Tag Archives: Franciscan university Steubenville

The Ecclesial Method, Part 4

Here we are, after a very long gap, for which I apologise… The fourth step of the ecclesial method. The first three steps of the ecclesial method for catechesis (Mgr Francis D Kelly, The Mystery We Proclaim) are the preparation, the proclamation, and the explanation. Catechesis occurs through stages: it first involves preparing the ground without which nothing can really be heard or received, it then moves on to the central moment of the proclamation, the announcement of the kerygma, followed by a clear explanation adapted to the needs of those catechised. Next, comes the fourth step:

Application

20120311-194624.jpgThis is a vital moment that can easily become overlooked. Only when doctrine and real life come together does the lightbulb come on, so to speak. We all know what it is like: we allot 30 minutes for proclamation and explanation. We have key objectives for understanding we need to cover. One activity takes longer than planned, a particular point sparks imagination and the questions are endless. You don’t get through everything you wanted to. Before you know it, the explanation step has not only encroached into, but totally gazumped the application step. Here are a few points I’ve found helpful:

  •  You can’t cover everything! Hopefully you have a realistic number of learning objectives for your session (I’ve found that around three or four are realistic for an hour and a half session), but even then, even with the best will and catechetical skills in the world, it may be that you don’t get through everything. This is fine. Thankfully we’re giving catechesis, not teaching a GCSE syllabus.
  • I remember Professor James Pauley say at the Bosco conference at Steubenville last summer: every baptised Catholic has the right to be taught the full Deposit of Faith – just not in 30 minutes!
  • Because the Catholic Faith, and therefore catechesis too, are organic, the foundational truths and other central doctrines should come up again and again. Those receiving catechesis should be able to view them from many different angles. It is a bit like being on a tour of a cathedral or basilica and viewing the altar from every angle, including from above. We shouldn’t aim to exhaust any one teaching in one session.
So, what is the point of this step?

When we speak of the preparation step, we speak about “calculated disengagement” – helping those being catechised to step back from the busyness of the lives they have come from, to be ready to hear God’s Word. Now we come to the application step, we want to achieve “calculated re-engagement“. Now we have heard God’s Word and understood what this means, have thought it through and grasped it a little bit, we need to consider the reality of our lives in the light of this Word.

20120311-200908.jpgWhat does this teaching mean in our lives? Naturally, we seem to think straight away about the difficult moral implications it may mean for our lives. This is important, but even before we get there, there are simpler responses: If a teaching on God the Father is effective and powerful to those being catechised, their response may be: ‘Wow! Why do I worry so much if God is my Father?!’ If a teaching on Baptism hits home for the baptised, it may result in a response of: ‘The Three Persons of the Trinity have actually made their home in me! Which means I am never alone…’ Or an effective teaching on Grace may help a person realise, ‘I have been struggling so much with this sin. But God always gives grace, so I will ask for his help.’

I really believe that God’s Word transforms our attitudes, before it transforms our actions and behaviour. A woman who is afraid to come off the Pill needs to know the love of God for her, that her life is in safe hands, before the teaching about natural family planning can be truly received in her life.

How do we help this stage to happen? In our Catechumenate sessions, the Application stage happens in small discussion groups (answering questions for understanding and application to life) as well as afterwards during silent prayer in the church where they pray with and consider the questions further, and also at home, in between sessions. In our Confirmation sessions, the application stage happens in different ways: individual reflection in their spiritual journal, small group discussion, one-on-one chat with their mentor, or a spiritual questionnaire during the time of prayer.

This stage is so vital, because it means Christianity is real. It is not just something I assent to. This has meaning for every area of my life. If this step is squeezed out of our catechesis, the seed of the word lies on the surface of the soil without taking root. It is definitely more difficult than the explanation step, and it therefore requires us to give more time to planning and prayer: effort which is undoubtedly well-spent.

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St John Bosco Conference 2011

Franciscan University, Steubie! 🙂

Wow – I really don’t know where to begin. The St John Bosco Conference was, in short, AWESOME! Absolutely amazing. For me, it was perfect training for the job that I do – combining professional expertise, intellectual rigor, an abundance of insight and wisdom based on years of experience, and always, most importantly, an emphasis on HOLINESS which must be at the centre of ANY role within the Church. As a woman who taught one of the workshops I attended said: “This is the way God has chosen to make you a saint.” It was a huge joy to be there – superb teaching, beautiful times of prayer, and an anointed sense of community. *Sigh*…It was sad to leave.

So who loves their job as much as this catechist?!


Around 400 people participated in the conference in total – all of them parish DREs (Director of Religious Education), catechists, youth ministers. What struck me most was the seriousness with which everyone took the vocation of catechesis. Many of them give up a week out of the summer for five years in a row in order to follow training for their particular ministry. My guess would be that the catechists who have completed this training are highly skilled and competent, having covered a vast range of extremely relevant, practical and rigorous training. As you can tell, I was very impressed.

It was a far cry from the attitude towards catechesis we face so often: that anyone willing can do it: as long as they have the ‘right resource’ or have some experience in teaching, or are vaguely keen, they fit the bill. Everything at John Bosco pointed in the other direction: catechists need to be set on becoming saints, they need to be deeply knowledgeable of Scripture and doctrine as found in the Catechism, they need excellent knowledge of their audience – how to perceive the signs and stages of conversion, how to win people for Christ and evangelise hearts. As I have said before, if catechising is one of the most important works we do – why do it with less than excellence? God deserves the BEST.

So, there are many, many things I have taken away from the conference – I have deepened in understanding, been inspired with practical ideas, and been generally encouraged and enthused for this wonderful mission. I hope to share some of this in the coming posts! In particular, I want to share about: the ecclesial method of catechesis; how we can ensure Christ is at the centre of our Catechumenate; and teaching Jesus through typology to young people.

Anyone who was at the Conference – would be great to hear from you in the comments! What was your best part?


Liturgy and catechesis (again!)

It is wonderful to be in a sauna-like Steubenville. This is my first time to the States and so far all I have seen is a viciously thorough customs in Atlanta, Pittsburgh airport on the brink of a huge summer storm, and Franciscan University, which is an incredible place. Besides the weird outdoor smells (apparently we’re close to coal plants) and the intense humidity, it’s been amazing to experience first-hand how super-friendly Americans are and the real abundance of cookies, bagels and donuts – you can’t get away from them! 🙂

At the moment we are in the lull between the end of one conference and the beginning of the next. The first one, the Amicitia Catechetica (‘catechetical friendship’) has been fascinating and thought-provoking. All three institutions – Steubenville, Maryvale and Notre Dame de Vie – have given their own presentation on liturgy and catechesis, and the content has been so profound and thought-provoking it is going to take a while to digest everything.

However, there has been one principle at the heart of all the papers given. There is a deep theological (not just pastoral) grounding for the relationship between the liturgy and catechesis that needs to be understood and acknowledged in catechesis. Because the liturgy is the very heart of the life of the Church, it needs to be the very fibre of catechesis. Liturgy is catechetical in a most excellent way because it gives what it teaches. Catechesis is a servant of the Liturgy since this is where Christ’s life is given to the Church; catechesis always leads therefore to liturgical participation. This is written into the very structure of the Catechism itself – Part 2 of the Catechism on the Celebration of the Christian Mystery – is what gives our whole faith unity: the other three parts find their fulfilment and deepest meaning in this part because the Liturgy makes possible our real participation in the life of God – the goal of the other parts of the Catechism. This, in a nutshell, is what we have been understanding more deeply.

One final thought: a week ago, I gave some catechesis in another parish on the New Translation of the Missal. I was explaining the deeper meaning of the new, more accurate wording. It was a real joy to be able to share with this group of around 25 people (average age significantly older to the audiences I’m used to in our parish!) some of the riches of the meaning of the Liturgy, since it clearly made sense to most of them and they were hungry to understand more. One lady asked a question at the end: she said that she thought the conversion to the vernacular in the 60s ‘brought the Church closer to the people’ – so was this move moving the Church further away? It is a common misunderstanding I think. I made the point that WE are all the Church and want to believe and pray and so enter into the fullness of the truth, not something that is dumbed down to what we can supposedly ‘grasp’. This conference has made this point clearer for me – when there is a lack of understanding of the Liturgy, there seem to be two different responses: either dumb down the Liturgy, OR elevate the understanding of the people. This second option is clearly the best. The first mutilates and falsifies and diminishes the Liturgy and gives something less than what God wants to give. The second avoids patronising people by telling them what they can and cannot understand. It often results in the exclamation – ‘why has no one ever told us this before?!’ let us not be the ones who fail to hand on what we ourselves have received.


A catechetical summer conference

Tomorrow morning, very early, I head off to Franciscan University in Steubenville for a couple of catechetical conferences. I’m pretty excited… Cannot wait, in fact. So I will be a bit quieter over the next week. However, I can promise LOTS of blogging on my return next week. 🙂 Missing you already!