Category Archives: Salvation History

Great Adventure

jeff cavins


Earlier this week we began ‘A Quick Journey through the Bible‘, the Great Adventure eight-session course, and were maxed out with around 70 participants showing up. I was excited to get this comment from someone during the week:

I think I learnt more about the Bible in three hours than I have done in the last 30 years!

Amazing… well, amazing that a Catholic can go through 30 years of life with no Bible teaching, but also amazing for the prospects of this course. Someone else said they never thought they’d see the day when a long line of Catholics would be queuing up for Bible study on a Monday night. Adult formation just has to be one of the most richly satisfying tasks when it works, and having programmes such as this from Ascension Press make it easy. If your parish has not done this course yet – go out and buy it! There are some great webinars from Ascension Press telling you exactly what to do to set it up in your parish, how to facilitate a small group – really, everything you could need. If your parish does not have a strong history of adult catechesis, the Bible seems to be a fascinating topic for just about anyone, so it is a great place to start. My advice, for what it’s worth, don’t hesitate – get cracking 🙂

It’s been ten years…

One evening this week I was in my sister’s kitchen as we prepared supper and suddenly realised the knee-high boots I was wearing were ten years old… Yes! I actually bought them when I was in sixth form. And am still wearing them today. Either I am a fashion disaster or they’re a seriously great pair of boots…

And then it got me thinking and I realised… It was exactly ten years ago this week that I had my conversion. I call it a conversion because it truly was. The first night of the Youth 2000 retreat I lay on the parish hall floor surrounded by strangers wondering what on earth I was doing there and, quite frankly, wishing I’d never come. The next night, I lay in the same spot, completely head over heels in love with the greatest Love of my life. This is no exaggeration. On that weekend I encountered Jesus’ love in the Eucharist and in Confession in a way I could never have imagined possible. It completely turned my world upside down and gave me a happiness at knowing him that has stayed with me ever since.

For those who know me, the past ten years have seen many crazy twists and turns on my journey with the Lord, trying every day to be led by him. This week, I have been full of thanks to him for entering my life and turning it around. Where would I be now, who would I be now, if I had not met him for the first time that weekend, in a small town in south-west England, ten whole years ago?

As Catholics I think it’s important we mark dates and the passing of anniversaries… Our Baptism (and even First Communion and Confirmation) and the other momentous events when the Lord called us closer to him. Let’s never let our gratitude diminish for what he has done for us. He uses history, the passing of time, for our salvation!

Christ-centred catechesis

20111224-160339.jpgChristmas is the perfect time to think about how Christ our Saviour needs to be central in our lives (a lifelong work) and therefore, especially, in our catechesis.

We all know that Christ-centred is what our catechesis should be. But, when you’re caught last minute on a Monday evening because another catechist can’t make it to give catechesis on the Four Last Things, do we stop and pray and prepare a Christ-centred session unveiling the realities of death, judgement, heaven and hell? Or do we rush in with a hastily printed out handout, ready to zip over quickly some essential bullet points?

However doctrinally fluent and theologically well-formed we are, we can never dispense with prayer and preparation, if we have a true understanding of catechesis as a work of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes if my day hasn’t quite gone to plan, and I’ve been consumed with unexpected but essential admin tasks, I am aware that, on my way to a catechetical session where I’m using last year’s class, in an ideal world, I should be better prepared and more thoroughly “geeked-up”. Going into visit the Blessed Sacrament before catechesis is a great habit to be in. Because of the craziness of our lives and the many pressures that edge in on our time, despite all our best intentions, the Lord is constantly working with tired, scattered, disorganised servants of his Word. And in those few moments in front of the Blessed Sacrament, we can offer our scattered work and intentions to him, and ask him to take over, to be active in the hearts of the catechised, and in our own words and actions.

As well as giving priority of place to Christ in our own hearts, our catechesis must also be structured in a way to witness to this. Structure and methodology in themselves teach key principles. If we give priority to Christ in catechesis, we are subtly, and in all things, teaching the catechised: Christ comes first.

Here are just two examples from our Confirmation sessions. We wanted to teach that all Scripture is fulfilled and finds its meaning in Christ. These two sessions were classes on both Scripture and the Person of Christ. In the first, we explored the five Old Testament covenants – the signs, foreshadowings and types which point to and are fulfilled in Christ, which the candidates uncovered themselves. No more were Abraham and Moses ‘nice Bible stories’, but rather hidden heralds of the Messiah. In the second, the candidates acted a scriptural narrative where they played the roles of Old Testament prophets proclaiming – hundreds and even thousands of years in advance – the Saviour. After participating in this scriptural narrative, they explored it in more depth to uncover in what ways the prophecies pointed to Christ.

Later in that session, we were discussing the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus Christ. The candidates had two-sided signs (one side ‘fully God’ and the other side ‘fully man’) to hold up as we stated certain facts about Jesus’ life (e.g. “he performed miracles – does this show he’s fully God or fully man?” FULLY GOD! Woooo!) After this candidates were invited to share any other facts from Jesus’ life to show that he was either fully God or fully man. One boy exclaimed, ‘He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey!’ He was referring to the prophecy from Zephaniah 9:9 they had just heard in the scriptural narrative: Behold, your King is coming to you; he is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey. Yippee! He got it 🙂 Maybe just one of them did, but that was worth it.

The Story of Faith

At the moment, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is being performed at the Arts Theatre in London till January. It’s a public reading of the book, just as Dickens would have read it himself. Dickens (definitely up there with my favourite English authors) would apparently have two to three thousand people enthralled at a time at these readings. There is something about a good storyteller. Even in our everyday lives we love to retell side-splitting moments or hear others recall and exaggerate details of a funny or interesting moment. The book I am reading at the moment (Alice Hogge’s God’s Secret Agents – highly recommended) is truly gripping in its tales of the pulse-racing operations of the Jesuits under the reign of Elizabeth I, their living in fear of betrayal and ultimately, for the majority of them, their brutal deaths. These stories are all the more gripping since they are historical, real and, as English Catholics, definitive for our own living of the faith.

Catholicism is all about a Story that is definitive to the whole history of humanity, and in fact, to the history of everything that is. This is the Story of our salvation – the Story of God’s entering human history to draw us to himself. On Friday, the school next door for deaf children asked last minute for someone from the parish to come in to tell the Christmas story at their assembly. It was a real experience – I felt like a foreigner not being able to speak their language. But for all that, we were able to communicate completely fine, and the young people asked some great questions. I think that sometimes when people speak about the Christmas “story” they don’t think of it as something which actually happened. So the students seemed baffled when I affirmed that, yes, there was an “actual” angel that appeared to Our Lady, and that King Herod “actually” killed the Holy Innocents in order to try to kill Jesus. The questions ranged as far as the Death and Resurrection – “yes, he really rose from the dead – only God could rise from the dead, so Jesus must be who he said he is – God!” They wanted to know all the gruesome details of the Crucifixion and all the reasons I had for knowing all this was true.

It was a great experience. They were fantastic kids with little exposure to Christianity from what I could tell, and it was wonderful to be able to tell the Story of our faith knowing that these are historical events which have changed the course of… well, everything. History is important to Christianity. Events are important. This is why catechesis is given in the context of the telling of salvation history – the Catholic Family Story – the Story of humanity being drawn into the Trinitarian life of God. This is why stories are important for catechesis. Our own personal stories, the stories of the Saints, and stories which make doctrine come alive and practical. We learn most often through events – our own and the stories of others’ – before we learn through lectures. This is why it is the event of the Paschal Mystery which makes God’s revelation most visible – an Action rather than words. And this is an event we don’t merely ‘retell’ but actually ‘make present’ in the Mass.

Many different thoughts here with lots of different interconnections – word, story, event, mythos and logos… Let’s leave it there!

Not make-believe

Last week I was struck by how, in our sceptical, rationalist culture, what we say can sound like make-believe to the uninitiated if we are not careful. I was telling the whole Story of salvation history to a group of enquirers. Why is this an important thing to do? Well, it is a good way of helping people to see our faith as a ‘whole’ – something that encompasses the whole of history, the whole of time. Seeing the bigger picture, you can begin to understand how all the smaller parts slot into place. So I told the whole Story: from before time began, to the end of time when Christ will come again.

I got to the Fall, and mentioned that, before the fall of humanity there was a fall of the angels. My listeners seemed to take it quite well – but you know when you have a moment when you hear yourself and think: is this really watertight?! How would you defend this if someone challenged you on it? Some bad angels in the spiritual realm rejected God and set out to tempt humans… “Sure…OK…” you can hear people muttering sceptically. Thankfully, I reached the end of time with the group all still on board (so to speak).

There was another time this happened to me. One girl in the Catechumenate brought her fiance along to one of the sessions. He was a Sikh and really interested and we said he’d be welcome. Shortly after everyone arrived we began the session as usual with a Liturgy of the Word. The week’s topic was on Our Lady and the opening reading was from Revelation: the woman clothed with the sun, with twelve stars at her feet, giving birth to a child who was about to be devoured by a monster… Uh oh. What on earth could the Sikh fiance be thinking?! In the catechesis, I taught how Mary was immaculately conceived, how she gave birth to Christ as a virgin, and how at the end of her life she was assumed into Heaven. I didn’t skip anything, but couldn’t help thinking how this must all sound to the Sikh fiancĂ© – completely nuts.

When we broke for coffee halfway through, I came up to him and commented that all this must sound a bit foreign. I was surprised by his reply. He said: “Did you say just then that Jesus is God?” I replied, Yes. (I think I had been explaining that as Mary was the Mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God, Mary is called the Mother of God.) He went on: “But during Mass, you say that he is ‘seated at the right hand of the Father.’ So how can he be God?” I was amazed. I hadn’t realised this guy had been coming to Mass, let alone listening so closely to the words we say. So I delved into a short explanation about how Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and that when he ascended into Heaven, he brought human nature with him, which God glorified by seating him at his right hand.

It’s amazing. Often what we think people are hearing is completely different to what is actually going through their mind. We should never “cut out” or water down any part of our Catholic ‘Story’ and Faith as if we know better than God what people can accept and what they can’t. We must be faithful to what we receive in the Deposit of Faith.