Tag Archives: Catholic Church

HTB Leadership Conference

I can’t let this week go without writing about the HTB leadership conference… Now, nearly a week later, it’s like trying to grip onto the wonderful gifts of God we received, and not to forget anything.

As ever, it is hard to know where to start. The greatest blessing of the conference I think had to be Rick and Kay Warren. They were mind-blowingly honest, open, humble, passionate, straight-talking, vulnerable, challenging… I just want to pick out a couple of things that really struck me.

Kay Warren spoke about Mark 8:34 – picking up your Cross and following Jesus. I cannot do justice to what she said, and I am on the edge of my seat until the full video is online to watch it again. It seriously challenged me. She called us to be “dangerously surrendered”, “seriously disturbed” and “gloriously ruined”… Dangerously surrendered – by allowing God to have authority over everything in our lives. What do I still hold back for myself? Plans about my future, my money, friendships, fashion, my own space? Seriously disturbed – to allow what deeply disturbs the heart of God – injustice, poverty, violence, torture – to disturb us. ‘Picking up your Cross’ does not mean carrying the sufferings of our everyday lives. No – it means stepping outside our lives and picking up the Cross of the world’s suffering and lack of God. Gloriously ruined – whatever we do, suffering will come our way. In the ruins, we can allow God in to transform them, to make them glorious.

On the final night, Rick Warren called us to love passionately the Church. His challenge to us was to be less involved in ‘para-churches’ (I suppose we could say organisations) and more deeply involved in the local church, in the parish. This is such an important challenge to Catholics! Most of the time, we are content to spend an hour and a half at our parish a week. We run a mile as soon as a difficult situation arises, or if the liturgy changes, or if there are personalities we don’t gel with. No, let’s give ourselves to our parishes, difficult and broken though they may be…

There were apparently 800 Catholics present this year, and I know that for many of us it is an enormous blessing. The Leadership Conference has deeply blessed and encouraged me in my life. It seems to have a quality of anointing and of true ecumenism. There were a few things I came back determined to do – to begin our small house group here with friends in Portsmouth; to begin praying together with others at work. This is just scratching the surface. There is SO MUCH we can learn from HTB – their hospitality, their service, the openness and freedom of their worship…

Holy Spirit, renew the face of the earth!


Quick Takes…

Praising God - Youth 2000

Praising God – Youth 2000

~1~

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.

~3~

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.

~4~

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.


Warming Hearts in the Family of the Church

family love

Pope Francis spoke recently on priestly formation. This is off-topic for this blog, but a lot of what he said has meaning for all of us in the Church. Pope Francis painted a picture of a seminary that has become a cold, loveless place. Instead, the Holy Father said, the task should be to “form hearts”. 

Hearts cannot be formed without love, without warmth, without family spirit. How important this is for the whole Church. At times, the Church – our parishes – can be cold places. Any place that is merely a service-provider will inevitably be cold. Only when a church is a place where people want to be, not to get something, but to be themselves and with others, will the heart of the parish be love, a place that can start “forming hearts”.

This Christmas, I spent quite a long time at home with my family. A lot of us were there for several days together, and it was an extremely joyful time. Long hours were spent in front of the fire, not doing very much, simply being together. There was lots of laughter, jokes about each of our own weirdnesses, funny games, endless chatting and sharing our thoughts, and love and forgiveness. I found myself asking, “Why isn’t the Church more like this?” It seems obvious – the Church is the “gathering together” of everyone into the Father’s house. It should be the place, par excellence, where we want to hang out, rejuvenate ourselves, before going back out into the mission. It should be the place where we joyfully spend time together, not out of duty, but because we love and energise each other. This seems to be a reality within new movements (e.g. Youth 2000, Communion & Liberation, Neo-Catechumenal Way) and in good university chaplaincies (I feel blessed that my own faith was nourished in a brilliant chaplaincy). Our joyful family life (where we are blessed to experience this) should be a reflection of the warmth and joy in the heart of the communion of the Church. But often this community in the Church is a rare exception rather than the rule.

Then I asked myself, “How can the Church be more like this?” Clearly, it is down to each of us. Pope Francis has been asking us endlessly to “warm hearts”, and there are a million ways we can each do this, according to our own charisms. One thing we can do is encourage “family spirit” especially among our peers in our parish communities. Make time to meet someone for a coffee if they are going through a hard time. Be interested in people’s lives, pray for their worries, go out of our way to tend to their concerns.

Above all, we need to care for our priests. I am sure crisis in the priesthood is down to loneliness. How can it be good if one of our “Fathers” spends most of his days alone? Who can exist without love, let alone give of themselves? (Blessed John Paul II said in Redemptor Hominis, 10, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”) Priests especially should be surrounded by love, drawn into our families, have a special place in our daily prayers. 

The renewal of the Church will come from “raising the spiritual temperature” of our parishes with acts of love. As we know, St John the Apostle repeated often, “Little children, love one another.”

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.” (1 Jn 4:7-11)


The New Evangelisation and the Desert

Death Valley

Death Valley

Well, readers, I’m aware I’ve been ‘missing in action’ for a while now, without any blogging. To tell you the truth, I’ve been working on an exciting project that I hope to tell you all about before long. It has been taking up my every spare moment. But for now, I wanted just to break the silence with some thoughts on evangelisation…

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But, first! Just to keep you up to speed – a couple of things I’ve been up to… I graduated! Here I am with three truly amazing ladies, all working in different fields for the new evangelisation, on our graduation day…

And here I am with a certain Jeff Cavins, who gave a wonderful talk at Portsmouth Cathedral last week, which was exciting for so many reasons. He gave us a pot of his own ‘Cavins’ Blend’ English Breakfast tea!

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So – back to the topic. ‘The New Evangelisation and the Desert’. It is something I’ve reflected on a lot recently. I believe it is also the experience of many, many ‘intentional disciple’ Catholics living in the UK. We are hearing, reading, talking a lot about the new evangelisation. But our daily reality, the communities we are living in, are more like a spiritual desert.

As many of you know, I used to belong to a parish where there was a ‘higher-proportion-than-usual’ of truly intentional disciples – people who had ‘dropped their nets’, who were intentionally living for the Lord and raising their families that way. Many people moved to live in the parish precisely because of this vibrant, community life. There was also a high proportion of young adults living real discipleship. Shortly after I moved to Portsmouth, I discovered that I’d been living in some kind of ‘Catholic Disney World’ (or Rivendell, as we used to joke). I guess I already ‘knew’ the reality of other ordinary parishes in this country. But now, I really knew it. And I admit it has been a struggle. I feel I can now really empathise with the majority of lay Catholic real disciples who struggle on in their parishes.

The reality in most of our parishes – let’s be honest – is that “personal discipleship” – where we earnestly try to commit our whole lives, our decisions, our will, to Jesus –  is treated as a kind of “optional accessory” (in the words of Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples). You’re looked on as slightly eccentric if you express a passion for the Lord, or for evangelisation. Being a ‘good Catholic’ means going to Mass on Sundays, Confession once a year, being involved with a charity, making a lasagne for the parish social. It rarely means ‘discipleship’. It’s why increasing numbers of young, committed Catholics are – understandably – finding more formation for discipleship in evangelical churches.

There are many issues here, but what I wanted to focus on in this post, is ‘survival tactics’ – how we cope with being in this desert, and how God can use us to make it a place which is eventually life-giving. These are just some thoughts from my experience over the last nine months:

  1. Open your heart more attentively in prayer: In Scripture, the desert is repeatedly the symbol of where God leads us to (indeed, seduces us) in order to “speak to our heart”. Just because no one arounds us seems to be committed to prayer doesn’t mean we should not be – in fact, all the more reason to be deeply committed to daily prayer! Only with a solid foundation of prayer and sacrifice can God begin to grow new life. There will be many more reasons to surrender ourselves completely to God in the desert – discouragements, setbacks, disappointment… As we give ourselves more completely to God in all of this, he is actually using the situation to help us grow in holiness, so that we can be more effective evangelists for him.
  2. Pray for ‘kindred spirits’, like-minded friends: Three or four intentional disciples can be so much more effective than one. For one thing, you can encourage each other – your stamina will be far greater in a small group than alone. Discern together where you can start. Remember you need no one’s “permission” to start a prayer group or a Bible study in your own homes. I truly believe, if we ask God earnestly enough, he will never leave one of his ‘intentional disciples’ alone… he is good, and will always gather two or three together in the same place – even if in a way we don’t expect.
  3. Evangelists go out in search of the lost: Have an open heart in all your encounters and conversations with people. Even in the places you’re least likely to expect. You’ll be amazed at the people he will bring into your path. Be proactive in inviting people to things, keeping in touch. Before long, you’ll realise the large numbers of people the Lord has ‘gathered’.
  4. Disciples need formation: Ensure you’re receiving regular formation, nourishment of your mind and heart. In the desert analogy, we need continually to return to the ‘springs’ of water that refresh us and set us on our way again. Perhaps we might need to travel a long distance for this. But it’s vital if we’re going to keep on track.
  5. Discouragement does not come from the Lord: If you’re feeling you’re losing hope in your particular situation, this cannot be “of God”. This is why regular Confession, spiritual direction, and formation helps – it helps us dispel discouragement quite quickly. The worst thing we can do is let it weaken our focus and determination.
  6. Discern the initial plans God has for your area: For me, it seemed quite simple when a friend phoned up and asked if we wanted to host Jeff Cavins at the cathedral. “YES!” was the clear answer. This event will now (with God’s grace) kick-start some adult formation in our parish.
  7. Nurturing new disciples: Emerging disciples and new, growing communities of people seeking to be fed require wise pastoral leadership. Sooner or later, you will need the help of a priest to cultivate the initial work you’ve been doing. The parish (or a new movement) will need to offer opportunities for ongoing deeper formation, for works of service and charity, opportunities for more evangelisation and outreach. Pastoral guidance is needed to cultivate the initial signs of growth, help this new life grow strong, and then equip these new disciples to go out to evangelise others.

A few thoughts. Do you have any ideas to add? How do you survive in the ‘new evangelisation desert’? 


Pope Francis Gold Dust I – “Warming Hearts”

World Youth Day Rio

I almost felt like I was in Rio the past week, what with the unstoppable tweets, friends’ Facebook updates, and all of Pope Francis’ words being so readily available. From my experience of previous World Youth Days, you can almost follow better if you’re not there. (Let’s face it… the moment you hit 25 (and you’re not of a Latin American temperament) WYD gets tough! As one wonderful Sister (whose youth ministry is very fruitful) commented, any enthusiasm she had died in Madrid two years ago. I know the feeling…)

Back to Pope Francis. Just about everyone I know has been wow-ing and ahh-ing at his incredible words over the past week. For me, one of the highlights was his address to the Brazilian bishops. I’ve been through this absolutely remarkable speech a few times and have pulled out some truly genius gems. Each one of them needs its own post – so let’s see how I go.

To kick us off, I wanted to start with this:

I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts? A Church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles… Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?

“A Church capable of warming hearts…” It reminds me a little of a book I’ve written about here: Bill Hybels’ Courageous Leadership. In chapter 2, Hybels speaks of leaders having such a “white-hot” vision for what their church is about that they impassion and enflame the hearts of those who hear them. Remember that “enthuse” comes from “en-theos” – literally, to be possessed by a god. The passion in our hearts sparks a flame in another’s.

There is lots to reflect on with regard to how well we, the Church, “warm hearts”. Bishops and priests have responsibility for this in their ministry and communication to the faithful, those who work with the poor “warm hearts” through their love and charity; contemplative religious “warm hearts” through their earnest and profound intercession; those who visit the sick or those who are in prison have a special apostolate of compassion to “warm the hearts” of the suffering and the lost.

However, as this blog is especially for catechists, let’s think about how as catechists we need to “warm hearts”. Here are some questions that may help:

  • Before we teach, do we pray fervently to the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of those we’re teaching? It is He who will stir hearts as we speak (or even in spite of us!)
  • When we teach, do we speak with passion? Not a contrived liveliness or excitement, but with a profound love for the Lord which naturally spills out in impassioned words?
  • If we struggle to feel passion about our topic, have we spent enough time in silent prayer before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament? Have we asked earnestly enough for the Holy Spirit?
  • Do we love not only Christ who we’re teaching, but also the people receiving the teaching? Our authentic love for these people – that they know Christ, experience life in him, receive the joy of the Holy Spirit in their hearts – will also come across.

As I’ve said countless times before, let’s promise ourselves: the day we stop praying must also be the day we stop giving catechesis.


Pope Francis on Laity

…You’ll never guess what… Since writing the last post, I read this from Pope Francis:

“We priests tend to clericalize the laity. We do not realize it, but it is as if we infect them with our own disease. And the laity — not all, but many — ask us on their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar server than the protagonist of a lay path. We cannot fall into that trap — it is a sinful complicity.”

Amazing!


Lay People – Be Who You Are!

Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk

Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk

OK, I hope this is not going to shock you, people… I am a massive defender of lay identity, spirituality, apostolate because that is who I am – a lay person! I love the lay vocation. When I read what the Church teaches about laity (I’ve found Lumen Gentium and Christifidelis Laici particularly inspiring) I have wanted to take this into my heart and let it form who I am. (Please read these if you haven’t had a chance to – they are wonderful.)

I sometimes think though that we have forgotten this wonderful teaching. We forget that the lay vocation is one in its own right, not simple a negation of ‘not being a priest or religious’. It has its own distinct “secular character” (see CL). It has its own dignity and beauty. We are the ones who do what priests and religious cannot – carry Christ into the world, be co-redeemers with him in the temporal realm. We are the “authentic, secular dimension” to the Church “inherent in her nature and mission” (Pope Paul VI). When we are having a drink with friends and we respond to their questions about being a Catholic, or when we end up having a conversation with a taxi driver, or when (as a friend and I did recently) we ask at a restaurant what fish is on the menu as it’s Friday – then we are living in small ways our lay vocation in the secular realm. Clearly, when we exercise our vote in political debate, or contribute the Christian viewpoint, or fight against anti-Christian decisions in our workplace, our action in the secular world is more visible. But it doesn’t detract from the dignity of Christianising our workplaces, homes, friendships, with our more hidden witness.

Why do I say all this? Isn’t it obvious? Well, no… it doesn’t seem so. To me it seems that ‘to be a faithful Catholic’ is often equated with being on the reader’s rota or taking Holy Communion to the sick. Both are praiseworthy things – don’t get me wrong. But if, tomorrow, there were suddenly enough priests to take Holy Communion to all the sick – would we still go and visit them anyway? My point is that we have a tendency to beg our priests to ‘clericalise’ us. Somehow it seems easier to do the reading at Mass than speak with our next-door neighbour about God. If the focus of our Christian life becomes the reading we do at Mass, or the next Sunday we’re down to be a minister of Holy Communion, we are missing out on the beauty of our lay vocation!

Christifidelis Laici spells it out like this:

“the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world”

To be fair – I think priests sometimes love to ‘clericalise’ their laity just as much as lay people love to be clericalised. I think for decades now we’ve failed to form people for their specifically lay vocation which has left people thinking that to be holy, they must spend a lot of time around the sacristy, or hours a day praying.

Let’s pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood so that we can let lay people be lay people and priests be priests.