Category Archives: Liturgy

We’ve moved!

Transformed in Christ has now moved to http://www.transformedinchrist.com. Same blog, new website. You can continue to follow the Transformed in Christ blog there for thoughts and ponderings on evangelisation, catechesis, and discipleship. 


Some exciting news…

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Well, people, there’s been a long build-up to this and it has been somewhat hectic since I’ve been squeezing it in among everything else… But – finally! – I can let you know that the Confirmation programme I have written will be published and available to buy in early July 2014. It is being published by the wonderful people at Gracewing, and is named after this very blog – “Transformed in Christ”. It is a parish Confirmation programme for young people aged 12-16. You can read more about it at … drumroll … my brand new website – here! – http://www.transformedinchrist.com.

It has been a very long journey to get to this point, mainly because I have been doing it in my spare time. Originally, I wrote the programme for the candidates at Holy Ghost, Balham, and then, after years of piloting in other parishes, gathering feedback, and so much editing we must be on at least the 100th draft, we are there!

So, my blog too is moving over to this new site, and the old site will eventually disappear altogether. I will still be blogging on all areas of evangelisation, catechesis, discipleship… And if you’re a subscriber, you will move automatically to the new site. The conversation about good catechesis continues!

Now, I must tell you in a blushing kind of way, that I am quite proud of this little (well, it is actually quite big) Confirmation programme… I have seen the effects it has had on young people coming to a personal relationship with Christ and realising that the Gospel message was for them. I will never forget the look on one girl’s face when she heard the ‘God the Son – Gospel Message Talk’ in the evangelisation retreat one year (you can see this in the Catechist’s Guide). This was a girl who had been coming faithfully to Mass all her life, with a great Catholic family. But I realised at that moment that she had had a “penny-drop” moment – she realised this was for her. Her father told me after the retreat how she had come back full of joy – something had changed.

This is what evangelisation and catechesis with teenagers is all about. The programme consciously invites them into a life-giving, transforming relationship with the Lord every step of the way, and then it gives some comprehensive teaching to deepen the appropriation of the kerygma.

Many people have said it is unrealistic for a parish to undertake a programme with 22 sessions. I realise this is a big step for many parishes, and I have written some suggestions to those who have this question (as well as other questions) here.

Finally, I want to say how grateful I am to an amazingly long list of people named at the beginning of the Catechist’s Guide. Catechists and priests at Holy Ghost, those who have piloted it in their own parishes, those who have supported, encouraged and advised along the way. Thanks be to God for the communion of the Church! We never do anything worthwhile alone.

I want to thank in particular some real stars…

Kathy Kielty – who designed the programme and whose work you can see here. Kathy is a catechist at Holy Ghost, totally gets Confirmation catechesis, and it has been a great joy to work together on this project.

Simone Lia – who has contributed the illustrations for the programme and whose work you can see here. Simone’s work captures in a gentle yet honest way our relationship with God, and I am excited at this added dimension. Her illustrations are humorous yet powerful in communicating God’s love and therefore calling us to conversion.

Edward Morton – whose photography we have used throughout the programme and whose work you can see here. Eddy’s heart for evangelisation really comes across in these beautiful images.

So – please spread the word, like and share the Transformed in Christ Facebook page… Thank you! 🙂


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).

 


Quick Takes

Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast Abbey

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I cannot let another blog-post go past without mentioning the new School of the Annunciation. This is a wonderful initiative of the new evangelisation, much needed in this country. I am just going to quote their prayer, which is beautiful:

Mary, Mother of the New Evangelisation, as you prayed continuously with the Church at the beginning (Acts 1:14) be united with us now in prayer. Help us to return to the school of Nazareth and to echo your words in the hour of the Annunciation: “let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). Help us to rejoice in the wonder of the Incarnation and with you to treasure all these things and ponder them in our hearts (Lk 2:19). Obtain for us the courage to take our stand with you beside the Cross of your Son (Jn. 19:25) in the hour of Redemption. Guide us as we set out along all the ways of the earth to bring to our brothers and sisters the light of faith, hope and charity (Lk. 1: 39). All to the praise and adoration of the Most Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit both now and for ever. Amen.

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By now, the last of the pancakes have been polished off, and Lent has truly begun. I somehow feel grateful for Lent this year. In the words of Blessed John Henry Newman,

Let not the year go round and round, without a break and interruption in its circle of pleasures.

This is the time when we refuse to accept “bread” from the devil in our wilderness, but rather, learn the words of Christ to the woman at the well: “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (John 4:32).

I read recently that the virtue of temperance (which is a virtue for all year round, not just Lent) is a memory of the taste of God – meaning we do not need to lose ourselves in other things, but know simply that God alone is enough.

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This Lent, our Bishop is offering a weekly online catechesis on the Gospels of Lent. The first one, on Jesus’ temptations in the desert, is here. There are also questions for reflection to accompany each video.

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Now is also the time of ‘Purification and Enlightenment’ in the RCIA process, when catechumens and candidates prepare for their Baptism or reception into the Church. If we are catechising or sponsoring someone this Lent, let’s offer our prayer and penance for them. How can we help them live a good Lent? Here are some ideas…

  • Do everything we can to help them prepare for a good Confession (more here) – not only is good catechesis on the sacrament vital, but also practical help – a thorough examination of conscience, talking through the steps, ensuring everything is prepared for the day of the first Confession, arranging somehow to celebrate it afterwards
  • Invite them to make a Holy Hour with you
  • Talk about choosing good spiritual reading for Lent and perhaps buy them a book… Anything by Jacques Philippe is good, e.g. Interior Freedom
  • Offer an extra mortification or penance for them each week
  • ACM offers a wonderful ‘home retreat’ for sponsors – see the Sponsors’ Handbook. Do this for yourself, and offer it for your catechumen / candidate
  • Chat about the Triduum – including all the signs, symbols, meanings – as often as you can. Get them excited…!

Happy Lent, everyone!


Homecoming

I’m LOVING the videos from Homecoming, the Youth 2000 new year’s retreat. They really capture the joy, intimacy, mercy, and peace of encountering Jesus…


One Stop RCIA

4th Century Baptismal Font, courtesy of Vangelis Valtos

4th Century Baptismal Font, courtesy of Vangelis Valtos

Over the two years (yes, two years!) I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve written a number of posts on the RCIA. I still think this is one of the processes in the Church that is barely understood in many, many parishes. ACM resources are fantastic in emphasising that RCIA is not just a doctrinal process, but also a liturgical and pastoral one. I think they are the best resources we have to help priests and catechists create a life-transforming RCIA process in the parish. However, you need a huge amount of patience and dedication to read and understand the principles and methodology behind them, and I think you need more than this, too: great RCIA leaders will have a round-the-clock passion for helping souls convert to Christ.

In the three and a half years I worked in the parish coordinating RCIA, I was blessed with the opportunity and support to get to grips with a true vision for RCIA. We already had an excellent doctrinal process. But our vision was to create a process that had liturgical gateways marking stages of conversion; that had pastoral flexibility in allowing people the time they needed in each phase; that had a large team of committed sponsors dedicated to help the conversion process.

Here, I have pulled together in one post all the posts on RCIA I wrote over that time. They may be helpful either practically, for those trying to implement a true vision of RCIA in their parish, or theoretically, to help you grasp the vision.

A couple of disclaimers: Firstly, not all the posts are systematic; some are reflections which may not be exhaustive, but hopefully give some ideas. Secondly, they are not chronological. Sometimes I have written about the period of enquiry with one particular group of people, but what I have written for a later period (e.g. the Rite of Election) is with another group. Probably about five different groups of people passed through this process (which shows you need different starting points through the year).

What I hope you get from these few posts is that RCIA is messy! We can make very nice, neat structures (and it’s important what we do is ordered towards an end and is systematic) but at the end of the day, people are messy and RCIA needs to be flexible. Isn’t that what Pope Francis said recently?! “Make a mess!”

  1. An overview of the structure of RCIA
  2. Top Ten RCIA Traps!
  3. From the very first moment: Meeting the enquirer the first time they make contact
  4. Enquiry sessions – a year-round period of evangelisation
  5. Proclaiming the Kerygma
  6. Motives for Conversion
  7. The pastoral role of the Sponsor 
  8. Starting out…
  9. Liturgical Steps and Discernment Interviews: Rite of Acceptance
  10. Slow Evangelisation…
  11. Catechesis of the Catechumenate
  12. Telling the whole Story
  13. Catechumenate and Natural Family Planning
  14. Life in Christ: One and Two
  15. Contraception, Cohabitation, and the Catechumenate
  16. The Challenge of Conversion
  17. The Rite of Election: “I have chosen you”
  18. Period of Purification and Enlightenment: Preparing Candidates
  19. Preparing Adults for Confession
  20. The Triduum
  21. Period of Mystagogia
  22. Easter Catechesis

Lumen Fidei

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Photo courtesy of Charles Clegg

What a wonderful new encyclical from our Holy Father! It came on the last day of the retreat I was on in France, the title of which was, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) – an amazing climax to be graced with this encyclical.

I plan to read a little bit in depth each day, but for now, I’d love to draw out a few quotations which are relevant for transmission of the faith. Here are my highlights… Please share yours!

First, I love this from the Introduction:

The Church never takes faith for granted, but knows that this gift of God needs to be nourished and reinforced so that it can continue to guide her pilgrim way. The Second Vatican Council enabled the light of faith to illumine our human experience from within, accompanying the men and women of our time on their journey. It clearly showed how faith enriches life in all its dimensions (LF, 6)

We can never be complacent – from cardinal down to brand new catechumen – our faith is a gift, given according to the measure to which we open our hearts (cf. para 22, Romans 12:3). And the faith lights up our experience from within – there is not one moment of my daily experience that God does not wish to light up, to transform. There’s a danger when our lived daily experience is separate from, not touched by the light of faith in our hearts.

Second,

Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. (LF, 22)

Wow! So straightforward, so simple… We so need to hear this. How dangerous when our faith is strongly knowledgeable, we know the right answers to everything, but our hearts are not softened, opened, docile, tender…

Third, chapter three of the encyclical goes to the heart of my dissertation thesis (submitted last Saturday!). Here are my favourite bits…

The Apostle goes on to say that Christians have been entrusted to a “standard of teaching” (týpos didachés), which they now obey from the heart (cf. Rom 6:17). In baptism we receive both a teaching to be professed and a specific way of life which demands the engagement of the whole person and sets us on the path to goodness. (LF, 40)

The believer who professes his or her faith is taken up, as it were, into the truth being professed. He or she cannot truthfully recite the words of the creed without being changed, without becoming part of that history of love which embraces us and expands our being, making it part of a great fellowship, the ultimate subject which recites the creed, namely, the Church. (LF, 45)

In other words, the whole baptismal structure of the faith means that the faith that we profess (first dimension of Christian life), the sacramental life into which we’re baptised (second dimension) and the response of faith we live (third dimension) are inextricably united.

So, too, is the fourth dimension, prayer:

…the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father”. Here Christians learn to share in Christ’s own spiritual experience and to see all things through his eyes. (LF, 46)

And then Pope Francis sums this up… woo hoo!

These, then, are the four elements which comprise the storehouse of memory which the Church hands down: the profession of faith, the celebration of the sacraments, the path of the ten commandments, and prayer. The Church’s catechesis has traditionally been structured around these four elements; this includes the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a fundamental aid for that unitary act with which the Church communicates the entire content of her faith: “all that she herself is, and all that she believes” (Dei Verbum, 8) (LF, 46)

That’s enough for today… I recommend getting yourself the Pope app so you can read a little bit the next time you’re on a train / standing in a queue / waiting for your nails to dry 🙂 Enjoy!


Catechetical Resources: Video Clips…

Here are three video clips I’ve found recently which I think will be great to add to our little catechetical ‘stores’ for future use…

Number One. Liturgy (Adult Catechesis) I love this clip! It shows the continuity, difference and complementarity of the liturgical styles of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. We hear quite a bit of talk where people – depending on their own preferences – either bemoan Pope Francis’s liturgy and long for Pope Benedict’s, or on the contrary, enthuse about what a breath of fresh air Pope Francis’s approach is, compared to the supposedly stuffy approach of Pope Benedict. None of these attitudes will do! Let us be faithful to each one. This video shows it wonderfully. Thank you to Fr James’s blog where I found this.

Number Two. Confession (Youth Catechesis) No one beats John Pridmore for evangelising young people on Confession. (In fact, it was his testimony – which I have now heard at least a hundred times 😉 – that made me make my first full Confession at age 17) In the Confirmation session I used to lead on Confession, I always tried to ensure we had a young person give their testimony to the candidates on Confession. There is nothing like a young person, speaking from the heart, and exposing their own vulnerability, to enable young people themselves to go with courage to the confessional and open their hearts fully to Christ. However, if you do not have a young person to share such a testimony, I’d say this little clip is the next best thing.

Number Three. Evangelisation (Young People) This awesome little music video from Edwin Fawcett is ideal for ‘primary evangelisation’ of young people. As I’ve mentioned constantly on this blog, we must never jump straight into catechesis with young people – we need to spend time evangelising, allowing Christ to attract their hearts first. Unless some level of conversion has happened, catechesis will be like empty words to them. Resources for a youth evangelisation retreat are like gold dust – these are the priceless tools we can use to allow God to reach into young people’s hearts and call them to conversion. Edwin is a first-class youth evangelist. (The period of evangelisation in our Confirmation programme always used to include a praise and worship session with him… now he’s onto bigger and better things 😉 ) I love this video – it reaches into broken youth culture and allows God to draw young people to himself.


Come, thou Father of the poor!

pentecostVenusti

Happy Pentecost! May the Holy Spirit transform our hearts and therefore our Church this day. For those of you who, like me, are reading (or have read) Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism, his words and his thesis are very relevant today:

“lukewarm Catholicism has no future: submitting to the transforming fire of the Holy Spirit is no longer optional” p. 20

The Holy Spirit has come today, which is a source of wonderful joy for us, since he is our interior Master, our consolation, our solace, the One who burns with purifying fire to configure us to Jesus… Let’s draw close to Him frequently.

Pentecost confronts me, if I’m honest, with the question of discouragement – particularly if we feel utterly submerged in, and surrounded by, on all sides, lukewarm Catholicism, as Weigel terms it. What is lukewarm Catholicism? It’s Catholicism which isn’t doing what it’s meant to do – penetrate all the nooks and crannies of the world with Christ’s Love, by forming intentional disciples and sending them out.

Are you in that boat? I think most of us are. I asked a group of seminarians what percentage of people they would say were “intentional disciples” in the last parish they were in. “Probably around two,” one offered. “Okay – two percent – probably your average British parish,” I responded. “No,” he said, “not two percent – two people.” We laughed over that one, but I wonder how many parishes that is true for, and if so, the vast majority of us experience lukewarm Catholicism as our Sunday reality – maybe we don’t even realise that’s what it is.

Discouragement comes to mind because around us we may see the Church and its impact far, far from where it should be. Last week many friends were at the HTB leadership conference in the Royal Albert Hall. It’s safe to say that the percentage of intentional disciples in evangelical congregations are far, far greater than in our own Catholic parishes. And this is without the grace and power of the sacraments. Some days the thought floats through my mind that, counting the number of ‘intentional disciples’ I’ve met in my new context on one hand, it may be worth popping into the local evangelical church to find people in love with Christ and committed to evangelisation. (I haven’t done this… yet!)

A day like today – Pentecost – reminds me that the Holy Spirit wants to take this reality and transform it in his power; that God desires on-fire disciples infinitely more than I do; that every prayer I pray that he would raise up many people to be his disciples in the world does not go unanswered.

So, making an act of faith that this is true, we need to think about how we deal with the discouragement that does sneak up now and then:

  • The devil loves more than anything for us to be discouraged. Let’s send negative thoughts packing
  • The moment we turn to our Father with our best efforts – how can we not come away realising how much he loves his son or daughter? How much he blesses our miniscule efforts? How much, how abundantly, he wishes to bless us the more we come to him
  • What situations cause us discouragement? Let’s avoid them if we can (unless we have a responsibility there that no one else can do). No point in attending well-intentioned parish meetings if you leave more discouraged than you arrived
  • What events / movements in the Church increase our hope and console us? Where do we find strength and receive joy? Let’s attend these more frequently
  • In discouragement we see the sad reality of a situation which can then spur us to more prayer and more mortification. We can more earnestly pray our intentions in our Holy Communions / Thanksgiving after Mass / novena… And we can forego the biscuit with our coffee, the chance to put ourselves forward, the ‘smart alec’ remark… mortifications greatly increase the power of our prayers. (I am just writing this here because we rarely hear this)

Today, as we return into Ordinary Time, let us increase our hope and prayer to the Holy Spirit to pour water wherever in our Church he finds parched earth.

Thou, of all consolers best,
Thou, the soul’s delightful guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow.

Thou in toil art comfort sweet;
Pleasant coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.


Faith that is New and Alive

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I spent one of the most joyful weeks of my life last week in Rome, celebrating the mysteries of Holy Week with our Holy Father. We were seriously blessed. A few of our group greeted him during the Audience, and our week included many other wonderful moments: climbing the Scala Santa on Good Friday; being at the Easter Vigil in St Peter’s; a second-to-none cultural and spiritual itinerary, and being with an inspiring group of young people. 

I came back really loving the messages of Pope Francis so far. I wonder how many of us are already feeling challenged by his words? He is speaking to us constantly about the ‘newness’ of the Christian message, which, for us catechists, is our greatest challenge in handing on the faith. It means that we can never, ever allow ourselves to “get comfortable”, to allow our spiritual lives to slide into something habitual or stale. I have experienced, and I am sure we all have, the danger of becoming even a tiny bit complacent in handing on the faith.

We have a course or programme that “works fine” so we use it every year, without stopping to discern what these particular people need, what the Lord might want us to do differently. 

We’re used to structuring something in a certain way after many years, never questioning whether it produces the greatest fruit, the deepest conversions, for the Lord.

As soon as we get complacent or presumptuous, I find, we’re distanced from the Holy Spirit who is the Master evangelist and teacher, the One who teaches through us.

The Christian message, the Christian event of the Paschal Mystery, is new, fresh, every day, always able to convert and transform us more deeply, always there to make us new in our relationship with the Lord, renewed disciples, ready to go out and evangelise, catechise, again. 

Each morning we wake up, we never know when the Lord might need us to witness to Christ, to explain something to someone, to encourage, to present an alternative outlook, to evangelise, to catechise. Every day, as his disciples, we need to be spiritually “on our toes”, with hearts made new through our prayer and sacramental life, vigilant against sin that separates us from Christ. This is the way, through us, each day, Christ attracts new people to himself. How can we ever get tired of it!

Today, so many of us can see right in front of our eyes that there is an urgency within the Church to hand on the faith; we see the effects of a lack of catechesis for some decades. Precisely because of this urgency, the Church needs, first and foremost, for us to stay very close to Christ, being constantly renewed by prayer, Mass, Confession, by not losing the joy that comes from having our hearts united to Jesus. I heard a priest say recently that a Sister in his community knows when she’s sliding or coasting, because she “loses her joy”. Isn’t this so true? 

I love what Pope Francis, as Cardinal Bergoglio, said to his catechists in Buenos Aires in 2012 about remaining new and alive in our faith (you can read the full letter here): 

There is nothing more opposed to the Spirit than settling down and closing oneself in.  When one does not enter through the door of faith, the door shuts, the Church closes in on herself, the heart falls behind, and fear and the evil spirit “sour” the Good News.  When the Chrism of the Faith dries up and becomes rancid, the faith of the evangelist is no longer contagious but has lost its fragrance, many times becoming a cause of scandal and estrangement for many.  

 

Let’s promise ourselves: the day we stop praying, let’s also stop giving catechesis.