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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.


Top Ten RCIA Traps

The Association of Catechumenal Miinistry is the best for RCIA - click on the image

Recently a number of conversations with different people have highlighted for me that in many parish RCIA processes there are still some fairly dismal practices going on. RCIA, in my view, is one of the most important works of the Church – it is crucial in determining the depth of a person’s conversion, and whether they continue to practise after their classes finish. 

Firstly, a disclaimer: I am aware that RCIA catechesis can be difficult work and that most catechists are volunteers or overstretched priests. I think that sometimes, though, there is little investment made into training RCIA catechists (Maryvale Institute runs an excellent one-year RCIA training certificate) so that they are even aware of the liturgical, catechetical and pastoral principles of the RCIA. 

So, with this in mind, here is a list of the Top Ten Traps that some RCIAs – wittingly or unwittingly – seem to fall into: 

Conversion takes time

1. A nine-month journey, one-size-fits-all, to the sacraments of initiation
You know how it goes – someone rocks up at a class in October and by May they’re a fully-fledged Catholic. But are they? It is rare that a person’s full conversion process – which involves mind, heart, will, entire life – can take place in such a short space of time. Give God chance! Each person has an individual story and needs an RCIA process which meets their needs.

2. Lack of faithfulness to Church teaching
In my naivety I thought this had mostly died out in our Church today – until I was speaking recently to someone who is a catechist in an RCIA process where the catechumens are told they don’t need to worry about going to Confession… Uh-oh. Let’s not create even more Catholics in the image of those who don’t practise. We are seriously short-changing people by not telling them the truth they are hungry for.

3. Emphasis on experience over doctrine
This is another model of catechesis I thought had died out… but little did I know, it is apparently still alive and kicking. The “Twigs and Tealights” approach: The starting point is to ask people what a Scripture passage means to them before they have received any teaching. I presume people come to RCIA for answers – they already know what they think! A girl I met for catechesis last week summed it up when she said that the doctrine she was learning was “satisfying” – it nourishes the mind with truth.

4. No reference to experience – failure to help catechumens apply doctrine to life
This is at the opposite end of the spectrum: The doctrine presented is very orthodox… but completely dry. Catechumens are left wondering what on earth this has to do with their everyday life. They can explain to you perfectly what the hypostatic union is, but they have not been helped to see how doctrine impacts their daily life. We need to model the principle of “unity of life”: what we believe and how we live are intricately connected.

Disgruntled Catholics do not help the Catechumenate

5. Opening the doors of RCIA to Catholics who want answers to their questions
We’ve all been there: Mrs. Why-Can’t-Women-Be-Priests shows up at RCIA because it’s been presented to the parish as open to everyone – a “journey in faith” together. Catholics with gripes about their faith really do much more harm than good to the fragile faith of those in the early stages of conversion. This problem points to a much greater need – adult Catholics need ongoing formation which sadly, in most places, they are not getting. The answer is not to lump them in with the catechumens: these are two groups of people with different “statuses” within the Church and with very different needs. 

6. No period of evangelisation (or precatechumenate)
An easy trap to fall into. Curious enquirers come in off the street slap bang into the middle of a heady presentation on “The Proofs for the Existence of God” – the standard first class of the RCIA. Are they likely to want to come back? Probably not. There’s a need to be sensitive to the beginnings of faith – which tend to be delicate and shaky. The first step of the RCIA must be a gentle and inviting enquiry period. Apologetics should be up front and centre: Answer the immediate questions that people have to remove their stumbling blocks. Evangelise through a welcoming experience of community; an initial and attractive proclamation of the Faith; an introduction to the life of prayer. A thorough and systematic catechesis comes later when faith is stronger and the mind needs to be nourished. 

7. No celebration of the liturgical rites throughout the process
It can easily be forgotten that RCIA is a liturgical process: R stands for Rite. It is the Liturgy that initiates us into God’s life, and catechesis always leads to the Liturgy. The Church has instituted Rites along the way of the RCIA process to give grace that is needed to aid conversion, to strengthen faith. This allows the process truly to be God’s process of drawing people to himself – not something we do through our nine-month programme. 

8. Overlooking irregular marriages / living arrangements
This is a tricky one – it’s a difficult moment when you look through someone’s initial enquiry form and realise that there’s likely to be a problem: maybe they have been married previously or maybe their partner has. These delicate issues need to be tackled with great pastoral sensitivity and support – before the Rite of Acceptance (that is, before they begin their Catechumenate). The role of the sponsor here is vital to ensure that the person is encouraged to persevere. A less serious, but still crucial problem to be faced, is cohabitation. Again, we are not doing people any favours in failing to speak the truth to them in love. Sponsors again are key here – someone who has a good, trusting relationship with the person concerned – and can speak openly and honestly about their situation. Another common moral situation to be faced is contraception. We need courage, sensitivity and wisdom to tackle these problems (not immediately, but gradually) – and tackle them we must, to be faithful to God.

9. Little or no discernment about whether a person is ready for the sacraments of initiation
Perhaps someone’s attendance hasn’t been strong, perhaps they are still not attending Mass every Sunday, perhaps we have a sense they just haven’t quite “got” it. It is recommended that the parish priest meet with the catechumens and candidates for a “discernment interview” before the Rite of Acceptance, and then again before the Rite of Election. The work of discernment needs to be taken seriously: otherwise, we are simply perpetuating the problem of being a Church of lapsed Catholics. The sponsor and the main catechist can offer their view as to whether the person is ready, but at the end of the day, the final decision lies with the priest.

10. Lectionary-based catechesis
Again – I didn’t know this still happened, but apparently, it does…! Catechesis that is based on the Sunday Gospel each week may be Scriptural, but it is not systematic. Systematic means that one doctrine builds upon another – there is an organic connection between all doctrines – with Christ at the centre. There is no guarantee that, if you base your catechesis on the lectionary, your catechumens will have any idea of the teaching on the Holy Spirit, for example, or how this links to the Church. Probably they will be of the impression that Christianity is a moralistic code about being good and nice to people… because, sadly, this is what people seem to take away from the Gospels without deeper teaching. 

The beginning of a new life

A final note – every time I am at our Catechumenate either teaching or just being there, I feel time and again how inadequate my knowledge is, how weak my faith is – every week, it makes me pray to the Lord to make me a better catechist and a better Christian. The truth is, we will always be inadequate to the enormous task that is before us. Only the Holy Spirit is up to this task. As well as taking the steps to form our RCIA process more in the mind of the Church, the greatest need is to increasingly surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit – who is the One Converter of hearts and minds.


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.