Category Archives: Year of Faith

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!


Lent, the Year of Faith, and an unusual time for the Church

Lent feels somewhat different this year, somehow more intense and real. When the Holy Father made his announcement, one thing that struck so many of us was how much more intensely we need to pray for him, for the bishops, and for the whole Church. For me, it was a bit of a wake-up call to the greater sacrifices and prayer we need to contribute to the communion of the Church. I wonder whether this has made Lent, for many of us, a more significant one this year… we have entered it at a seemingly vulnerable time for the Church, yet knowing that Christ is always victorious (as Pope Benedict said to the priests of Rome recently).

Significant, too, is that this situation arises during the Year of Faith, a year of grace during which we return to the vision of the Council, the real Council which has, as the Holy Father also said recently, had “difficulty establishing itself and taking shape”. This Year, the Church is called to recommit to implementing the vision of this real Council. And this involves each one of us renewing our own faith.

Recently I came across this wonderful quotation from a talk given by Dr Caroline Farey, who clearly calls us back to the essence of renewing our own faith:

How is the heart ever going to know what is good if we don’t use our mind to inform the heart? Don’t let anyone say to you, ‘don’t worry about all that study, all you need is to get your heart united to Christ’. Yes, we need our hearts plunged in Christ… be led by Christ but let your mind be led by Christ through the Church so that your heart can follow what is actually good, and not just what is an awful lot of opinions of what must be good… The Catechism is there to help us.”

Renewing our mind through more rigorous study will lead to strengthening our commitment and love this Lent. And this is surely what the Lord and the Church need from us at this time: greater commitment and love.


Catechesis and Sacramental Grace

Amid the boxes and moving arrangements this week and last, I have led a couple of sessions at the seminary on catechetics. Do you know what? This is one of my favourite things to do in my work. It is such a privilege to talk with seminarians about catechesis because we all know it is one of the Church’s greatest tasks in the coming decades, and it is great to impassion each other in this task.

Everything I’ve presented in these first two sessions has been rooted in the universal Church’s vision for the New Evangelisation – especially this year, the Year of Faith, with the establishment of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, the Synod, and everything that the Holy Father has encouraged us in. We have been exploring the catechetical documents’ guidance, but also looking especially at this fabulous new book you are going to get bored at me raving about: Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples. A reader of this blog told me I would absolutely LOVE it and he is absolutely RIGHT. I love it. I’ve been quoting it all over the place. I would love to stick a copy in the post to all my priest and seminarian friends. Maybe that’s exactly what I’ll do once all this Move Stuff is out of the way…

So, last week, we looked at the reality of the new situation which calls for a new evangelisation, in its ardour, methods and expression. We faced up to the fact that the vast majority of Catholics in our parishes are sacramentalised but not evangelised. And we looked at the role of catechesis in this new situation. This week, we talked about moving from an “infant paradigm” to an “adult paradigm” of catechesis in our parishes.

One thing I talk about a lot to our catechists, and have even spoken about at a parents’ meeting, is the levels of a sacrament. The outward sign of the sacrament effects the character of the sacrament, but the grace of that character only flourishes if there is a heart disposed to receive it. (If you want the “theology bit”, the three levels are: the sacramentum tantum, the res et sacramentum, and the res tantum.) This is the point of evangelisation and catechesis – without personal conversion, people are receiving buckets of sacramental grace without it having much effect in their lives. Anyway, I spoke about this – the connection between catechesis and the sacraments – with the seminarians, then, lo and behold, on the train journey home, there it was in chapter 4 of Sherry Weddell’s book. Much more articulately than I have explained here. She even says: “Whenever I have spoken of this possibility [of receiving the character of the sacrament without the grace] in public, any clergy present – even those passionate about evangelisation – seem stunned and bewildered. I have yet to meet a priest or deacon who has told me that this possibility was made explicit during his formation. No wonder we so seldom discuss the possibility that the graces objectively received may not manifest in the lives of individuals and in the midst of our communities.” There you have it. I think I may have found my soul sister.


Three books I’m looking forward to reading…

Cold, dark evenings are perfect for getting some reading done. Here are some books I’m looking forward to over the next few months.

Forming Intentional Disciples

Too many people have recommended this book to me, I’ve read reviews on countless blogs, e.g. here, and I’ve finally ordered it: Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry A Weddell. Very soon, I am doing some sessions at the seminary again on catechetics and, owing to the Year of Faith, I want to root it very explicitly in the new evangelisation. So I am looking forward to some practical insights.

Jonathan F Sullivan uses it for a presentation here, and cites Weddell’s list of “normals” for a disciple of Christ: having a living, growing relationship with God; an excited Christian activist; knowledgeable about the faith; knows and uses their charisms; knows their vocation and actively lives it; in fellowship with other disciples.

I wonder, if we’re really honest, how many “intentional disciples” there are in our parishes? I would hazard a guess… not too many. But don’t worry, people, that is changing! 😉

Fill-These-Hearts

Theology of the Body is something that affects every single one of us, whatever our path or stage in life, and I am looking forward to Christopher West’s new book, Fill These Hearts. I love this interview with West by Sarah Reinhard, especially his wonderful reflection on desire:

Fill These Hearts is a book about desire, about the deepest ache we feel inside for something.  What are we supposed to do with that cry of our hearts?  Where are we supposed to take it?

I put forth certain ideas in the book that I think some people–namely, those who have been taught that holiness demands we suffocate or repress our desires–will find troubling.  Desire can get us in trouble, it’s true.  But the solution is notdeath of desire, but depth of desire.

In that context, the most exciting aspect of writing this book came well after I was finished with it.  On November 7 of last year, Pope Benedict gave an address in the context of the Year of Faith about the importance of desire.  When I read it I got chills: it was such an affirmation to me of what I had written.

Pope Benedict is inviting the whole Church in that address to foster what he calls “a pedagogy of desire.”  In the Christian life, we are pilgrims seeking the redemption of desire.  The Christian life, he says, is not “about suffocating the longing that dwells in the heart of man, but about freeing it, so that it can reach its true height.”  That, in a nutshell, is what my new book is all about.

seven-big-myths-about-the-catholic-church

Finally – I’ve been recommending this to enquirers and other adults in our parish and I am looking forward to reading it myself: The Seven Big Myths about the Church, by Christopher Kaczor. I admit it – I am not the greatest apologist; in fact, I struggle with apologetics. However, it is vital that we tone those apologetics muscles if we are going to be effective evangelists and catechists. Archbishop Fulton Sheen memorably said,

There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.

…and this book is for all those millions.

What’s on your ‘new evangelisation’ reading list at the beginning of this year?


School of Faith

New year... new energy for adult formation!

New year… new energy for adult formation!

I’m remembering all too vividly this time last year and the spectacularly excited lead-up to the beginning of the Catholicism course we ran at the Centre for Catholic Formation in Tooting. The phone was ringing off the hook, I was desperately searching for more small group leaders, it became much bigger than I anticipated – but it was definitely what God had in mind! This year, for the Year of Faith, we wanted to run a series on the Catechism – looking back at my very first thoughts on the Year of Faith this time last year, this is exactly what has come about!

We are delighted to be holding a School of Faith for twelve weeks from Wednesday 9th January to right before Holy Week. Read more about the course here. The course is based on the first module of Maryvale Institute’s Certificate in Studies in the Catechism. Each week, an acclaimed speaker will teach on the topics as we take an in-depth journey through the first sections of the Catechism (up to the Fall). This is an opportunity for adults to dive deeper into the riches of our Faith in an intelligent and attractive way. We have invited some of the best teachers of the Catholic Faith to deliver this teaching, in what promises to be a rich and nourishing series of adult formation.

Each evening includes a delicious hot buffet supper, times of prayer, teaching from speakers such as Dr Petroc Willey, Dr Caroline Farey, Bishop Philip Egan, Fr Tim Finigan and Fr Stephen Wang, to name only a few. Each week also gives the opportunity to meet in small groups led by experienced catechists to deepen understanding of the teaching and discover how it applies to our everyday life of faith. The School of Faith is not a series of lectures, but a series of growing deeper in our faith and closer to Christ in the community of the Church. Every week will be geared towards this goal. Last year, we found that many of the small groups became true communities, and some even still meet now, a year on. Deepening our faith in Jesus can only result in communion with each other.

If you would like to join this course, there are only a few spaces left. We are expecting a surge of bookings when the Centre re-opens on Monday so do book yourself a place quickly: 020 8672 7684 or office@ccftootingbec.org.uk.

Finally – I am looking for our last few small group leaders. Most of them come from our wonderful parish, but with many people already giving weekly catechesis we are stretched! You do not necessarily need experience of this; we are looking for two things: that you know and understand the Faith well (although any unanswered questions can be put to the speakers at the end), and that you are a ‘people person’, someone who would be able to guide discussion. (Training will be provided for leaders too!) Last year, a couple of leaders came through this blog, so please do get in touch if you feel you can help in this way (please leave your email in the comments) and I will get in touch (and quiz you on the Catechism 😉 – joking!)

Please keep this course and everyone on it in your prayers.


The hermeneutic of continuity

I don’t normally go for the controversial on here, but this is a brief exception for the sake of the Year of Faith. Recently I’ve been getting the Tablet sent to me weekly (much to the bemusement of my parish priest) which is fun for the odd lunchtime game of ‘heresy spotting’, besides which, I am more than happy to take a copy off their hands if it means someone else doesn’t get it. However, living in the rarefied Catholic air of Balham, you forget the nonsense that goes on in some parts of the Church. So, I was happy to read Fr Tim Finnegan’s response to the Tablet editorial on the Second Vatican Council, which also led me to Fr Z’s excellent response.

It is still a commonplace among many lay people that “Vatican II changed things” and ultimately, they have been let down, because they have not received the formation they should expect from the Church. Returning to the four Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council is a wonderful opportunity for us to wake up and take adult formation really seriously. This should not be an option in parishes! It should be the heart of the life of our communities. The seven-year-olds we have in our classes I am sure understand the Faith better than many adult Catholics.

A classic example of a failure to accept the hermeneutic of continuity (and not some Tablet spin on the phrase) is the paraphrased Vatican documents by Bill Huebsch. If you have not come across them, stay right away! It is an extremely interesting exercise (which I had the chance to do in a seminar this summer) to compare, for example, the actual Opening Address of John XXIII and the Bill Huebsch paraphrased version. The agenda is utterly blatant. Sadly, the people reading this stuff without the necessary formation are being duped into a false understanding of the Council. As Fr Tim Finnegan says so well:

In fact, a return to the texts of the Council will reveal to many younger people that the Council was not what the Tablet and others have pretended. It is full of sober orthodox teaching entirely in continuity with the tradition of the Church which has over the years been obscured by the mythical construction of a non-existent version of Vatican II.

Don’t read the paraphrases and dubious commentary! Read the texts…


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 🙂