get into the mindset of thinking that a pastoral need must be met because a box has been ticked, provision has been supplied in the words of a document. No – careful planning can never replace the love, compassion, mercy God awakes in our hearts to respond to the needs of another. Even if it falls outside our hours of work, outside our remit, on our day off. All of us who evangelise, who catechise, participate in the Church’s Motherhood – who is awake day and night bringing forth life…

“Concerning pastoral conversion, I would like to recall that “pastoral care” is nothing other than the exercise of the Church’s motherhood. She gives birth, suckles, gives growth, corrects, nourishes and leads by the hand … So we need a Church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy. Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of “wounded” persons in need of understanding, forgiveness, love.”


Some Quick Takes…

Sunny Portsmouth

Sunny Portsmouth

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A quick Sunday night post… After a celebration-filled, sunny and super-contented weekend with family… Couldn’t we all do with a few more of those?!

– 1 –

Happy Pro-Life Story: This is a real heartwarmer.

Adoption isn’t a quick and easy process, however, so let’s keep everyone concerned in our prayers.

– 2 –

Faith in the Family: I am proud to say that this wonderful new booklet, produced by CTS, was compiled in my wonderful, old parish. It is based on a very popular series of around 25 sessions for parents which ran each year at Holy Ghost for many years. These sessions were basic catechesis for parents; each one included practical tips for passing on the faith in the home. The book was authored by Anne Burke-Gaffney, one of a team of amazing catechists, with whom I was privileged to work at Holy Ghost. Surely one of the best parishes in the UK 🙂

– 3 –

Welcoming Lumen Fidei: Here is a message from our Bishop, welcoming the new encyclical, Lumen Fidei.

It’s a good and helpful read – I hope you get to enjoy it 🙂


Organic Catechesis

Box-of-organic-vegetables-001

Well, I’m back again at the seminary doing my annual “catechetics-in-three-days” with seminarians who are doing an extended placement next year.

Much of what I am teaching is guided by the understanding in Weigel’s recent book that we are – and need to promote – moving into a model of ‘evangelical Catholicism’. The key points of Sherry Weddell’s book also fit very well into theme, especially what she writes about moving from an infant paradigm of catechesis into an adult paradigm. This leads to an interesting question – To what extent is moving to an adult paradigm for catechesis essential for ‘evangelical Catholicism’? DISCUSS! (Thank the Lord I am not a full-time teacher – I would be a nightmare!)

It is amazing what we have covered in a short space of time. We began with the Pedagogy of God in Part 3 Chapter 1 of the General Directory, which then became the overarching theme of everything else. The pedagogy of God really blows your mind when you think deeply about it, and transforms your understanding of catechesis. (Why is it that so few practitioners speak/write about it?!) We have used Mgr Francis Kelly a lot – examining his five goals of catechesis, and the ecclesial method.

Yes – I know – writers I’ve mentioned on here gazillions of times…

One of the exercises we did concerned ‘organic catechesis’. (This is part of ‘Catechesis 101’ if this is all Greek to you!) By organic catechesis, I don’t mean rustic focal pieces draped with greenery. Because in catechesis we hand on the Person of Christ, not just a stack of facts about the faith, it is important that we show the interconnections between the doctrines of the Faith. They are all connected in the Person of Christ. If we are teaching someone about a person, everything about their personality, characteristics, are connected. A list of unconnected bullet points will not reveal much about them. But telling the whole story behind them will. So, any doctrine needs to be linked into the ‘big picture’.

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A big old tree is a helpful image to have. The healthiness of its leaves depends on the firmness of its trunk. The ‘trunk’ is those truths of our faith which are ‘foundational’ – without these foundational truths we would not have the rest of the Faith. These are also sometimes called the ‘golden threads’ which run through the Catechism – on every single page you will find these foundational truths. What are these foundational truths? (Can you work this out?!)

In case it’s too late in the day to do much theological pondering, here they are…

  1. The Blessed Trinity
  2. The dignity of the human person
  3. The Incarnation – the Person of Christ
  4. The Paschal Mystery
  5. The Church

Whatever we teach – whether it’s doctrine on Purgatory, or the communion of saints, or openness to life within marriage – it is good to connect this doctrine to each of these foundational truths. It guarantees that we are teaching this doctrine within the whole picture of the Faith, and especially, teaching the whole Person of Christ. This ensures a rich, organic transmission of the faith. Read more in The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis.


Pope Francis, we love you already!

pope

People, I’M BACK!

Two exciting things happened recently… Not only did we get a new Pope in the person of Pope Francis (whom I LOVE already), I also got wifi up and running in my new, Portsmouth flat, which I’ve survived without for around three weeks now. So I can blog and tell you how much I love our new Holy Father.

The number of images and words we’ve seen about him over the last 24 hours truly boggles the mind. So, I’m giving you my favourite quote and my favourite picture.

First, the quotation:

We need to come out of ourselves and head for the periphery. We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a Church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But is the Church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets and a sick withdrawn Church, I would definitely choose the first one. (Cardinal Bergoglio 2012 – Pope Francis)

Yes yes yes! I cannot tell you how much I love this. Who will draw people in unless we do?

And the picture: he chose to travel with the other cardinals on the coach – and not even in the front seat!

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I am so excited about what the Lord wishes to teach his Church in the person of this holy, humble, evangelistic man.

And, did I mention? My bishop’s on Twitter! The first UK bishop I believe… Follow him: @bishopegan – you won’t regret it 😉


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.


Teaching Life in Christ

man and woman

The last few months in the UK have led to numerous discussions – both challenging and fruitful – between Catholics and their family members, colleagues and friends. The Same Sex Couples Bill is in many ways a tragedy for Britain – revealing our collective lapse of memory concerning who the human person is and even the most basic notion of a natural law. Last Tuesday evening, many of us watched with sinking hearts a debate in which only a few voiced authentic reason. Hearing the emotional appeals of many others leads us to wonder whether, as a nation, we have forgotten how to “think”, how to do philosophy, how to use our minds to discern truth.

How do we speak about this issue with others? How, when we are enjoying a drink in the pub with a group of friends, and one person raises this subject, do we approach it?

This is exactly the question we addressed a couple of weeks ago in the parish in our parents’ programme. In the lead up to the evening, we put out an online survey asking parents ‘what are the challenging questions about the Faith that your children ask you?’ Of course, any question such as this is a hidden way of discovering the questions that the parents themselves are asking.

We have been blessed during this parents’ programme to have an average gathering of around 50-60 parents who, I am pleased to say, are not ‘usual suspects’, most of whom have not been to other adult formation in the parish. I was therefore really glad when someone on the night brought up the question of gay marriage, and how to discuss it with children, because 98% of children in our catechesis programmes (who are old enough to have heard about this debate) think that the Church is being ‘unfair’. All of them are from practising Catholic families, all of them go to good Catholic schools, all have weekly catechesis.

So, when our speaker came to offer an answer (and thanks be to God, it was none other than the can’t-help-but-always-agree-with-him apologist, Father Stephen Wang), it was like there was an enormous drumroll in the room and complete silence as we listened to his response.

Now, I am not going to do justice to it, because it was a really excellent response, and is summed up on Fr Stephen’s blog here. I have used this approach since when the topic has come up with cynical friends. It goes something like this:

Mostly, this question is broached as a question of fairness. If marriage is a ‘good thing’, which we are all agreeing it is, why shouldn’t gay couples have it open to them? The Church is discriminatory, unfair, cruel for not agreeing with this. However, the whole question needs to be turned around. The real question we should be asking is: what is marriage? At the heart of marriage has always been an understanding of sexual difference and complementarity. Saying that gay couples can get married is like saying a circle can be a square.

marriage

As I listened to the debate last week, it became strikingly clear that because we no longer accept a given reality in human nature, we can manipulate language to the reality we contrive.

All these arguments have been aired frequently and far more articulately than I have done here. My concern is catechesis: how do we teach people, and help them to accept, the reality of natural law, of human nature and dignity? In RCIA, we find that people often require a full 180 degree turn in their mindsets. They come from the mindset that demands, unreflectingly, fairness and equality at all costs. Gradually, with careful reasoning, clear teaching, and friendship, we need to help them to think more deeply. This is all part of the ‘third dimension’ of formation and the trickiest one, life in Christ. Life in Christ begins with a relationship with him, so unless that is there, we shouldn’t even begin on gay marriage. Don’t go there, whatever you do! I have seen this done in RCIA and it is not pretty. Only when someone falls in love with Him, will they have enough trust and enough grace (and hopefully sound reasoning too) to discern authentic truth in this area.


Catechetical Communion

My parish :)

My parish 🙂

I find that, when you are teaching the Faith in catechesis, because you are transmitting the Person of Christ, not just propositions about him, you share from the depths of your being with those you catechise, from your own reality as a ‘new creature’, as one redeemed in Christ’s blood. You are teaching very deeply from your own heart (the deepest centre of the person), from your own relationship with Christ. This in itself draws you very close to those you teach. They see you witness to them, opening yourself, and they tend to offer the same back to you. They share their lives deeply with you. The communion that catechesis creates, therefore, in the heart of the Blessed Trinity, is very beautiful and sacred.

I love this little chunk from the Lineamente (para 12) for the Synod that happened last October:

What is not believed or lived cannot be transmitted… The Gospel can only be transmitted on the basis of ‘being’ with Jesus and living with Jesus the experience of the Father, in the Spirit; and, in a corresponding way, of ‘feeling’ compelled to proclaim and share what is lived as a good and something positive and beautiful”

This week, my last in the parish, I feel very surrounded by this communion. Goodbyes are poignant but full of hope, too, at what God is doing. I have felt a torrent of love and received so many flowers, at one stage I was heaping them in my kitchen sink as I didn’t have enough vases. This time next week when I am actually moving I will probably be having a mascara-fest at the sadness of taking myself away from so much love and stepping into the unknown.

One of the things I will miss most of all is giving catechesis in a parish setting:

  • The joy of teaching and leading people through the RCIA process and seeing the Holy Spirit transform them;
  • I’ll especially miss the one-to-ones with people which always gives the opportunity of conversing more deeply and personally to the individual’s situation;
  • The excitement and creativity of a roomful of teenagers keeping you on your toes – the adventure of a constant attempt to let the message break through to them in new ways;
  • Sharing the highs and lows of teenagers – I find you can’t help loving them even when they, more than anyone else you catechise, will push you beyond what you thought were your limits;
  • Guiding my little group of 7-year-olds towards silent prayer in Come Follow Me and seeing them develop an interior life;
  • Nothing beats a hall packed with adults, excited and hungry to be nourished with Christ’s life-giving teaching;
  • Spending six evenings last term giving formation to new catechists was such a gift – what can be better than transmitting all that you have learnt which has formed you as a catechist with others?
  • All the difficult and messy situations which I’ve witness being transformed with prayer and the Holy Spirit’s power – small conversions, reconciliations, changes of heart;
  • Finally, all the ‘catechetical friendships’ in my parish and beyond – the blessing of many, many friendships forged in the mission of giving catechesis together

Thank you, Lord!

I could not have dreamt for myself a better job than I have been privileged to do these last three years. A little piece of my heart will always be here.