Category Archives: Scripture

Quick Takes…

Praising God - Youth 2000

Praising God – Youth 2000

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Wow – I have a whole new empathy with all who volunteer in the Church. In catechesis, evangelisation projects, outreach, or whatever. It is one thing when it is your job, and you have all day to work at it, but quite another when you’re drafting an email late at night, or snatching a few moments in your lunch hour to sort some arrangements. This is what life is like now, as I am beginning to help out with a few things in my parish. I now realise what a luxury it was to do this work full-time! I am wondering how on earth the mums with full-time jobs in my last parish also helped with catechesis – I suspected they were super-women and I was probably right…

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One of my projects at the moment is writing a chapter on Bl John Paul II and catechesis, in a book for young people (18-25). Although it is not an academic chapter, and there won’t be much space to discuss foundations of his thought, it has been really interesting to research this a little bit. I would be fascinated to know what you think: what do you think was Bl John Paul II’s greatest impact on the catechetical world? I am still working out how I would respond to this question, but would love to hear your thoughts.

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In a week’s time, we will begin ‘A Quick Journey through the Bible’, the introduction to the Bible Timeline from Ascension Press. At the moment, we have around half the number of people registered that I am hoping for, but you always find that most people sign up last minute. I always think it is a good idea to begin an adult formation session with a proper time of prayer. By ‘proper’ I mean not a quick, rushed prayer concluded with an Our Father. I think it’s good to have music if possible, a Scripture passage, a short time of silence. I really like this guide that Joe Paprocki has put together – a helpful resource.

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Finally, I leave you with the video message of our wonderful bishop’s Pastoral Letter, issued today. It’s great stuff. On the written version there are plenty of footnotes to reflect on at home.


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 Word of God

This week, as well as enjoying Coldplay’s new album 🙂 I am studying my module on Scripture, and specifically Scripture for catechesis.

I remember when I was in my first year at university, studying Old Testament, New Testament and Greek, how completely disenchanted I became with Scripture. Not in my prayer life, but for study. I didn’t know it then, but the faculty’s approach to Scripture was purely according to the historical-critical method and it bored me to death. Lectures examining sources and genres and fragments were painful to get up for on a Monday morning. And so, in my second and third year, I stuck to philosophy, history and doctrine.

Then, a few years later, I read Pope Benedict’s book, Jesus of Nazareth. I can still remember the joy of clarity and understanding I experienced when I read the Foreword to this book outside one summer’s day. He starts off by explaining the indispensability of the historical-critical method (okay, okay, yawn…) but then goes on to say this:

… it is important … to recognise the limits of the historical-critical method itself. For someone who considers himself directly addressed by the Bible today, the method’s first limit is that by its very nature it has to leave the biblical word in the past. It is a historical method, and that means that it investigates the then-current context of events in which the texts originated. It attempts to identify and to understand the past – as it was in itself – with the greatest possible precision, in order then to find out what the author could have said and intended to say in the context of the mentality and events of the time. To the extent that it remains true to itself, the historical method not only has to investigate the biblical word as a thing of the past, but also has to let it remain in the past. It can glimpse points of contact with the present and it can try to apply the biblical word to the present; the one thing it cannot do is make it into something present today – that would be overstepping its bounds. Its very precision in interpreting the reality of the past is both its strength and its limit.

Suddenley, it was clear why my whole year of studying Scripture had been so excruciatingly dull – the historical-critical method was not enough! We need to understand the books of a Bible as a unity. We have to receive the final form that a Scripture passage comes in as the Word of God, and be less fixated with the supposedly more original fragments that predate it. Thank God, I thought, that the work of an exegete is more than just an archaeologist or historian as the year I spent studying Scripture suggested to me.

Now I am reading some wonderful documents which put everything into perspective. For example, try reading The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, or this address given by the then Cardinal Ratzinger to theologians in New York in 1988.

In Jesus we glimpse the full meaning of the Scriptures

Our background knowledge of these issues as catechists (especially of adults and teenagers) is vital: we need to be able to answer questions about the historicity of different parts of the Bible, explain the dating and the historical contexts in which they were written which shed light on their meaning, as well as teach the divine-inspired “types” in Scripture – demonstrating that all of Scripture points to Christ and finds its meaning in Him.