Tag Archives: adult catechesis

Catechesis and… Mojitos, anyone?

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Call me a bore, but I’m becoming more and more convinced of the great need for adult catechesis. Two conversations this week sparked this new concern in me.

The first was with a parishioner at the weekend. She had been present at a diocesan study day on Church unity, together with parish representatives from around the diocese. Among the questions that arose during the day was confusion over why Catholics can’t go to an Anglican service in place of Mass. From the sounds of things, this wasn’t somebody with a misconceived agenda, but rather a genuine question. I would like to say that I was surprised, but in all truth, I wasn’t, really.

The second was at supper with a friend during the week. She is a mum who has been on a big conversion over the last few years, and she knows the ins and outs of being a parent “at the school gate”. A lot of people comment on the wide range of catechesis we offer in the parish. It is true, but I am aware that we barely reach the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface are hundreds of adults ‘on the edge’ – coming to Mass each Sunday, certainly believing in God, but never quite managing to make the assent of faith that means actually committing your life. They would be unlikely to miss Sunday Mass, but they would be just as unlikely to commit to anything more: formation, spiritual direction or daily prayer.

I was talking about this problem with my friend. A friend of hers (at the school gate) had commented about formation: “It’s just not fun“. I was actually shocked. Here am I, a twentysomething (OK, OK, going on fifty…) being amazed that women in their forties need to be tempted like a teenager by something Fun. OK, so we need an MTV approach to adult formation – cocktails, a dancefloor, maybe some designer labels to peruse? A C-list celebrity kicking things off? Our teenagers are happy with Krispy Kreme donuts and a game of Jenga. But their parents?!

It has got me thinking though. How can we best use the Year of Faith to reach those in our parishes who are happy not being reached? Who will bake cakes for the PTA but don’t need any more God-stuff, thank you very much.

What I have noticed over the past few months during the Catholicism course is that young adults in their twenties and thirties who came on the course, for the large part, lapped everything up. It was clear from the outset that many of them with little previous formation suddenly realised that the scraps of understanding they had about the Faith were not enough, and they committed eagerly to the course, and were soon to be found at any formation opportunity in the parish. With these people, it is like working with a completely blank slate, so poor has their Catholic formation been. I thank God for this, because it’s much easier to work with a clean slate than with a slate with lots of dubious writing in crooked lines…

It is the next generation up (forties and fifties), with some exceptions, who are far less eager. We’re talking about people with a lot more life experience and therefore with set views on life, whose formation in faith has not developed at the same rate as their life has. Throw a few complications into the mix (living with their partner and not seeing the point of getting married; divorce; contraceptive approach to their family planning; etc) as well as wealth and an expectation of a certain lifestyle (an added complication in our area) and things get messy, difficult, complicated. Suddenly formation in the faith becomes a lot harder. On top of this, older generations tend to have more hang-ups about the Church which the younger generations do not – problems with authority, especially where they see it threatening their lifestyle.

So, what is the best approach? Stick with the younger generations and leave the older ones to themselves? Of course not (however tempting it may be)… But we need a new, different and creative approach.

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Catholicism

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We are into week four of the Catholicism series, and I wanted to share with you how it’s going. In the week leading up to the first session on January 12th, each day brought new surprises. The phone was ringing off the hook and the emails were going mad. At the beginning of the week we had around 30 wanting to take part in the course; by the end of Thursday we had 94! The number continued to rise – we now have just under 100. We had to send to the States for more study binders which thankfully have arrived now which gives our photocopier a breather. In this last week before we started, not only was I trying to stay afloat of the admin involved, I also needed to rope in more small group leaders and give them last minute training. Thankfully God provided: we have some wonderful leaders.

I’m happy to say the course is being hugely blessed. The first night there was quite a bit of excitement around buying Catechisms and, for many, delving in for the first time. The DVDs are an all-round hit, although I would say that for most people the content needs some unpacking. We do this in a ten-minute catechesis after the episode either given by myself or Deacon James Bradley. The small groups have been working well too, with everyone benefitting a lot from the discussion but in agreement that there simply isn’t enough time to discuss as much as they’d like. We have given this thought, and decided it’s better for people to come away wanting more than make the evening unmanageably long.

What has struck me most is the desire in people to know their faith. This has not been taken seriously enough in our Church. A young woman told me in the pub afterwards that her eyes had been opened to how much she simply didn’t know. People speak of how nourishing the material is and how it makes them hungry for more. We had to start a blog in order to answer all the questions being asked each week. One man has already decided he would like to become a Catholic.

I don’t want to detract from these good fruits; I would just like to make an observation: If these are the fruits one course can reap in one small corner of London, why are we not making more of a priority of adult formation in our Church? I admit it – I am angry when I see the budgets given for disability awareness or for social justice when the work done in the sphere of adult catechesis is negligible. Adult catechesis is treated as a luxury when it should be a normal part of every adult lay Catholic’s life. Courses like this should not be a novelty, they should be very ordinary. The Church’s task is to teach and sanctify her members, but when I teach after the episode each week, I know that the only teaching most of these people have ever received in their faith is the homily at Mass each week, since they were a teenager. That is why they don’t know the basics of their faith: let’s not sweep this under the carpet – it is a scandal.

To end on a positive note: this is a wonderful course, and a great gift to the barren desert of adult catechesis in our country.


Adult Formation

I wanted to respond to Marc Cardonella’s post here and also Jonathan F. Sullivan’s here about how to provide adult catechesis that actually attracts people and responds to their real needs, experience, issues. There is a huge amount to be said about what the “answer” is to this problem which these posts discuss much better than I could. However, this week in the parish we experienced such an successful turnout for the beginning of a series of talks on philosophy, that I had to ask myself, “Why? Why does this attract?” I arranged the series with the speaker (a seminary lecturer in philosophy) only two weeks ago, and had done minimal publicity – emails to the parish and to parents of local schools. And yet, on the night, the room was completely packed out. We had people cram in, sitting in the aisle and on the floor at the front, kneeling at the back… it was like being back at World Youth Day! Most of the room were young (we have a young parish anyway) – and how thrilled was I when several of the teenagers from our parish groups arrived?! Sadly, it was so packed that many people arrived, discovered they couldn’t hear or see and went away again. Next week, we will be in a bigger venue 😉 and hopefully the squash won’t have put people off. Joanna Bogle writes more about the evening here.

So, why were people so drawn to this series of talks? I think perhaps it was the questions: Each week Fr Francis is exploring a different one – Does the world have a cause? Do I have a soul? Can we know anything for certain? and Does life have a meaning? This morning I was speaking to a parishioner on the phone who hadn’t been able to squeeze in, and she said how fascinating the questions were – “I really want to know the answers!” I guess all of these questions concern everyone – they are about our basic experience of life and existence. They are at the very roots of our thinking and being and living. It is true, isn’t it, that a similar series on the sacraments, for example, wouldn’t attract so many people. But why? How we can show that the sacraments are as relevant to our experience of everyday life as these philosophical questions are? How can what we believe in our faith ‘break through’ into people’s ordinary everyday experience?

I know… Big questions!


The Ecclesial Method, Part 3

Having looked at the all-important preparation and proclamation (the heart of the catechesis), I want to now look at the third step:

Explanation

Just as our teaching follows God’s pedagogy (this is why the proclamation is like an announcement, because this is how God reveals and teaches in Scripture), our teaching also needs to show faithfulness to our human audience. We have to know our audience well – their culture, their mindset and attitudes, the things that preoccupy them – in order to present the teaching in such a way that they can receive it. Catechesis is not really ‘complete’ until it is received into the heart, until the person’s will moves to appropriate this teaching to their life, to make a change.

This puts a big responsibility on our skills as a catechist: we have to know God and the faith well; we also have to know people well, understand them, live their culture, know how to attract them or challenge them or console or encourage them.

John Paul II said:

“We need heralds of the Gospel who are experts in humanity, who know the depths of the human heart, who can share the joys and hopes, the agonies and distress of people today, but at the same time contemplatives who have fallen in love with God.”

What a huge call! If you are a catechist, you need to an expert in humanity, and not only that, a contemplative who has fallen in love with God.

How does this relate to the Explanation part of catechesis? This is when your “expertise in humanity” come in! We need to explain the teaching in such a way that it can be understood, received and applied to life. We not only need to understand the doctrine well so that we can explain it clearly (for example, do we really believe that the Fall was a historical event? or: how do I know which of my sins are mortal and which venial? or: what exactly are angels? or: how are we saved?). We also need to answer the question: What relevance does this teaching have to these people’s lives? How is this going to increase their faith, their hope or their love? What has this got to do with their relationship with Christ? We may be able to explain a doctrine beautifully, but these questions are often the important ones.

How do we do the Explanation step? For adults, this may be a short talk. In our RCIA classes, we break it down and don’t have any talks which last longer than 20 minutes. We know that teenagers have a short attention span, but on a weekday evening after a long day at work, adults too are tired, and I think it can help to break things up, and keep the elements of the session moving. Audio-visual aids are also extremely helpful. In the last two weeks, we have started using Fr Robert Barron’s excellent Catholicism series DVDs in our RCIA classes. You need to pick the right section, and we never show more than 15 minutes at a time, but I think this is a resource which will be indispensable within adult catechesis for years and years to come. (Thank you Word on Fire!)

It is also useful to work through handouts, use powerpoint, film clips, personal stories, analogy, examples…making it as real and concrete as possible. There are some great tips on adult education within the Association for Catechumenal Ministry material.

What about with teenagers? The above can also be used, but often, the more active young people are, the better: as long as the activity has a defined purpose and is focussed. In our Confirmation catechesis, we often begin the Explanation step with a quick activity to engage the candidates initially so they are active from the start, not passive. For example, we have used a “Gospel Demo” for teenage catechesis before, which involves young people representing different characters – first in the Fall, and then through to the redemption. It is a presentation of the kerygma, the Gospel message, but the young people themselves participate in it. Use memorable props related to the topic. Use games with deeper meanings (the Theology of the Body for Teens resource from Ascension Press is excellent for ideas of games that are relevant for all catechesis – not just Theology of the Body).

How does the teaching help a teenager grow in relationship with Christ?

There are other very simple ideas which you can sprinkle through your teaching to liven up a normal catechesis: If you have passages from Scripture in your presentation, give them out with numbers on, and the young person reads their passage when you ask for that number. When you ask for more thoughtful answers from the group ask them to share their thoughts first with the person next to them. And I’m sure we all know this: but moving around is better than standing still – keep them engaged, focussed and on their toes 🙂

In the Explanation stage for children, catechesis takes on quite a different character. We use the Faith & Life series for our children’s catechesis, so each session combines different elements: reading together, discussing, activities, role play and use of different items. All of the above can come into the Explanation step – there are some great scripts in the resource and in other places online which can make the teaching come alive.

As always, see Mgr Francis Kelly’s The Mystery We Proclaim for a full account of the ecclesial method.

So over to you: What else would you include in the Explanation step?


Welcome to September

I’m enjoying the last few days of freedom before the craziness of September begins. This year I am hoping to focus a lot on adult catechesis, which the Church teaches should be the central form of catechesis (check out the General Directory for Catechesis). I was very touched by this tribute to Fr Alan Fudge who died recently. I never met him or heard him preach, but heard he was a wonderful preacher. What inspired me in this tribute was his dedication to adult catechesis. The need for this is huge. I recently found the following quotation by Tracey Rowland, of the JPII Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, which speaks for itself in summarising the great need for adult catechesis:

“I think that people who leave the Church are not leaving the Church because they are rejecting the teachings of John Paul II or Pope Benedict. Most of them who leave do so because they go to Catholic schools and they think that the kind of warm secular humanism with Christian gloss that they get in Catholic schools is in fact the Catholic faith and it hasn’t captured their imagination, their love or their intellect so they are walking away from something that they do not know. It’s not like a love affair where you reject a person you learnt to know and love. They’ve never been in love with the Church. They’ve never known it.”

Another thing I am looking forward to about this year is using the YouCat. This is such an excellent resource for youth catechesis, and this year our Confirmation programme is based on it. Watch the promo video below…


The grace of conversion

I swear I have the best job in the world…! No sooner is Pentecost over than FOUR people show up at the presbytery this week wanting to become Catholics. How good is the Lord?! I found myself having the same chat with people again and again, finding out how they came to this point, getting to know a bit about them and explaining next steps. What a wonderful thing to be able to do.

For these people the journey they are beginning is reasonably clear before them. They come to sessions, they begin to live a Catholic life by coming to Sunday Mass and praying daily, they meet regularly with their sponsor. They go through the various liturgical rites when they are ready. The Church has developed a very wise, rich process which will mature and make firm the beginnings of their conversion.

However, sometimes I think that Catholics who lapse for a long time and then undergo the grace of conversion would also benefit from a similar process. Most Catholics have never received a thorough, systematic catechesis. Most Catholics have never had a faithful, well-formed person to meet with and share their spiritual journey. For most Catholics it’s a bit hit-and-miss, hot and cold. Wouldn’t most adult Catholics benefit from formation that is based on this catechumenate model? Their conversions could be made firm through a full and complete understanding of our Faith, and they would root themselves in the Liturgy which sustains the grace of their conversion.

I think this would be an incredible model for adult formation in parishes. It would make growth in holiness a real goal for ALL Catholics rather than just those Catholics who are rooted in a good movement or community which helps them grow in holiness. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if normal parishes could substantially help people grow in holiness too?


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 fiancé – 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.