Category Archives: Church

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”.


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.”

Pope Francis, we love you already!


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!



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.

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.

Catechesis on the Church

20120201-145310.jpgWhen I was around 17 or 18, I helped out with a youth day in my parish. The theme of the day was the Church and it included catechesis, games and quizzes all related to the Church.

All day I knew something was wrong – and now I can articulate what troubled me then. When the catechists spoke of the Church, they meant simply the ‘human’ element. The young people were encouraged in ‘gift affirmation’ exercises – affirming the personal gifts they brought to the Church; games centred around the different ‘body parts’ of the Church from St Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians; the overarching message of the day was that “everyone is special and has something to give”.

A Headless Church
Now I can tell you what was wrong – the Church these young people were being taught about was a Church with every body part imaginable, but with no Head. Very little, if any, mention was made of Christ. Absolutely no mention was made of the divine element of the Church.

This sounds all-too-familiar, doesn’t it? Catechesis that focusses on the human without moving beyond to the divine. Catechesis that is human-centred and more concerned with self-esteem than with what God has revealed about our salvation. What the catechists had forgotten was that what is visible (i.e. the institution and members of the Church) is a sign or sacrament of what is invisible – the divine life Christ wants us to enter into, through the Church.

Now I would suggest the following points are foundational when giving catechesis on the Church:

1. The close bond between the Church, the mystery of Christ and the Paschal Mystery: Christ lays down his life for his Bride, the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, 5)

This really must be the proclamation of the catechesis – Christ has died for us, and we receive His life in the Church. The YouCat is wonderful for proclaiming the Faith in succinct, expressive statements – “Jesus Christ loves the Church as a bridegroom loves his bride. He binds himself to her forever and gives his life for her” (YC 127).

2. The Church makes visible the light of Christ (cf. LG, 1)

Again, the YouCat has it, “The Church is God’s presence among us men” (121). She is a sacrament of Christ. Just as wherever Jesus went, heaven touched earth, so with the Church she is “a formidable bit of heaven on earth” (123).

What analogies can we use to teach this? The best I can think of is the analogy of the human person – someone’s body (a smile, a frown, an embrace) reveals their soul. We have to get to know someone to ‘read’ the signs of what is inside them, so to speak. It’s the same with the Church – the visible reveals the invisible. As the YouCat puts it,

“True love does not blind a person, but rather makes him see. With regard to the Church, this is precisely the case: Viewed from outside, the Church is only a historical institution with historical achievements … But that is not looking deep enough” (124)

3. The Body of Christ receives grace from its Head, Christ (cf. LG, 7)

Christ is inseparable from His Church. This is hard for young people to grasp – despite the sometimes great sins of her members, Christ has made “an inseparable union” between himself and the Church.

4. “The Church is the place in the world where the Holy Spirit is completely present” (128)

I love this line. The Father and the Son have lavished the Church with all of their Love. We explain to our Confirmation candidates that the Gift of the Spirit is poured out on them so that they will belong completely to Christ, fully part of the Church. And this is why the Spirit is sent.