Tag Archives: evangelisation

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.


Encouragement for the Mission…

southsea storm

Right now, we all seem to be “battening down the hatches” in the face of this bad weather that’s hit. The storm raging outside makes me want to go back a week or so ago, to cosy Christmas family time around the fire… But I can’t seem to get Bert from Mary Poppins out of my head, “Winds in the east, mist coming in. / Like somethin’ is brewin’ and bout to begin.” Haha! So, to take our minds away from sandbags and continuously refreshing the weather warning page (people, I do live right on the coast…) now might be a great time to reflect on the year ahead, what encourages us in the mission right now, what excites us about what God is doing, what hopes we have for the months ahead… Please share your thoughts in the comments! Let’s encourage and inspire each other, and glorify God in what he is doing…

For me, there are two particular aspects of the mission where I am really encouraged. When I arrived in Portsmouth last February, I struggled to find other young adults, let alone ‘intentional disciples’. Nine months later, shortly before Christmas, we had the launch event of a Frassati Society. (And here’s the Frassati Society we started in Balham three years ago, which I also wrote about here…) Frassati is a fantastic model for young adult ministry (twenties and thirties) as it is rooted in fellowship (including hiking and service of the poor) and yet combines other dimensions of Christian life, too (formation, liturgy and prayer). The idea behind Frassati is to be super relaxed and friendly, so that people can invite their non-Catholic friends. In Balham, there were many fruits: deepening conversions, a culture of evangelisation, and even a marriage! At the first event here in Portsmouth, we were absolutely blown away when nearly thirty young people showed up, many of them students. Much prayer and apostolic work is now needed to fan into a flame this little spark that’s been ignited…

The second thing I am excited about here in Portsmouth is The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Following Jeff Cavins’ visit, we are delighted to be running ‘A Quick Journey through the Bible’ eight-session course beginning on 20th January. My mission over the next few weeks is to pray for the Lord to gather many, many people to this Bible Study, that it may be a place where people meet Him.

What I would add about both of these apostolates, is that they are not being launched out of the blue. Maybe this is something for another post, but what I have learnt being here for nearly a year, is that a large foundation of prayer, sacrifice, careful discernment and personal one-to-one apostolate is needed before any event or group can begin. In some sense, these always flow organically. We have to work with the Holy Spirit, not ahead of him.

Please pray for these apostolic intentions – and share yours below!


Happy New … Evangelisation

A Happy New Year, 2014, to all my readers!

Occasionally, I hear someone speak – in a homily or a talk – about evangelising, and I get the feeling that all my efforts at evangelising up to now have been pitiful, but that, starting NOW, things are going to be different. These are people I know who have such a charism for evangelisation that every taxi ride or hair appointment or chance encounter becomes an evangelising moment. People who are not only in love with Jesus but who are also so forgetful of self and so focussed on the other in front of them that they will engage and attract them. We’re all called to be evangelists by our Baptism. It comes more naturally to some people, though. So we need to learn from them…

Right now, we have a Pope who is certainly one of these Christians. Pope Francis embodies evangelisation, as we have seen over the last few months, and Evangelii Gaudium is bursting with priceless wisdom we can learn from. He coaxes us out of our comfort zones, away from from the “idols” we have made for ourselves – personal space, self-imposed limitations – and invites us to discover the “delightful and comforting joy of evangelising” (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80). He calls us to leave our “security on the shore” and to receive new life precisely by giving it away.

If we are not challenged by this, either we are not letting it penetrate our hearts, or we have fallen into the trap of thinking that it is not written for us.

These words are so challenging because not one of us can deny that we surround ourselves with certain comforts and securities. We will give a certain amount when it comes to evangelisation – but this is our limit, we can’t give any more beyond this.

Pope Francis’s direct, no-excuses approach to evangelisation is precisely needed now for us in the Church in the West because the situation has got way beyond the point where we could pretend everything is well and good in the Church. If we as faithful Catholics don’t have a sense of urgency regarding souls, something is definitely wrong. The cure? We need to get out of our own concerns, and make the Lord’s concern for souls our own.

A friend I have once said that if we have constant concern for bringing souls to Jesus, we would go to bed each day “exhausted”. In the words of EG, we would be tireless in “patient expectation and apostolic endurance” (24). I am not saying that we need to stop taking any care of ourselves, because we do, in order to be attractive, joyful witnesses to the Lord. But perhaps this is what Pope Francis means when he says, “The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line…”

As we enter a new year, what better time could there be to make some new year’s resolutions about evangelisation? Here are just a few ideas… Leave any other ideas you have in the comments…

  • Intercessory Prayer: If I don’t already have one, perhaps I could begin an intercessory prayer list with all the names of those in my life who do not know the Lord, those who I would desire to have a living relationship with Him. We can keep this list in the place where we pray and try to pray for these people daily, if possible.
  • Family and Friends: How can my family or group of friends be more evangelistic? Can we draw people in, avoid being exclusive or cliquey? If my family or group of friends is a place where we encounter the Lord, how can we open ourselves more to others, where others may meet him too? How can we draw in the lost, the outsider, the lonely?
  • Workplace: How can I reach out more to people I work with? Can I develop friendships with my colleagues, show concern for their lives, remember their birthdays? As friendships grow, trust develops, and eventually, they may want to ask us more about our faith.
  • Strangers: Perhaps our parish could begin an evangelisation initiative such as Nightfever, or street evangelisation, or a service specifically dedicated to the poor, e.g. a soup run. Perhaps we could make a conscious effort to engage with those we have regular contact with, e.g. those who serve us in shops or pubs, people at our gym…

What other ideas do you have? What do you find particularly hard about evangelisation?


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’? 


‘One Message’ Formation

Courtesy of Youth 2000

Courtesy of Youth 2000

Tomorrow I am going to a parish to lead a formation session with some Confirmation catechists. I think few of them have been catechists before, and probably even fewer (if any) have any kind of formation at all.

So, given our time together will be short, I figured I need to get into a nutshell the basic message about what catechesis is and who we as catechists are.

I am going to use this Scripture passage (this is my ‘go-to’ passage when I have to explain simply and easily what catechesis is about):

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

Catechesis is above all about being a witness to Christ.

If you had to transmit one message to catechists – what would it be and why?


The Enquiry Phase

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith

We had an interesting exchange here about the point of the enquiry period of the RCIA. I know of few parishes who even do this, and I feel it is one of the most important parts to get right in RCIA.

I’ve been at RCIA sessions before that are sound and rich in doctrine, and yet because of a lack of affective, spiritual conversion within the participants, little impact is made. It’s like a puddle of water sitting on the surface of the earth without sinking in.

So, I thought it would be good to revisit the principles of this phase – which I believe should be part of a good Confirmation programme, too.

The RCIA tells us that, before they are ready to celebrate the Rite of Acceptance, “the beginnings of the spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teaching have taken root in the candidates” (RCIA, 42). What is meant by “beginnings of the spiritual life”? The rest of the paragraph gives more information: there “must be evidence of the first faith” and there “must also be evidence of the first stirrings of repentance”.

In other words, there must be an initial adherence to Jesus Christ, the beginnings of a relationship with Him, the initial desire to give our life over to Him.

“First faith” is someone’s spiritual awakening, the realisation that “Jesus is Lord.” This simultaneously causes the “first stirrings of repentance”. Part of the process of adhering to Jesus, is seeing our life in His light, and repenting of our sin.

In my understanding, I think this corresponds somewhere between the third threshold (openness) and fourth threshold (seeking) in Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples (see one of my posts on this great book here). It is the bridge between passive curiosity and active seeking. We encounter Christ, begin to ‘fall for Him’, and want to take things further. As one RCIA leader put it, the enquiry phase is the “dating” phase.

Everything in the enquiry phase, therefore, is introducing someone to Jesus, inviting them to “taste and see” his goodness, to lead them to an encounter with him. And to remove any obstacles that may be in the way of this encounter.

As RCIA 37 puts it –

“From evangelisation, completed with the help of God, come the faith and initial conversion that cause a person to feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God’s love. The whole period of the precatechumenate is set aside for this evangelisation, so that the genuine will to follow Christ and seek Baptism may mature”

My experience in the parish was that, once we established an enquiry phase and gave people time for this to happen, the fruits of the Catechumenate were far, far greater. It was like the earth was turned over and the water could sink in.

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In contrast, what do we typically see in parishes? (Here I’m thinking of parishes with a doctrinally solid RCIA.) I think sometimes we see adults receiving catechesis that is too advanced, too soon. They listen to a wonderfully rich exposition of the “four marks of the Church”. But, without a growing relationship with Christ, do they know what this means for their life? Or is it like water sitting on hard earth which will soon float away? All doctrine needs to nourish spiritual life. If the interior life is not yet there, teaching doctrine (unless in a deeply evangelistic way) will have little effect.

So, what do we need to do in the enquiry phase? In our precatechumenate, we started with some simple sessions: ‘What is faith? Why do we need it?’; ‘What is the purpose of my life?’; ‘How can we know God?’; ‘Why did God create?’ We focussed on getting to know people, building community (the first threshold is establishing trust), answering apologetics issues that arose (the child abuse scandal; the problem of evil), helping people to establish a prayer life (bringing them every week – even the first week – for a short time of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament). We can ask catechists or guest parishioners to share their testimony. We can read through one of the Gospels together. We need to try and stay utterly focussed on Christ.

Once again, I think Pope Francis’s words in Brazil speak powerfully to this phase of the RCIA:

We are impatient, anxious to see the whole picture, but God lets us see things slowly, quietly. The Church also has to learn how to wait.

Only the beauty of God can attract. God’s way is through enticement, allure. God lets himself be brought home. He awakens in us a desire to keep him and his life in our homes, in our hearts. He reawakens in us a desire to call our neighbours in order to make known his beauty.