Tag Archives: Church

Quick Takes

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842

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Well, everyone, welcome to Holy Week. Some words before the Palm Sunday Procession today struck me:

“Let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city for our salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross, we may have a share also in his Resurrection…”

What struck me is that, if we are baptised, we are – in our very being, by grace – “partakers of the Cross”. This week, we are invited once again to enter into the Paschal Mystery and make it more deeply our own. If we are baptised, the Paschal Mystery is what characterises us. Therefore, it is almost a contradiction not to enter fully into Holy Week, not to celebrate “in our depths” the liturgies of this Week – this is “who” we are. So, let’s go with the Lord to the Cross this week, and say “yes” to the path of giving ourselves completely to the Father…

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On a slightly lighter note: let me introduce you to one of my sisters, Tess 🙂 (This photo was taken many moons ago…) She has recently started her own blog, At the Heart of the Home, which I encourage you to go and see. Lots of cute baby photos of my little nephew and thoughts and reflections on being a new wife and mother…

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Recently, I was reminded of a wonderful phrase (from de Lubac), “the Eucharist makes the Church”. It made me stop and wonder: how important this is when we think of evangelisation, when we think of drawing people into the Church. It is the Eucharist that points to, and also makes real, the communion between us. It is the Eucharist that effects the communion with God and each other that we all long for.

Mgr Kelly, in The Mystery We Proclaim, speaks of one of the goals of catechesis as community, or perhaps better to say, communion. Communion reminds us that we are called into the communion of the Blessed Trinity, which lifts our fellowship with others to a level of grace. This is the miracle of the Church! I often wonder at all the deep friendships I have in the Church, and think that I would not ‘naturally’ be friends with many of these people – but in the Church, through the Eucharist, we share a oneness and closeness that I don’t share with others who are perhaps more ‘naturally’ my friends.

This just reminds me that the Eucharist should be at the very heart of all our evangelising and catechising efforts. After all – everyone’s favourite! – CT, 5: “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.”

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Evangelising the culture is all about seizing on opportunities, being creative, and thinking outside the box… A good friend of mine lives and works in Poland, and they are doing just that for the upcoming canonisation of John Paul II: I just love some of these fab ideas: In addition to concerts, exhibitions, debates, and a documentary film, they are launching a JP2 app, an outdoor game (involving places all over the city visited by John Paul II), a JP2 wikipedia (“WikiJP2”), a 26-day spiritual workout Facebook initiative, and ‘I ❤ JP2’ luggage stickers to be distributed at airports! Fab, huh?! What a wonderful opportunity to evangelise in the public square.

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Finally, if you haven’t done so already, sign up for the Called and Gifted workshop (first one to happen in the UK!) which will be led by Sherry Weddell from 27-28 June. You can sign up here (please note the option for those who live outside the Diocese of Portsmouth).

 


He who sings prays twice

Image Edward Morton

Up until this year, I never seriously thought about including singing in catechesis. I noticed in some of the resources we use that they recommended hymns or songs for the catechetical session, but I flipped past these suggestions. Organising a catechetical session is hard work enough without finding a musician, needless to mention the impossible , awkward task of actually getting people to sing. Let’s just say, British Catholics are not known for their singing.

In the back of my mind, though, I’ve always been aware of the power of singing, especially of praise. When we praise God, we forget for a moment our troubles and problems, and praise him because he is who he is. Regardless of what we ‘get’ from him. Praise takes us out of ourselves, and I’ve found, it’s one of the best things you can do when you’re saddened, discouraged or grumpy. Try it!

So, singing in catechesis this year kind of happened by accident. We’ve introduced it in Confirmation and in one of our First Communion classes, Come Follow Me. In Confirmation, one of our catechists this year just happens to be a great musician. We got the kids singing praise songs on the retreat, and this has continued into the programme each week. We begin with a song before the Liturgy of the Word, and we always have singing during the time of prayer at the end. It really adds a deeper dimension to the catechetical process… Music raises the heart to God and can therefore be a great instrument for conversion (which is the goal of catechesis!)

In the Come Follow Me sessions, you are instructed to sing with the children as you go into the ‘Holy Place of Meeting’, as you prepare your hearts to listen to the Word of God, and during the prayer time at the end. So I really had no choice. I had to sing! I am a very average singer, so this is not exactly my comfort-zone. But actually it has worked well, and I’ve discovered that when they’re a bit hyper, singing is a great way of calming kids down. It really does help them to pray. They love singing, and they love to learn new songs.

So, if you haven’t yet introduced singing into your catechesis… I encourage you to try!

As for adult catechesis – I haven’t branched out there just yet… This could be incredibly, as our young people say, ‘awkward turtle…’ Would love to hear from anyone who has incorporated this into RCIA or any other adult catechesis.


5 Quick Takes!

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I was in Kent this weekend filming for a new course that will be produced especially for the Year of Faith… watch this space! It is geared towards someone who’s just walked in off the street – basic apologetics. Which is different from catechesis, so I had to put my apologetics head on… “Hmm, why do I believe in God?” I asked myself on the train on the way down. It’s good (and challenging) to get back to basics.

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Quick aside about… fashion. It has been raining SOLIDLY in London all week. It really is a drag. A good gentlemanly friend of mine walked me home last night as our umbrellas distorted wildly in the storm. I thought London was a civilised place to live. Fashion is a massive problem in weather like this. I remember reading the fashion editor in The Times deplore women who, otherwise dressing well, throw on a completely inelegant array of kagools and waterproofs as soon as it pours. I am one of these women. I don’t own an elegant Marc Jacobs raincoat, so I have looked like a fashion disaster when out and about, all week. Please, dear Spring, come to London!

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Christian Holden from St Anthony Communications asked me to watch and review one of their latest catechetical DVDs, The Last Things. I aim to do it this week so watch this space! I am looking forward to watching it, as we found in a recent ‘adult formation survey’ that one of the main topics of catechetical interest for Catholic adults is precisely these areas of death, judgement, heaven, and hell.

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Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and I am trying to pray especially for the Holy Father. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia – where Peter is, there is the Church. St John Chrysostom spoke of the early Christians: “Look at how the faithful feel for their pastors. They don’t resort to protest or rebellion, but to prayer as an unfailing remedy. They did not say: as we are powerless men, it is useless to pray for him. They never reasoned in this way, but prayed with love.” Let us have the same love for priests, and especially our Holy Father. Maybe we can offer an hour of work or study for them.

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Finally… If Starbucks insist on overfamiliarity by writing our first names on our take-out cups, they might at least get our names right. Yesterday, I was given coffee with “Ana” written on the side. I might try “Miss Vaughan-Spruce” next time and see how they get on with that… 😉


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.


Fruitfulness…

20120318-222329.jpgOne of the most amazing things to experience as a catechist is fruitfulness. It reminds me I am a co-redeemer with God, that I am a co-worker with none other than the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes the reminders of God’s fruitfulness come out of the blue, like the lady who showed up on the doorstep over a year ago, who said the only way she could explain how she got there was that God guided her. She did not know who Jesus was but she felt she wanted to become a Catholic. This Easter, she will be baptised. This is definitely an extraordinary instance of God’s fruitfulness. Mostly, though, God uses ‘ordinary’ ways of drawing people to himself, ways which usually involve other people.

The Catholicism course has been an example of one of these ‘ordinary’, but yet extraordinary, ways of God drawing people to himself. There has been a wonderful grace about this course, an infectious joy and enthusiasm which mean people do not want it to end, and people discovering – some for the first time – the joys of being a Catholic. We have one person who will be received into the Church and another who will be confirmed as a result of this course. We have other cradle Catholics who are more determined to live seriously their Catholic faith. And this kind of joy and enthusiasm does spread. The people who have received a lot are among the first to be signed up to the School of Prayer we have starting after Easter. They are becoming more involved in Church life and telling their friends. Fruitfulness means ever increasing circles of people, more and more connections, and friends of friends drawn into the communion of the Church. It is beautiful to witness it.

It is true to say that working for the Church is often hard, for a variety of different reasons. But this fruitfulness is the main thing that makes it beyond worthwhile. This makes it the job I would do for free if it was practical. What other reason can there be to do a job like this?


The Highs and Lows of Lent

20120314-183554.jpgLent is truly a remarkable time for those preparing for Baptism or to be received into the Church. Every week, from the first weekend when, in the Rite of Election, they experience the call of being “chosen” by God, there are new graces heaped upon them. Last Sunday, after our celebration of the First Scrutiny and the Presentation of the Creed, one catechumen said to me, “I keep thinking it can’t get any better! How can it get any better than this?!” She was overwhelmed by an enormous experience of God’s love, through the liturgy and the community. From the deacon’s chanting of the intercessions for the catechumens as they knelt on the sanctuary step, to all the promises of prayers they received from parishioners after the Mass, she is already feeling embraced in God’s love.

Each week, we pore over the words of the Rite for the following Sunday, examining their theological and spiritual meaning for the lives of the elect. We encourage them to pray with the words of the Rite at home to savour its full meaning for their spiritual life. A priest gives them a Meditation on the Year A Sunday Gospel each week, which they also pray with during the week. The themes of darkness and light, blindness and sight, the awakening of spiritual senses, repentance from sin, run powerfully both through these Gospels and the Rites of each Lenten Sunday. The laying on of hands in the exorcism, the handing over of the Creed and later, the Our Father, all speak powerfully of the Church’s scrupulous care and love of her elect.

Of course, Lent can be a trialling, even gruelling, time for us in the thick of spiritual battle, and particularly, perhaps for catechumens. Some may experience dryness in prayer, more difficulties than usual at home or at work, and even an absence of God’s presence where they felt it closely before. This can be a bewildering experience for those new in the Faith, and it reminds us of the need to be vigilant in our pastoral care and prayer for them.

What we can be sure of, though – and let’s transmit this assurance to the catechumens – even if you’re experiencing Lent joyfully: yes, it does get better than this – much, much better! Because there is nothing like being a son or daughter of God the Father, entirely redeemed from sin, set apart to spend eternity with Him. We know that Easter will come, and we know that we will overflow with new joy!


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