Tag Archives: Christianity

“Those who desire comforts have dialled the wrong number”

This may be one of my favourite EVER quotations from Pope Benedict XVI 🙂

It just makes me smile. He’s bang on! Anyone who tells us that Christianity is easy, that we can go on living a comfortable life, is not telling us the full truth.

No, Christianity is something far greater than a comfortable life.

This is a hard truth to grasp, which takes years of spiritual growth. On the one hand, it definitely does not mean that our life as a Christian is going to be unbearably miserable. No way! The joy of knowing Christ has the power to transform even the worst suffering. Christianity widens our hearts to a greater joy than we could ever imagine in our life before Christ. On the other hand, we must never forget the need for penance and ongoing conversion in our journey with the Lord, which, paradoxically, results in more joy in our hearts.

This is a very hard notion to introduce to enquirers, catechumens and candidates. Recently, I met with someone in the early stages of our RCIA who is eagerly seeking Christ. This person already has a strong relationship with him in many ways. And yet in this person’s life is a string of moral complexities which, let’s say, are not compatible with being a Catholic.

This is a tricky question in the period of enquiry. On the one hand, it is a period of evangelisation, of attracting a person to the beauty of Christ and the life he invites them to live.

And yet, in the early stages anyway, some of the moral teachings of the Church can present themselves as anything but beautiful to enquirers. They represent big and sometimes frightening lifestyle changes which people baulk at. In our culture today, it comes as a massive shock to some people that there are changes in their lives sooner or later they will need to make. When do we let them know this? How do we let them know?

What’s for sure is that our role as catechists and sponsors is more than simply presenting the information and ‘leaving it to their conscience’ (I’ve heard this view expressed more than once before). No, we need to pray for them, walk alongside them, mentor them, offer practical help.

Pope Benedict’s phrase could be addressed to RCIA catechists and sponsors: “If you desire an easy life, you’ve come to the wrong place!” RCIA is hard work, messy and requires much sacrifice and prayer on our part. If we don’t accept this, we will not witness many deep conversions in our brothers and sisters. Let’s have the courage to wisely and faithfully form disciples through the RCIA process. The last thing we need as a Church is more lukewarm Catholics.

With ongoing prayer, support and witness, the gradual unfolding of the teaching, and the grace of the liturgy, God has given enquirers the means to recognise life in Christ as a beauty, not a burden.

The Newness of the Gospel Message

It seems to be increasingly common that we meet someone who has no idea what the Christian message is. Even though we are aware of how post-Christian our society has become, it still comes as a surprise when you encounter someone for whom this message is brand new.

This is what I have discovered recently with a woman who wants to become Catholic. This is a wonderful lady who has had an experience of God, but I discovered, on telling her the Gospel message, the kerygma, that it was completely new to her.

We are meeting up weekly for extra catechesis using the excellent Anchor resource. I told her what happened at the Annunciation and the meaning of this for the whole of humanity. “Wow,” she said, “that is just amazing.” The following week, I told her the whole story of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. I spend much of my life giving catechesis, but there is something extremely different about telling someone the Gospel message for the very first time. As I told her what happened to Jesus, the devastation of the Apostles, what happened on the Sunday morning, the realisation that he had risen, and some of the Resurrection appearances, it took on a new freshness for me too. I was telling something that really happened. When the lady heard that Jesus rose from the dead, she responded, “but that’s just incredible… that means he overcame death? So… we never have to worry about death, we never have to be afraid!” It was kind of strange and wonderful at the same time to witness someone’s initial reaction to the Good News that Jesus rose from the dead.

The title of the first episode of the Catholicism series is “Amazed and Afraid”. It is based on a line in Mark’s Gospel which says:

“And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” Mark 10:32

The disciples, if they hadn’t done so already, were realising Who Jesus was, and this dawning realisation made them “amazed” and “afraid” – two powerful reactions to the Presence of God himself. This is the reaction the Gospel message should elicit in us – especially those two fundamental truths – that God became a man, and that God died in the flesh for us. I discovered, as I was telling the Gospel message to this lady for the first time, that if we stop being amazed and afraid by these incredible mysteries, it means we’ve stopped diving deeper into them, we’ve “domesticated” them.

Consumerism vs Communion

It goes without saying that our outlook on life is generally consumeristic, because we have been conditioned to think in this way. And for much of our life it works: which option is best value for money? am I getting as much out of this service as I can / as I am paying for? getting something for nothing is always a bonus…even if you don’t really need it. We are consumers! Even with regards to time: we micro-manage our lives to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

I’ve noticed there can be (naturally perhaps) a tendency in us to approach the Church in this way, too. At the moment in out parish it is the time of year when school references need to be signed by the parish priest. In our parish, you only get a reference if you have signed in on the census at Sunday Mass over a certain percentage of the time. People have tried every trick in the book to get round it – trying to fill in a form and deliver it during the week; getting grandparents to fill it in for them. It reveals (to an extreme extent) the ‘consumerist’ attitude we can have towards the Church. What can I get out of the Church? Education is definitely up there on some people’s lists. Our parish priest referred to a mums’ online discussion forum for our local area which gave away tips for getting into Catholic schools – invite the priest round for dinner, say that you are a reader at Mass. Well, I’m afraid if you’re living around here, you’ll have a hard time getting past our parish priest…

This is obviously an extreme example. There are other, more subtle, examples though. It is something that is in our mentality. In London there are so many different Catholic activities and events to attend, we can approach the ‘Catholic scene’ in a consumeristic way: what can I get out of this? What does it offer me? If it no longer succeeds in satisfying me, I’ll stop going. We shop around a bit – different spiritualities, different groups, charisms…

Are we ever able to give ourselves to something completely?

Giving ourselves completely to something or someone is the opposite of consumerism: it is not like a mobile phone contract where you finish with one company when you get a better offer from another. Christianity invites us to something completely other and radical: to give ourselves completely to something. I’ve heard it said that, when you make your vows – either in marriage or as a religious or as a priest – you are gathering your whole self up – including your future which you don’t even know yet – and pledging yourself…completely. This is communion because it is the image of God’s own life. Eternal self-giving within the communion of Persons.

How much is our life in the Church determined by consumerism and how much by communion? This is a question I ask myself too. When sports come before children’s sacramental preparation, or when a parent has to decide whether their daughter does ballet or First Communion classes this year – I think we are acting like consumers. Similarly, when people ‘shop around’ attending every Catholic event in London but never manage to give themselves completely to something – this seems to me to be consumeristic too.

It is a big challenge for each of us because of how ‘infected’ our minds and hearts are with this outlook on life. But I know that, bit by bit, God is calling us to forego “keeping our options open” and to give ourselves wholeheartedly to Him.

“After I recognised that there is a God, it was impossible for me not to live for him alone.” Bl. Charles de Foucauld

Media Coverage of World Youth Day

You know I am a big fan of Fr Robert Barron and Word on Fire, and what he has to say about the mainstream media simply ‘not getting’ World Youth Day is insightful. World Youth Day did not ‘fit’ with the reading of reality that the media want to portray – ‘good’ ideologies gradually replacing the old, fading Christianity – which is why they focussed on what was insignificant (a few protesters) compared to what was significant and real – a convergence of 1.5 million of young people from around the world in one place, united by their faith.

I have just returned from a smaller scale youth event – but still probably the biggest Catholic youth event in the UK – the Youth 2000 Festival in Walsingham. Here, Jesus has shown us over the weekend that by simply being faithful to Him – facilitating an event where He is present for five days, and creating the conditions for young people to be drawn into and open to His Presence – He will Himself enter lives and transform hearts. Last night we heard testimony after testimony of teenagers and young adults in their early twenties, whose emptiness and brokenness had been filled and touched by Christ. Once again He has shown me how HE does all the work – we just need to be open to what He wants to do, and tirelessly extend an invitation to all young people – Catholic and non-Catholic – He desires each one of them to be intimately in relationship with Him.

Hopefully I will soon be able to share some photos with you of this event 🙂