Youth Evangelisation

Have just returned from The Weekend of the Two Youth Retreats. Yesterday, we held a diocesan Confirmation retreat led by Youth 2000; and today, I went to Salisbury to Expression, and led a workshop. I hope to write more about Salisbury soon, as their youth ministry is a beacon of light in our country… it is thriving and bearing much fruit.

On the subject of youth evangelisation, I love this little clip… A great clip to use for forming young disciples on how to evangelise.


Thresholds of Conversion and RCIA

trust in god

This is a much-discussed topic at the moment. A lot of us are waking up to the fact that the ‘catechetical’ aspect of RCIA is the relatively ‘easy’ bit. We have some clear guidelines for catechesis (e.g. through wonderful organisations such as the Association for Catechumenal Ministry). It should be Christ-centred, scriptural, liturgical, systematic, kerygmatic. OK – so far, so good.

The difficult thing is the evangelisation bit.

One priest shared with me recently that when he moved to a parish, he implemented a thorough and solid doctrinal programme for the RCIA. And do you know what? The outcomes of this resulted in conversions seemingly no deeper than the previous, less thorough, less doctrinal programme had yielded. 

This is something we really need to take on board. Doctrinal catechesis does not necessarily lead to conversion.

I have been re-reading Forming Intentional Disciples on the thresholds of conversion (for a summary, see pp.129-130). Just to recap:

1. Trust: A positive experience, or friendship, which leads someone to have a relationship of trust with God or the Church

2. Curiosity: Someone is intrigued to know more – about Christ, or about some aspect of the faith

3. Spiritual openness: The person acknowledges to him- or herself that they are open to the possibility of personal change (this is not yet commitment to change)

4. Spiritual seeking: Moving into this threshold involves shifting into an active gear – an active search to know this God who is calling him or her begins.

5. Intentional discipleship: The decision to “drop one’s nets”, to make a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the Church

Sherry Weddell suggests that the fourth threshold (spiritual seeking – the first active stage) is the perfect time to enter the formal Catechumenate in RCIA. This makes sense to me. Only when one is actively seeking God is one open to receive catechesis, the handing on of Christ and the Faith of the Church in relation to him. This fits in well with some principles in the General Directory for Catechesis. There it speaks of the importance of the “activity” of the catechised (n.157) – catechesis reflects the pedagogy of God himself, which invites an active response. Unless someone is at the beginnings of a relationship with God, there is little hope of a response in the way that catechesis, by its nature, requires.

So, this leaves us with a big question… How can the evangelisation/enquiry period of RCIA usher a person from ‘curiosity’ (which presumably they have in order to come at all) through to ‘spiritual seeking’ before they celebrate the Rite of Acceptance?

This big question can be broken down into smaller ones, which I am pondering, and invite you to share your thoughts on, too!:

  • What length of time should generally be expected for this shift to take place? Is a standard enquiry period of 12 weeks long enough?
  • How soon do we discover which threshold a person may be at? Perhaps a conversation with a priest or experienced catechist or sponsor early on could help to establish this.
  • What precise goals can we create for enquiry to lead someone towards the beginnings of an active faith?
  • And what do we do when someone cannot manage to pass through the thresholds, but is eager to enter the Catechumenate?

Some biggies… but ones I think we should tackle! 😉


“Where next?”

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It often happens that you get to the end of a really fruitful programme/course/series in your parish, and people start to ask, “What’s happening next?” “We want to continue, this has been the experience of something new!” If your parish has a strategy for adult formation, then the answer is easy, because perhaps you have a number of options lined up for people who have just dipped their toes in.

But, the reality is, there are few parishes out there with a strategy for adult formation. If only!

And yet, the time at the end of a course that has awakened people’s faith, ignited their enthusiasm, and formed community, is absolutely crucial. All these little ‘sparks’ of faith and enthusiasm have been lit, and we now need to take responsibility to ‘fan’ them into stronger flames, help conversions deepen, mature, and equip people to start reaching out to others.

Firstly, if there is any chance at all of forming a small team of intentional disciples to look at adult formation, if your priest is keen, and together you can draw up a strategy, I think this is ideal. This way, a team can look at the general demographic of the parish in the light of “intentional discipleship” – what do people need? Which ‘thresholds’ are people stuck on? Which particular groups of people do we need to reach out to? There is never a single answer to address everyone’s needs, which is why I think parishes that offer lots of different formation alternatives, at different levels, are the most successful.

Secondly, if there is no possibility of such a strategic approach – perhaps your priest is not really on board, or perhaps it seems you are the sole intentional disciple in your parish! – you can still ask some of the questions above, only on a smaller scale. Above all, pray. Learning how to discern the next steps is essential, and this means frequent prayer to the Holy Spirit to show us the way. We might want to ask ourselves: Which is more urgent – deeper formation for those already committed, or primary evangelisation of the Mass-on-Sunday-Catholics? Perhaps the former needs to happen first, in order to gather a team for the latter? Prayer must underpin our efforts – especially if we are few in number, and especially if we have lots of different ideas – so that the Holy Spirit may lead us to invest our efforts where God wills – and this will be different from parish to parish.

It’s important to remember, too, that the evangelisation and formation of our parish is a matter of pastoral governance, which means that our priest needs to be at the heart of it – he’s the spiritual father of this community. So, while we are free as a bird when it comes to evangelising our friends (in fact, it’s a duty of our Baptism), when it comes to the parish, we need the priest at the centre (even though he’s not the one doing everything – and he shouldn’t be). Maybe in some cases the very first place we need to start is in praying for our priest…

Finally, nearly two years ago, I wrote this post on leadership after being at the HTB Leadership Conference and being blown away (excited to be going again in May!). (There is nothing like a bit of evangelical Christian passion and vision to blow away the negativity and blame-game-approach we often experience in the Church (sorry… but it’s true)!) One of the main points I took away was that you do not need a position to lead. Often we wait for someone to ask us to do something. But if you see something that needs to be done, and you have a passion for it, just go ahead and do it! That was two years ago and it’s still with me…


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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Pancake_and_crumpet

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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Crossofashes

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!


Three Journeys

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I’m re-reading Forming Intentional Disciples, people… Yes, in fact, I think I could read it three or four times. You might want to revisit with me some of the key points, because often we can read something, think how wonderful/true/insightful that is, and then promptly forget about it. In this instance, the concept that has struck me is the idea that discipleship involves three distinct journeys, which should happen together, but often are treated separately. Just to remind you (from p. 54):

  •  The personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ resulting in intentional discipleship;

  • The ecclesial journey into the Church through reception of the sacraments of initiation;

  • The journey of active practice (as evidenced by receiving the sacraments, attending Mass, and participating in the life and mission of the Christian community).

The interactions of these three journeys play out in many ways. We all know swathes of Catholics who have completed the middle (sacramental) journey without the first or the third becoming a reality. Perhaps they are even lapsed. We might even know many who are well-advanced in the second and third journeys – they bake cakes for the fundraising event, take their children to and even teach on sacramental programmes, and sit on various parish committees.

But if the evidence of the book is correct and only 5% of parishioners are “intentional disciples”, this means that a staggeringly large percentage (95%?) are ‘stuck’ in this third journey. Perhaps they enjoy the community of their church, perhaps they appreciate the liturgy, perhaps they are keen for their children to be brought up in the faith. But they have not experienced the life-giving and transformative power of a personal, intimate, daily relationship with Jesus Christ.

Which is what it’s all about!

Let’s be clear that this is the main reason of existence for our parishes. We can draw people in to sing in the choir, be on a buildings committee, help with a First Communion programme. But unless these are the first steps into a living relationship with Jesus, we seem to be missing the point.

What do you think? In your experience, how do you see the interactions of these three journeys in your own parish life? 


Marriage, RCIA, Evangelisation

Marriage___Illustration_by_Sabtastic

There can seem to be a harsh, difficult-to-bridge chasm, sometimes, between the beautiful standard of life in Christ, and the messiness of the lived reality of many (well, if we’re honest, every single one of us). When I used to coordinate RCIA in my old parish, I realised why young adult ministry was SO vitally important: how important it is to evangelise young adults before they get involved in messy marriages that could cause them massive problems if they convert later down the line…

People arrive at RCIA with countless different attitudes. They often approach the Church tentatively, wondering if there is something here for them, some new life, new relationship that could give their life meaning. Their enthusiasm may increase during the precatechumenate. Perhaps they arrive already enthusiastic, happy to be part of a strong community, and wanting to understand what’s at the root of all this.

But, then, BAM! Your heart sinks as you look on their form and see that either they or their partner has ticked the, ‘This is not my first marriage’ box. What an innocent-looking box. Little do most people know what it means when they tick it.

The first thing is – at least there’s a form with this particular box on it. We had an extremely thorough form that people completed after a couple of enquiry (precatechumenate) sessions. I’ve heard of some cases where these questions are not even asked. It’s vital we uncover any problems early on (no – not when they’re being signed up for the Rite of Election).

I think it’s good practice that someone should not leave the precatechumenate if they are in an ‘irregular marriage’ which, as someone commented to me recently, is often a euphemism for no marriage at all. After all, if they are unable to be received into the communion of the Church because of their marital status, we are deceiving them by allowing them to become a catechumen (through the Rite of Acceptance) or a candidate (through the Rite of Welcoming).

As I write this, it all seems unbearably hard, doesn’t it? Someone whose faith is only just beginning to awaken or grow, suddenly has an enormous obstacle in their path, an obstacle that their faith is probably not strong enough yet to take on. It seems much, much easier, doesn’t it, just to let them continue, not mention anything, and hope that something will happen to make it go away. Which of course it won’t.

I had some experiences of this during the time I coordinated RCIA. Wonderful people who had either been married before, or whose partners had been. I can tell you, that when a situation seems impossible and desperate – when it seems a person cannot enter the Church because of their marital situation even though they dearly desire to – this is when the Holy Spirit can amaze us and work miracles, slowly, patiently, in hearts. It can, and often does, take years. But with grace, love, patience, sacrifice, often situations can be turned around. This seems light-years away when we first broach the issue with someone. It can feel like their whole world has just smashed into an ‘other-worldly’ reality. They have just dipped their toes into it, and yet already it is presenting them with granite-tough obstacles.

It is massively difficult, maybe one of the most difficult pastoral problems you can face in a parish. In the face of it, only grace and prayer can break through. Faith that the enquirer will not have yet, so we need to provide that for them, through friendship and persistence in keeping in touch when they drop off for a time.

There is so much to discuss on this topic – and it’s particularly relevant given the Extraordinary Synod later this year. Ultimately, the messiness of the world we live in requires of us immensely strong faith. It seems to me, we need continually to face up to two things – the chaotic messiness of the world, and the incomparable beauty of life offered in Christ – and realise that a lot of faith, prayer, work and sacrifice needs to take place in order to cross from one into the other.


“Let’s just stop catechising children”

classroom

Joanne McPortland over at Patheos has been causing something of a stir… She is proposing that what is wrong with the parish formation set-up is that it has, for too long, been catechising the wrong people – children, not adults. It’s true that the Church attempted to make the shift from child-centred catechesis to adult-centred catechesis certainly since the General Directory for Catechesis (GDC 258 “Adult catechesis must be given top priority” is just one reference made to the paradigm-shift in this document), if not before that. But, on the whole, this ‘paradigm-shift’ has remained in the catechetical documents of the universal Church, and the national documents of the Bishops’ Conferences, and has not been translated into reality.

Why? I think one reason is that it is far easier to focus on children’s catechesis than adults’. There’s an institutional set-up in schools and sacramental preparation which means that children are captive audiences. Catechising adults is the Mount Everest we still have not conquered because it requires evangelising people first (exceedingly hard and slow work) in order to get them there. And, if we are parents, it is so much easier to focus on our children’s faith formation than our own.

But, we can’t deny that focussing on adults is the real deal; this is where it’s really at. The fact that it is so relentlessly difficult shows us that this is precisely where our efforts, energy and resources need to go.

I think to some extent Joanne is right. I would love to see the results of a parish stopping all their sacramental programmes one year and focussing all its energy into evangelising and catechising adults. I’m fascinated by a new approach in a parish in Wales. Here, the parish priest has announced that this year he will not, as they normally do, invite the archbishop to confirm candidates after a short course. Rather, young people of Confirmation age are being invited to undertake twelve months of learning discipleship – through mentoring, attending Mass and the sacraments, service, and prayer. What a courageous move, and one that I am sure the Lord will bless, since it seems faithful to his desire for us to be his disciples, not just sacramentalised, tribal Catholics.