Tag Archives: parish practice

How long?

How do we prepare young people to receive the sacraments fruitfully?

How do we prepare young people to receive the sacraments fruitfully?

Here I am, still marvelling every day at where I’ve landed, right on the south coast. A lot of adjustment is going on: from the city to the seaside; from a fast-paced lifestyle to a slower one; from hundreds of young adults in church to… (let’s be honest) very few. I’m getting my head around a few things. My current experience is probably closer to every normal Catholic’s experience, but it is quite different from where I’ve come from.

So, blog readers, this is where you come in 🙂 Adjusting from a pretty rosy catechetical scene, I now find myself asking – how do we get there? How does this happen? What is the Lord calling us to do?

Here’s my first little topic for us to mull over…

I’m coming from a parish where every sacramental programme was no less than a year long. It was the system in place when I arrived four years ago, and I had never experienced anything like it, least of all in my own sacramental preparation as a child and teenager. But over time, I began to see the huge benefit of it. Gradually I became a big advocate of long programmes. Why? Here are some reasons:

  • Catechesis should be ongoing, anyway – for every single one of us (see GDC 84) – so if we can’t have permanent catechesis for all children, then their sacramental preparation needs to at least be long enough to cover the Deposit of Faith
  • Every baptised person has a right to be taught the full Deposit of Faith and you cannot do that in six sessions
  • Sacramental preparation should prepare each person’s heart to receive the sacrament fruitfully – which only happens if they have the right disposition. Creating the conditions for this disposition to be formed is a work of delicacy, prayer, and much effort, and, as with everything involving the Holy Spirit, takes time – why rush the conversion process?
  • There is a great advantage to regularity in formation – if we go to something each week, it is far more likely to become a good habit – there is more chance this will continue after the sacraments have been received
  • Regular nourishment is how God wants to form us! Not a great big feast and then starvation mode for several years. He wants to feed us with his Scriptures and teaching regularly, frequently

I admit – it is hard enough maintaining a long programme already in place. Parents see the parish next door confirming any teenager who moves, and they are resentful at what they see as the “demands” placed on them.

Every year we faced grumbles like this. During one parent’s meeting, however, one parent (previously dubious) stood up to defend the length of the programme, saying that the community and friendship which was forged as a result was remarkable and now sustained her daughter’s faith life.

In my experience, it is worth holding firm and sticking to your guns, and allowing the few who will drop off and head to the next door parish to do just that.

But, if you are starting this up somewhere, I imagine it is a whole different story. How do you suggest the new approach to parents? How do you convince young people this will be worth it? Please share your ideas!

Catechetics in the seminary

Last week, I spent some time at the seminary teaching on catechetics. What a fantastic few days. It was difficult to know how to pitch it, given that I’m used to speaking to adults in the parish without a great deal of theological background. But how refreshing to be able to share some catechetical principles along with concrete examples from our parish, with a wonderful group of seminarians. We discussed different experiences of catechesis – what makes good practice and what makes bad, we explored the pedagogy of God in the GDC and compared methodologies to it, we looked at the goals of catechesis outlined by Mgr FD Kelly as well as his ecclesial method, we looked at liturgical catechesis, particularly how to teach ‘from’ and ‘to’ the rite, we discussed the importance of the four dimensions of Christian life in catechetics, and the ‘symphony’ of the Catholic faith whose main themes are the five foundational truths. It was an enjoyable and inspiring three days, and I was privileged to be able to share ideas with them. For the future of catechesis in the Church, vital to her flourishing, is the solid formation of seminarians in catechetics. These few days showed me the importance of this, and I am increasing my prayers for seminarians in our country. Please increase your prayers, too!

Suspicious motives…?

This is a question often raised regarding people who come to RCIA: they just want to jump through the hoops, get their child into a school, and so on.

The first thing I would say about ulterior motives is this: if that is the ‘hook’ that God has used to get them there – so be it. We can work with that! In our parish, we have sponsors who have the “hands-on” role of building a friendship with the person they are matched with, gradually building up confidence and trust. Only when that is there can the sponsor, who is a friend, bring up the nitty gritty issues that have to be confronted. I know a lady who began this conversation with her candidate by being completely upfront: “You are not going to like what I’m going to say but…” The woman was a bit indignant and upset at the time, but later she reflected more deeply and admitted that her sponsor (and the Church!) was right. It may take months and months to win people and yes, we may lose some along the way. But hopefully they will remember the people they had contact with in the Church were people who really cared about them, were real friends, and cared enough to tell them the truth. Deep down, (most) people know that the Church is right.

If our Precatechumenate and Catechumenate are the places they should be (inviting, prayerful, full of friendships and community, not afraid to challenge or deal with tough issues) they will be places where people have to be real. Even if someone comes along to the Precatechumenate determined to get her child into the Catholic school (and there are lots of stubbornly determined mothers out there who have gone to even more drastic measures), she is still a human being, and who can resist for very long people with winning personalities who are kind, friendly, knowledgeable about the faith?! It is true – some people do resist. I was sad last year when a young woman who started attending the Precatechumenate to satisfy her grandmother who wanted her to be confirmed, stopped coming when she realised this was not going to be particularly quick. Several months later I met her in the street and we chatted, and she said she was planning to come back, but I haven’t seen her since. This is sad, but it is a fact of life. This woman wasn’t ready or willing to face the deeper questions about life for herself. I just hope she remembers her experience of the Church as a place where people cared about her and wanted her to keep coming, even though she decided not to.

If you don’t have sponsors – and even if you do! – the catechists really need to build these personal relationships. People are so much more likely to listen to what we are teaching if we know them as friends, if we enjoy spending an evening every week together. This is why socialising is helpful – meeting people for coffee or even giving them a call in between times. Our Catechumenate involves a weekend retreat which builds community. Last year, a comment from one of the men in the Catechumenate after the retreat struck me: he thanked us for all the care we had put into it; it made him feel like he belonged. One of the advantages of having a long Catechumenate is that by the end, the ‘neophytes’, catechists and sponsors are a big community and people often are sad that the classes are over.