Category Archives: Laity

Quick Takes

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842

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Well, everyone, welcome to Holy Week. Some words before the Palm Sunday Procession today struck me:

“Let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city for our salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross, we may have a share also in his Resurrection…”

What struck me is that, if we are baptised, we are – in our very being, by grace – “partakers of the Cross”. This week, we are invited once again to enter into the Paschal Mystery and make it more deeply our own. If we are baptised, the Paschal Mystery is what characterises us. Therefore, it is almost a contradiction not to enter fully into Holy Week, not to celebrate “in our depths” the liturgies of this Week – this is “who” we are. So, let’s go with the Lord to the Cross this week, and say “yes” to the path of giving ourselves completely to the Father…

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On a slightly lighter note: let me introduce you to one of my sisters, Tess 🙂 (This photo was taken many moons ago…) She has recently started her own blog, At the Heart of the Home, which I encourage you to go and see. Lots of cute baby photos of my little nephew and thoughts and reflections on being a new wife and mother…

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Recently, I was reminded of a wonderful phrase (from de Lubac), “the Eucharist makes the Church”. It made me stop and wonder: how important this is when we think of evangelisation, when we think of drawing people into the Church. It is the Eucharist that points to, and also makes real, the communion between us. It is the Eucharist that effects the communion with God and each other that we all long for.

Mgr Kelly, in The Mystery We Proclaim, speaks of one of the goals of catechesis as community, or perhaps better to say, communion. Communion reminds us that we are called into the communion of the Blessed Trinity, which lifts our fellowship with others to a level of grace. This is the miracle of the Church! I often wonder at all the deep friendships I have in the Church, and think that I would not ‘naturally’ be friends with many of these people – but in the Church, through the Eucharist, we share a oneness and closeness that I don’t share with others who are perhaps more ‘naturally’ my friends.

This just reminds me that the Eucharist should be at the very heart of all our evangelising and catechising efforts. After all – everyone’s favourite! – CT, 5: “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.”

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Evangelising the culture is all about seizing on opportunities, being creative, and thinking outside the box… A good friend of mine lives and works in Poland, and they are doing just that for the upcoming canonisation of John Paul II: I just love some of these fab ideas: In addition to concerts, exhibitions, debates, and a documentary film, they are launching a JP2 app, an outdoor game (involving places all over the city visited by John Paul II), a JP2 wikipedia (“WikiJP2”), a 26-day spiritual workout Facebook initiative, and ‘I ❤ JP2’ luggage stickers to be distributed at airports! Fab, huh?! What a wonderful opportunity to evangelise in the public square.

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Finally, if you haven’t done so already, sign up for the Called and Gifted workshop (first one to happen in the UK!) which will be led by Sherry Weddell from 27-28 June. You can sign up here (please note the option for those who live outside the Diocese of Portsmouth).

 


“Where next?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Three Journeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is what it’s all about!

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

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


Happy New … Evangelisation

A Happy New Year, 2014, to all my readers!

Occasionally, I hear someone speak – in a homily or a talk – about evangelising, and I get the feeling that all my efforts at evangelising up to now have been pitiful, but that, starting NOW, things are going to be different. These are people I know who have such a charism for evangelisation that every taxi ride or hair appointment or chance encounter becomes an evangelising moment. People who are not only in love with Jesus but who are also so forgetful of self and so focussed on the other in front of them that they will engage and attract them. We’re all called to be evangelists by our Baptism. It comes more naturally to some people, though. So we need to learn from them…

Right now, we have a Pope who is certainly one of these Christians. Pope Francis embodies evangelisation, as we have seen over the last few months, and Evangelii Gaudium is bursting with priceless wisdom we can learn from. He coaxes us out of our comfort zones, away from from the “idols” we have made for ourselves – personal space, self-imposed limitations – and invites us to discover the “delightful and comforting joy of evangelising” (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80). He calls us to leave our “security on the shore” and to receive new life precisely by giving it away.

If we are not challenged by this, either we are not letting it penetrate our hearts, or we have fallen into the trap of thinking that it is not written for us.

These words are so challenging because not one of us can deny that we surround ourselves with certain comforts and securities. We will give a certain amount when it comes to evangelisation – but this is our limit, we can’t give any more beyond this.

Pope Francis’s direct, no-excuses approach to evangelisation is precisely needed now for us in the Church in the West because the situation has got way beyond the point where we could pretend everything is well and good in the Church. If we as faithful Catholics don’t have a sense of urgency regarding souls, something is definitely wrong. The cure? We need to get out of our own concerns, and make the Lord’s concern for souls our own.

A friend I have once said that if we have constant concern for bringing souls to Jesus, we would go to bed each day “exhausted”. In the words of EG, we would be tireless in “patient expectation and apostolic endurance” (24). I am not saying that we need to stop taking any care of ourselves, because we do, in order to be attractive, joyful witnesses to the Lord. But perhaps this is what Pope Francis means when he says, “The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line…”

As we enter a new year, what better time could there be to make some new year’s resolutions about evangelisation? Here are just a few ideas… Leave any other ideas you have in the comments…

  • Intercessory Prayer: If I don’t already have one, perhaps I could begin an intercessory prayer list with all the names of those in my life who do not know the Lord, those who I would desire to have a living relationship with Him. We can keep this list in the place where we pray and try to pray for these people daily, if possible.
  • Family and Friends: How can my family or group of friends be more evangelistic? Can we draw people in, avoid being exclusive or cliquey? If my family or group of friends is a place where we encounter the Lord, how can we open ourselves more to others, where others may meet him too? How can we draw in the lost, the outsider, the lonely?
  • Workplace: How can I reach out more to people I work with? Can I develop friendships with my colleagues, show concern for their lives, remember their birthdays? As friendships grow, trust develops, and eventually, they may want to ask us more about our faith.
  • Strangers: Perhaps our parish could begin an evangelisation initiative such as Nightfever, or street evangelisation, or a service specifically dedicated to the poor, e.g. a soup run. Perhaps we could make a conscious effort to engage with those we have regular contact with, e.g. those who serve us in shops or pubs, people at our gym…

What other ideas do you have? What do you find particularly hard about evangelisation?


Friendship, Interior Life, Apostolate

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A pretty bluebell forest in my new neck of the woods 🙂 Sadly only had phone camera with me

We’re approaching the height of Confirmation season. One of the things our Bishop is telling all the Confirmation candidates (spoiler alert to anyone in our diocese) is that they need good, Catholic friends. How true this is for Every Single One Of Us! In my own life, Catholic friends have been a source of joy, fun, consolation, laughter, inspiration, spiritual growth. Whatever state of life we are in – married or single – we need our friends. I’ve discovered, as friends get married and begin families, they need friends in new and different ways. Friends who are very different from you and who inspire you to try harder or challenge you to see beyond your own viewpoint and ways of doing things (sometimes learned the hard way). Friends who don’t really get your line of work and so will take you out of yourself by doing or talking about something completely different. Friends who do share your work and will help you laugh about it. Friends you’ve known so long you can happily curl up on the sofa with, each with your own book. Friends are the remedy and the consolation for much in our life. I do think that the need for good friendships for own interior growth cannot be underestimated. There is a wonderful chapter about this in this fabulous book – for all you ladies out there.

Of course, it is rare (especially as you grow older, don’t you think?) for friendships just to happen, with very little effort. Some friendships just click – you both adore each other – and not very much work is involved at all – or at least it doesn’t feel like work. When I was younger, I only bothered with these kind of friendships and pretty much ignored everyone else. (Yes, how obnoxious.) Now I am older, I am valuing friendships all over the place. Do you know why? Hopefully because I’m a little maturer. But also because, over the last four or five years, I’ve realised the potential within friendship for our apostolate.

Each of us, if we’re baptised, has an apostolate – whether it’s active or kinda dusty. Each of us, through our union with Christ as his disciples, are called to be busy and active in bringing others to him. All the people we are in contact with in our daily life. All of them. The lady on the desk at the gym. The lovely lady who shows me new eye makeup at the Clinique counter. My driving instructor. The people I went walking with in the bluebell forest at the weekend. (Just a quick scan through my past week…) Building up friendships is the absolute best way to bring others to him. It creates the foundation which, once developed, can be the basis for evangelisation. Our friendship is the first stage Sherry Weddell talks about in her book.

This is the obvious kind of apostolate. The less obvious kind is with our Catholic friends who are maybe a little less strong in their faith. Jesus uses our friendships here, too, if we pray for our friends and about them. What would he have us do? How can we help them grow deeper in their faith? After all, the more passionate disciples he has, the more the new evangelisation can spread.

I admit it, I prefer this kind of apostolate to the previous one, and some things I’ve tried here include: inviting someone to a talk, a retreat, a course (discern what they’re ready for); invite someone to be a catechist-helper on a programme (not teaching, but helping with a small group – it is the best way to ensure they get the catechesis they never had themselves as a teen); invite friends round for dinner – a mixture of on-fire Catholics and on-the-edge ones; let friends know you really need some help with cooking food/giving lifts/registering people for your Catholic event; invite them on a hike with your Catholic friends; start a reading group (you want to be careful here – inviting Sunday-Mass-going-only-Catholics to study Church documents with you is not going to cut it; however, there are some interesting, less threatening books that gently introduce people to the faith – Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning; Walter Ciszek’s With God in Russia (oh dear, notice the concentration camp theme); Jacque Philippe’s Interior Freedom). Above all, pray and offer small mortifications for them – this is the most effective thing we can do in our apostolate.

Just because we’re catechists doesn’t mean we’re not called to be evangelists too 😉 In every sphere of our lives… using all our creativity, imagination, effort…

Friendship is a wonderful gift. As we grow into our catechising-evangelising lives, we realise that some of our best friends are those we have brought to the faith or catechised, or both… And we have received much, much more grace than the little drop of water we have poured in.


Pope Francis on Laity

…You’ll never guess what… Since writing the last post, I read this from Pope Francis:

“We priests tend to clericalize the laity. We do not realize it, but it is as if we infect them with our own disease. And the laity — not all, but many — ask us on their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar server than the protagonist of a lay path. We cannot fall into that trap — it is a sinful complicity.”

Amazing!