Category Archives: Parents – Primary Educators

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.


5 Quick Takes

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Woah… Not a peep from me for a while! Must be September! Seriously, the last week has been a struggle to stay afloat what with everything starting up and being pulled in millions of different directions. This is the time of year when you want to cut yourself into lots of little pieces in order to manage everything, and when you wonder whether you’re doing anything at all that well. But, there are things I love about September too. That beginning-of-the-year feeling when everything is new and fresh. I’m looking forward to all the children and teens starting their programmes 🙂

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To add to the mix, on Saturday, my sister got married! An extremely, extremely happy day all round. The parish said it was the most Catholic wedding they’d had all year. What really got me was the new translation of the Rite of Marriage, including the Nuptial Blessing before the Sign of Peace: here’s part of it here:

Father, you have made the union of man and wife so holy a mystery
that it symbolizes the marriage of Christ and his Church.

Father, by your plan man and woman are united,
and married life has been established
as the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin
or washed away in the flood.
Look with love upon this woman, your daughter,
now joined to her husband in marriage.
She asks your blessing.
Give her the grace of love and peace.
May she always follow the example of the holy women
whose praises are sung in the scriptures.

May her husband put his trust in her
and recognize that she is his equal
and the heir with him to the life of grace.
May he always honor her and love her
as Christ loves his bride, the Church.

Wow – really amazing. The whole weekend has been incredibly moving, especially seeing in my own sister and her husband their powerful witness to the vocation to marriage.

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Right before I zipped home for the wedding rehearsal, we had our first parents’ meeting of the year. For the Year of Faith, we’ve planned a full programme for parents (one for primary-aged parents and one for secondary-aged). This one was for the first group, and I introduced the year by talking about what it means that parents are “first teachers” of their children. I showed a powerful clip from The Human Experience on the family, “the project of the human person”, which demonstrates beautifully the strong and intimate bond of the family, the context of our first and strongest experiences. We ended with a period of Adoration.

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This week, we begin our Come, Follow Me programme! I am excited 🙂 This is something I have been interested in and talking about for a long time. It is considered by Maryvale Institute to be the best children’s catechesis available. So we are trying it with our first group of children. They are preparing for First Communion. One downside of Year 1 of Come, Follow Me (for seven-year-olds) is that it does not cover Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Fortunately, these children will cover these sacraments this year in school. The Come, Follow Me sessions will be deeper catechesis, focussed more on interior life. Wonderful parishioners have helped out by creating the stand we needed, donating rugs, and cutting out figures and signs.

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Finally, unless you wanted to be bored to tears, don’t get me started on my dissertation. I am nearly at the point of beginning this final stage of my Masters, and last weekend I spent a weekend figuring out “what all I was gonna do” (as they’d say in Kansas). So: I am focussing on the four dimensions of the Christian life – discovering how heavily the Church references them in relation to catechesis – and investigating to what extent this concern of the Church has been received by catechetical scholars and programmes. I know I speak for myself when I say – this excites me! Not much research has been done into the importance of the four dimensions (or ‘integral’ catechesis) before. However, I understand if it doesn’t quite get you all sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation. Just trust me: this is catechetically important 🙂


Teenagers will be teenagers

Yesterday late afternoon I was on a bus from Chelsea heading back down south over the river. It was the time of day when kids were on their way home from school and I noticed with amusement how I was seated in the front, politely silent, half of the upper deck, while the back half squawked with ear-piercing noise. Yes – wherever you go, whatever kind of teenagers they are, young people are loud.

How very old I feel saying this. But it is true. This week in our Confirmation session we had a pause from the normal catechesis. Each week the candidates have quite an intense hour-and-a-half of catechesis, so this week we felt it would be good for them to stop and reflect on how far they’ve come, what they understand better now, how they are stronger in their faith. They were great at being open about their experience so far (no mean feat for British teenagers), they shared and listened to each other courteously. Then the moment it was time for a break, the mad scramble for drinks and snacks revealed a completely different streak in them: it’s true – there’s nothing you can change about them – teenagers are teenagers.

Catechesis with young people is the hardest that there is, and yet I’ve realised parenting is much, much harder. ‘You must be relieved it’s all over,’ one parent commented to me after the Confirmation Mass last year. ‘For you it’s over,’ she added jokingly, ‘but we’re stuck with them!’ As catechists we may feel hopeless at times in the face of the enormous task of preparing teenagers for Confirmation. If we’re honest, how many of our young people are truly well-disposed to receive the sacrament? It is a problem I struggle with and can’t say I know the answer. All I know is, we must do our absolute best to win their hearts. And what I also know is that, however big the challenge feels for us, it is far greater for the faithful Catholic parent of a teen who wants to stop practising. We have a boy in our group this year who has agreed to come to classes but doesn’t want to be confirmed. I admire his honesty but am praying very much that we will win him over somehow during the course of the year. Most of all though, I admire his Dad’s perseverance and prayer, and know that really I can’t imagine what that struggle must feel like to a parent. Young people and their parents need our prayers!


The Joys of Parish Life


OK, so “joys” is ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek… I am swamped in paperwork for the beginning of the year. I cannot WAIT to actually begin teaching. But as with any job, you spend a good percentage of your time chasing people, solving problems, getting information up-to-date and hearing many, many individual stories about why people can’t come to your meeting.

Seriously, the pastoral side of parish life is messy because people’s lives are messy. In our particular area, parents can be pushy and intent on getting their own way. A good principle I heard at the DRE training in Steubenville this summer is to be strict on paper, but more lenient in person. Often, making the right decisions with parents requires excellent intuition in sussing out who is trying to pull a fast one, and who genuinely has an insurmountable problem. Luckily my parish priest has a good nose for this…

Why do we take such a hard-line with parents and insist they come to meetings for sacramental preparation? Because the Church teaches they are the first and the best educators of their children in the Faith (see Familiaris Consortio). In that sense, it is more important that they receive formation than that their children do. Lots of parents think that we or the school form their children in the faith for them. Nope…that’s not how it works. If parents are not living their faith authentically, there’s little chance their kids will either.

The Holy Family - model for all families

At the weekend I realised how hidden and subtle the fruits of our catechetical work are. One of the families of the First Communion children I taught last year were at Mass on Sunday. (Hooray!) The children both received Communion, then their mum took them and her other children over to light some candles. It made my heart totally sing to see the little boy, however, go straight back to their pew right at the back of church, to pray. It was a tiny moment but it gave me joy.