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School of Faith

New year... new energy for adult formation!

New year… new energy for adult formation!

I’m remembering all too vividly this time last year and the spectacularly excited lead-up to the beginning of the Catholicism course we ran at the Centre for Catholic Formation in Tooting. The phone was ringing off the hook, I was desperately searching for more small group leaders, it became much bigger than I anticipated – but it was definitely what God had in mind! This year, for the Year of Faith, we wanted to run a series on the Catechism – looking back at my very first thoughts on the Year of Faith this time last year, this is exactly what has come about!

We are delighted to be holding a School of Faith for twelve weeks from Wednesday 9th January to right before Holy Week. Read more about the course here. The course is based on the first module of Maryvale Institute’s Certificate in Studies in the Catechism. Each week, an acclaimed speaker will teach on the topics as we take an in-depth journey through the first sections of the Catechism (up to the Fall). This is an opportunity for adults to dive deeper into the riches of our Faith in an intelligent and attractive way. We have invited some of the best teachers of the Catholic Faith to deliver this teaching, in what promises to be a rich and nourishing series of adult formation.

Each evening includes a delicious hot buffet supper, times of prayer, teaching from speakers such as Dr Petroc Willey, Dr Caroline Farey, Bishop Philip Egan, Fr Tim Finigan and Fr Stephen Wang, to name only a few. Each week also gives the opportunity to meet in small groups led by experienced catechists to deepen understanding of the teaching and discover how it applies to our everyday life of faith. The School of Faith is not a series of lectures, but a series of growing deeper in our faith and closer to Christ in the community of the Church. Every week will be geared towards this goal. Last year, we found that many of the small groups became true communities, and some even still meet now, a year on. Deepening our faith in Jesus can only result in communion with each other.

If you would like to join this course, there are only a few spaces left. We are expecting a surge of bookings when the Centre re-opens on Monday so do book yourself a place quickly: 020 8672 7684 or office@ccftootingbec.org.uk.

Finally – I am looking for our last few small group leaders. Most of them come from our wonderful parish, but with many people already giving weekly catechesis we are stretched! You do not necessarily need experience of this; we are looking for two things: that you know and understand the Faith well (although any unanswered questions can be put to the speakers at the end), and that you are a ‘people person’, someone who would be able to guide discussion. (Training will be provided for leaders too!) Last year, a couple of leaders came through this blog, so please do get in touch if you feel you can help in this way (please leave your email in the comments) and I will get in touch (and quiz you on the Catechism 😉 – joking!)

Please keep this course and everyone on it in your prayers.


Discerning what the Year of Faith invites us to…

How nice to return to (almost) normal life! There’s something lovely about being in your own parish for Mass, getting into a regular routine at the gym, and seeing friends again. Travelling always opens my eyes, clarifies my vision, sparks my imagination, and I love how it widens my understanding, how I see reality… But, as Dorothy discovered, there’s no place like home 🙂

Before I went to the States, I had absolutely no idea what we would do in the parish for the Year of Faith, or even if we would do anything extra special at all. Over the past month, I have heard a lot about the Year of Faith. I have seen some seriously amazing plans. I have seen T-shirts and super-cool logos. I’ve heard about live-streaming of lecture series and no end of creative, new ways of transmitting the Faith which have not quite reached these shores…

Wonderful – but I wonder if we can get caught up in the hype of thinking we have to put on something spectacular.

Here are the two most important things I realised:

1. We need to discern, above all, what the Church is calling us to in the Year of Faith.

2. We need to discern what this means for our own parish – what are the greatest needs that we have, and what invitation is the Year of Faith extending to us?

So, I set about number 1 over July. I read Porta Fidei again. I talked with people who are lots more experienced than me. I realised the four, universal crucial elements to which the Year of Faith calls us: (a) Teaching on the Catechism of the Catholic Church; (b) Teaching on the Vatican Council documents; (c) A Holy Hour with the Holy Father for Corpus Christi (let’s not forget this – the Holy Father probably has a very important intention in mind); (d) Making a Profession of Faith.

Then, gradually, as I prayed, and digested all of this, a plan began to emerge in my mind.

Does that ever happen to anyone else?! Or is it only me?

I often have plans emerging in my mind (a real occupational hazard…) and I have to determine which are good, and which are not-so-good. Is this what is most needed? Is it making the best use of our resources? Is it achievable? Is it too ambitious? Is it not ambitious enough?! Ultimately: Is this what the Lord wants or is it what I want? Gradually, as I discuss with others in the parish, and continue to pray, things work out into something real and concrete.

In case you are interested, here are the priorities I think are most important for the Year of Faith in our parish:

  • Catechist formation – this is my number 1! Without it, everything flounders. I hope we will run a new programme of formation for new catechists in the Autumn term
  • Course based on the Catechism (Maryvale’s course in the CCC is the best available, as far as I know, and they are offering the opportunity for people to use it in small study groups – see more on their Year of Faith website)
  • Continue to run ‘refresher’ courses such as Anchor, for those returning to Church or aware of their lack of understanding
  • Following on from our adult formation last year, lots of people wanted to meet more regularly, and so quite spontaneously, small home groups are being formed. They are following books from this series which are proving really fruitful so far
  • Looking at the evaluations from adult formation last year, people would like deeper formation in understanding Scripture – we may perhaps run a short course using the Great Adventure Bible Timeline in the summer term. We already used the teen version with our young people, and it was brilliant
  • As I wrote about in a previous post, we have a full formation programme planned for Confirmation and First Communion parents.

What would be AWESOME is if every adult in the parish chose one means of formation for the year, then everyone came together at the end of the Year of Faith to make their Profession of Faith. In fact, I think Pope Benedict thinks this would be pretty awesome too:

We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope. Porta Fidei, 9

One thing’s for sure, though: don’t get in a tizz about doing something spectacular: allow God to be the main protagonist in this year ahead. Let us cooperate with the work he wants to do. And, while we’re discerning what’s right, once again I think these are excellent questions that we can pose to our parish’s formation programmes.


Year of Faith

Beautiful Kansas

In Kansas City, it was almost cool enough to be outside yesterday. It rained a couple of nights ago for the first time in weeks and weeks, and the baked earth gave off heat and a lovely, sweet smell. I love being in Kansas right now; it is a beautiful place to be.

It’s also a great hub of activity in the midst of the Year of Faith preparations. The plans are being organised under three headings: Love It, Live It, Learn It. The Love It plans are to do with liturgy, prayer, and spiritual formation. The Live It plans concern living your faith in the workplace, in marriage, in the public square, and through service of the community. The Learn It plans are to do with evangelisation and catechesis.

The plans are pretty impressive. For the Learn It section, 20 parishes will have a course on the Catechism of the Catholic Church; great resources such as The Great Adventure Bible Timeline and the Catholicism series are going to be available to parishes to show them; there will be a big series of lectures on the four constitutions of the Vatican Council, which will be streamed live into homes around the diocese – people will be encouraged to watch together in small groups. Parishes will be also be trained, with the help of Evangelical Catholic, to form adult small groups that multiply, as an evangelisation initiative for parishes.

At the same time, completely separate from the Year of Faith, we’ve been putting together a promotions strategy for the Maryvale courses – Kansas is a Maryvale Centre and offers Maryvale formation for all their catechists. The plans and ideas for reaching a large number of people for the next cohorts are really exciting.

Olympics Opening Ceremony

And also – I am watching the live stream of the Olympics opening ceremony 🙂 Albeit the streaming comes in and out as there is no US channel broadcasting it live, but, seeing the Queen, London sights, Mary Poppins, James Bond et al… is making me miss my home land! Don’t worry, England, I am coming home to you on Sunday!


Revolutionary Children’s Catechesis

20120228-225535.jpg

Now is the time to completely snap out of the mentality of catechesis being something we ‘have to get done’, like a sacramental programme. This incredible new programme of children’s catechesis shows how it’s done. People are often amazed that the catechesis we have in our parish is every week, all year round. But this is the model of this wonderful new catechesis for children. If only more parishes in the UK would adopt this model and catechesis became a normal thing for Catholic children to attend each week, like a ballet class.

However, this is by no means the main reason this catechesis is so excellent.

Each year in Come, Follow Me (so far for ages 7-11) builds on the previous year: it is wonderfully systematic. The catechesis follows the divine pedagogy very closely and it is beautiful to watch. I first watched a presentation of it in France where it originates from. The second time I saw a presentation was at Franciscan University in Steubenville, where Anne Marie Le Bourhis did the catechesis with young adults (pretending they were children). It is wonderful to watch; in fact, it evangelised me – it touched my heart and turned me towards God just from watching Anne Marie give the catechesis. It really left me with a deep desire to pray (which is surely what catechesis should do!) This is a catechesis given in an atmosphere which is prayerful and liturgical. It takes seriously the action of the Holy Spirit in the heart of each child, inspiring them with an understanding of the truth they are being taught. It is deeply scriptural, and quite profound… Just have a read through some of the sessions. Most importantly, this catechesis has had remarkable impact on children.

Anyone who is involved in children’s catechesis – I would warmly encourage you to come and see for yourself. There is a ‘discovery day’ on 31 March and training weekend for the full weekend at Maryvale Institute. See the website for more details.


Getting catechesis right

One of the suggestions for the Year of Faith is for dioceses to review the catechetical resources they currently use:

It is hoped that local catechisms and various catechetical supplements in use in the particular Churches would be examined to ensure their complete conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Should a catechism or supplement be found to be not totally in accord with the Catechism, or should some lacunae be discovered, new ones should be developed, following the example of those Conferences which have already done so.

And:

It would be appropriate for each particular Church to review the reception of Vatican Council II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its own life and mission, particularly in the realm of catechesis. This would provide the opportunity for a renewal of commitment on the part of the catechetical offices of the Dioceses which – supported by the Commissions for Catechesis of the Episcopal Conferences – have the duty to care for the theological formation of catechists.

One of the activities students do in the Maryvale Certificate in Catechesis is evaluate some commonly used parish catechetical resources. As I’ve been marking these papers, I’ve been amazed at the heresy in these very common resources: such as this First Communion resource. The problem is, parish priests and catechists see an attractive resource, lots of colouring in, easy for catechists to use, very child-friendly and happily ‘add to cart’ – it ticks all the boxes!

But, when you look more closely, like the Maryvale catechists are being trained to do, there are some serious deficiencies. How, as a catechist, can you identify if the resources your parish uses are catechetically sound?

A helpful list of ten deficiencies found in many catechetical resources was drawn together by the US Bishops at an ad hoc committee to oversee the use of the Catechism, in June 1997.

Placing this list against the First Communion resource identified above makes for some interesting discoveries. This is a resource which might tick all your ‘easy-use’ requirements, but it also successfully ticks many of the ‘spot-the-heresy’ boxes, too:

Here’s just one example:

“Jesus was a good person and spent a lot of his time talking about God.”

Two mistakes in one (insufficient attention to the Trinity and insufficient emphasis on Christ’s divinity): the ten deficiencies list explains these two problems:

“A recognised reluctance to use “Father” for the First Person of the Trinity…There are times where the word ‘God’ is placed in a sentence where one would expect to find ‘Father’ or ‘God the Father'”

“Jesus as Saviour is often overshadowed by Jesus as teacher, model, friend, or brother.”

20120211-221648.jpgMany would say that this reluctance to use the word “Father” in a resource is not going to make too much difference to a seven-year-old. But, I would disagree – a seven-year-old is capable of entering into a living relationship with God who is their Father – not some monolithic being. A young child is also awakening to their own sense of sin, and to their corresponding need for a Saviour. Jesus as “model” simply puts a great moralistic burden on a child, rather than inviting them to know the One who, because He is God, saves them.

I hope many parishes and even dioceses will take the opportunity of the Year of Faith to review what resources are being used in their catechesis, to acknowledge the subtle but real harm they can do, and train their catechists in the use of authentic resources.


The Year of Faith

I am already excited about the Year of Faith. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently published a Note with proposals for living the Year. It is a great Note, with some very concrete suggestions for everyone from the universal Church to episcopal conferences, and from dioceses to parishes. What is significant is the frequent mention of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (woo hoo!), given that the Year of Faith begins on the twentieth anniversary of its promulgation. Catechesis is at the heart of the Year of Faith and the Church in this country is like a dry land when it comes to catechesis… Although for the most part she does not know she is dry.

Faith in Christ brings healing and life - From a Roman catacomb, 3rd Century

So, what gifts does God want to give the Church in this Year of Faith, and how best can we be disposed to receive and respond to them?

There are some more general proposals, such as for each diocese to review its reception of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (and this means both its structure and content) particularly in its catechesis. Two big areas arise here – both the materials we use, in schools and parishes; and the theological formation received by our catechists. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful sign if dioceses took this particular call seriously? Not just ticking a box – but looking at the real need for catechetically sound materials and authentic, theological formation of catechists.

I would love to hear your own ideas for the Year of Faith! Here are two very practical suggestions I have taken from the CDF’s note:

1. It is desirable that each Diocese organise a study day on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, particularly for its priests, consecrated persons and catechists. I hope Dr Petroc Willey will be in high demand in this Year of Faith to teach such days – his knowledge of the Catechism is second-to-none (perhaps to the Holy Father 🙂 ) – he is truly an expert on this book and this doesn’t seem to be recognised enough.

2. The Note calls for groups of the faithful to work towards a deeper understanding of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Again, Maryvale offers a fantastic Certificate in Studies in the Catechism which would be a superb undertaking for groups of lay people in parishes.

What other ideas do you have? Both within dioceses and within parishes?


Maryvale

If you haven’t heard, there’s been some wonderful news for Maryvale this week: Petroc, or “Professor Willey” as the Americans love to call him, has been selected as one of fifteen consulters to the new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation 🙂 More details here. If you’ve had anything to do with Maryvale, you will know that their catechetical work is second-to-none in this country – far surpassing the quality of any other formation in catechetics you could receive. The time is long overdue for dioceses and other centres of formation in this country to use Maryvale for formation of their lay people – something which we all know there is an enormous need for, and which Maryvale does so well. Recently I gave a lecture at St Patrick Evangelisation School in Soho, and the students commented that there was “something special” about the teachers they had who had studied at Maryvale.

Speaking of catechetical formation: The Maryvale Certificate in Catechesis, a two-year, distance-learning course, will begin in January in New Malden, a local centre for Maryvale. This course is an excellent formation for catechists in both content and methodology, and is approved by the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy in Rome. All parish catechists would benefit enormously from this course. A lady I know who began it last year in Ealing told me how impactive it has been on her growth in faith and her vocation as a catechist. I am trying to get a little group of our catechists together to begin this course. We already have three this year completing the certificate in RCIA catechesis. If you, or catechists you know, want formation that nourishes the mind and heart, and forms them thoroughly for the mission of catechesis, get in touch with Carol Harnett at Maryvale (mcc@maryvale.ac.uk) to find out about beginning the course in January.