Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

Advent & Books

Visitation

I hope you’re getting into the swing of Advent (which is, let’s face it, close to impossible when most people’s Christmas jumpers seem to appear around December 1st). But anyway, we ARE still waiting, and the spirituality of Advent is a wonderful teacher to us when we have things in our life that we are waiting for – perhaps to hear about a university or a job; or if we’re unclear about the way ahead; or if God seems to be ‘slow’ giving us light about a particular situation. Advent teaches us faithfulness and patience. Not to jump ahead of God and decide what we hope his answer will be. It teaches us to adhere to Him, fully.

This particular idea for Advent is a bit late now to do in your own parish, but I recommend remembering it for next year… Our parish priest had the wonderful idea of choosing an “Advent book” for the parish. Then, he went out (or more likely, went onto Amazon) and bought 400 copies of the book, and gave them out at Masses on the First Sunday of Advent, for a “donation only”. The book he chose was Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s Come Lord Jesus. If the only way people will read a Catholic book is to give them out for free, what a great thing to do!

51Kz4+b6MqL._SX342_This Advent, I’ve finally got round to reading Pope Benedict’s The Infancy Narratives – a year late, but never mind. In fact, it was my last parish priest who gave one to each catechist last Christmas. Unsurprisingly, this book is a complete joy to read – I think sometimes I could actually read Pope Benedict all day. Somehow, when he’s explaining the ins and outs of a particular exegetical conundrum, the light he sheds on the problem is unmistakable. Suddenly it seems very clear and almost radiant. I think you can tell when a person’s insight comes from both their scholarship and their sanctity, wrapped up into one package. And it is pretty rare, if you ask me.

The final book is a little different and not very Adventy. Last month my book club read Unapologetic – Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense, by Francis Spufford. I have to say, before reading it, I was somewhat dubious to say the least. I mean, why emotional sense? It sounded a bit subjective. And yes, it errs on the side of subjectivity. Spufford claims he only “thinks” God exists, and that his ideas are based on his feelings. The feelings come first. No one can know for sure either way. (Which of course depends what he means by “for sure”.) But, all this aside, and some of the unorthodox Christian premises aside, I do think this book is worth reading. For one, what the author does extremely well, is to be 100%, utterly, painfully honest. (Perhaps too honest.) He is honest about the human condition in a way that we often fail to do as Christians who present the faith to others. We can sometimes be too quick to teach doctrines without looking at the real, experienced life of the people we are speaking to. It is easy to teach and explain doctrines, and not easy to get to grips with the gritty messiness of people’s lives, and to see how God might be at work in their life, or how he might truly transform it. The strength of Spufford’s book, I think, is to say that it is precisely the chaos and the pain that God has come into that causes Christianity to make emotional sense. In other words, other readings of reality – atheism being one of them – don’t come to grips with real life – in the way that Christianity does. Contrary to the atheist slogans on the side of the bus, for most people real life is not “enjoyable”.

This is a challenge for us as Christians, and especially for catechists, those of us who teach the faith. Let us not teach the faith in a way that is utterly divorced from lived experience. Let us be honest about the wretchedness of life for many people (including our own – we all have grey days) – and show that it is precisely this that Christ comes into and transforms.

To finish off, I thought you might like this – Spufford’s stereotyping of believers: “…believers are people who try to insert Jee-zus into conversations at parties; who put themselves down, with writhings of unease, for perfectly normal human behaviour; who are constantly trying to create a solemn hush that invites a fart, a hiccup, a bit of subversion. Believers are people who, on the rare occasions when you have to listen to them, like at a funeral or a wedding, seize the opportunity to pour the liquidised content of a primary-school nativity plan in your earhole… Believers are the people touting a solution without a problem, and an embarrassing solution too, a really damp-palmed, wide-smiling, can’t-dance solution. In an anorak.”

This is a great book to read if you’re at the interface between Catholicism and the trenchant cynicism of our post-modern culture. (All of us, then!)

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The Dynamics of Conversion and the Case of the Elder Brother

Photo courtesy of Serlunar

Photo courtesy of Serlunar

As catechists and evangelists, the first person whose conversion we need to attend to daily is… our own.

I recently watched this tremendous little clip. It’s about a man’s massive conversion from dangerous prisoner to Christian. Watch it if you haven’t seen this already.

If we are lifelong Christians with no story to compare with Shane’s, I wonder how we react to conversion stories like this? Perhaps we think that such people are different from us, that their experience of being a Christian is different from ours. I’ve even heard Christians almost wistfully wish they had at some point along the way “gone off the rails”, but they haven’t. They have remained in the Father’s house, a bit like the “elder brother” (cf. Luke 15).

Something’s wrong here…

Aren’t we all the prodigal?! This is the problem with the elder brother – he forgets that he, too, is the prodigal.

St Therese of Lisieux commented that Jesus saved her from all the dreadful sin she could have committed, before she committed it.

I really recommend going back to Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth (vol. 1), p. 202 onwards. He has amazing insight into this parable…

The elder brother is bitter –

“He sees only injustice. And this betrays the fact that he too had secretly dreamed of a freedom without limits, that his obedience has made him inwardly bitter, and that he has no awareness of the grace of being at home, of the true freedom that he enjoys as a son” (p. 208-9)

And of those in this position, Pope Benedict says,

“Their bitterness towards God’s goodness reveals an inward bitterness regarding their own obedience, a bitterness that indicates the limitations of this obedience.

In their heart of hearts, they would have gladly journeyed out into that greater ‘freedom’ as well. There is an unspoken envy of what others have got away with.

They have not gone through the pilgrimage that purified the younger brother and made him realise what it means to be free and what it means to be a son” (p. 211)

Woah! Hard-hitting.

Even for those of us who have for the most part “remained at home”, a “pilgrimage” of our heart is required – recognising our own need for profound conversion, recognising that a bitter, jealous, angry heart is as estranged from the Father as is a rebellious one. Maybe, I sometimes think, a bitter heart is even further from the Father, because at least in the prodigal there is authenticity – he does and says what he means, rather than putting on a pretence.

So, when we hear of great conversion-stories like this one, I hope we can also see in them something of our own conversion. That we know our own hearts and our capacity to sin well enough. That we, too, experience a need for as deep a conversion.

As Pope Benedict says,

“…the Father through Christ is addressing us, the ones who never left home, encouraging us too to convert truly…”

…and St Paul,

“We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20)


Catechetical Resources: Video Clips…

Here are three video clips I’ve found recently which I think will be great to add to our little catechetical ‘stores’ for future use…

Number One. Liturgy (Adult Catechesis) I love this clip! It shows the continuity, difference and complementarity of the liturgical styles of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. We hear quite a bit of talk where people – depending on their own preferences – either bemoan Pope Francis’s liturgy and long for Pope Benedict’s, or on the contrary, enthuse about what a breath of fresh air Pope Francis’s approach is, compared to the supposedly stuffy approach of Pope Benedict. None of these attitudes will do! Let us be faithful to each one. This video shows it wonderfully. Thank you to Fr James’s blog where I found this.

Number Two. Confession (Youth Catechesis) No one beats John Pridmore for evangelising young people on Confession. (In fact, it was his testimony – which I have now heard at least a hundred times 😉 – that made me make my first full Confession at age 17) In the Confirmation session I used to lead on Confession, I always tried to ensure we had a young person give their testimony to the candidates on Confession. There is nothing like a young person, speaking from the heart, and exposing their own vulnerability, to enable young people themselves to go with courage to the confessional and open their hearts fully to Christ. However, if you do not have a young person to share such a testimony, I’d say this little clip is the next best thing.

Number Three. Evangelisation (Young People) This awesome little music video from Edwin Fawcett is ideal for ‘primary evangelisation’ of young people. As I’ve mentioned constantly on this blog, we must never jump straight into catechesis with young people – we need to spend time evangelising, allowing Christ to attract their hearts first. Unless some level of conversion has happened, catechesis will be like empty words to them. Resources for a youth evangelisation retreat are like gold dust – these are the priceless tools we can use to allow God to reach into young people’s hearts and call them to conversion. Edwin is a first-class youth evangelist. (The period of evangelisation in our Confirmation programme always used to include a praise and worship session with him… now he’s onto bigger and better things 😉 ) I love this video – it reaches into broken youth culture and allows God to draw young people to himself.


Lent, the Year of Faith, and an unusual time for the Church

Lent feels somewhat different this year, somehow more intense and real. When the Holy Father made his announcement, one thing that struck so many of us was how much more intensely we need to pray for him, for the bishops, and for the whole Church. For me, it was a bit of a wake-up call to the greater sacrifices and prayer we need to contribute to the communion of the Church. I wonder whether this has made Lent, for many of us, a more significant one this year… we have entered it at a seemingly vulnerable time for the Church, yet knowing that Christ is always victorious (as Pope Benedict said to the priests of Rome recently).

Significant, too, is that this situation arises during the Year of Faith, a year of grace during which we return to the vision of the Council, the real Council which has, as the Holy Father also said recently, had “difficulty establishing itself and taking shape”. This Year, the Church is called to recommit to implementing the vision of this real Council. And this involves each one of us renewing our own faith.

Recently I came across this wonderful quotation from a talk given by Dr Caroline Farey, who clearly calls us back to the essence of renewing our own faith:

How is the heart ever going to know what is good if we don’t use our mind to inform the heart? Don’t let anyone say to you, ‘don’t worry about all that study, all you need is to get your heart united to Christ’. Yes, we need our hearts plunged in Christ… be led by Christ but let your mind be led by Christ through the Church so that your heart can follow what is actually good, and not just what is an awful lot of opinions of what must be good… The Catechism is there to help us.”

Renewing our mind through more rigorous study will lead to strengthening our commitment and love this Lent. And this is surely what the Lord and the Church need from us at this time: greater commitment and love.


Understanding with the Mind and Heart of the Church

First of all, readers, I apologise for the sporadic nature of my posting of late… You would not believe it, but I am still in the throes of moving, so life is currently filled with the joys of commuting/hotels/living out of a suitcase/being permanently surrounded by boxes… As soon as I am fully installed in the wonderful city of Portsmouth, a proper service will resume, I promise…

I don’t think there was a single Catholic who was not thrown by the Holy Father’s news this week. Once I’d finally stopped pretending the text message from my dad didn’t exist, sitting there on my desk, intrusively telling me something I did not want to believe, on that jam-packed Monday morning, I began to let the news sink in.

The range of reactions from many ordinary Catholics was very interesting and got me thinking. Here is one reaction I kept hearing in many forms: ‘I can’t believe he’s doing it. The previous Pope carried on, didn’t he?’ It’s a reaction which reveals our longing for constancy and certainty, tossed around as we are by the wind and waves of secularism and post-modern fragmentation of our world. 

Then, on the train on one of my many commutes, I read an article in a women’s magazine entitled, ‘Generation Cancellation’, on how (and this is true, in my experience) we, as modern women, are flaky when it comes to keeping engagements and cancel way too easily. It regaled readers with a checklist of (morally minimal) cancellation protocol: “Sometimes the day comes and we’re so hungover or wrung-out from work that a coffee-and-cake date with a friend feels less like a treat, and more like yet another chore on the endless to-do list.” The article promised “the definitive guide to cancelling – without losing all your friends in the process.”

Now, moral dubiousness of this article aside, it is terribly revealing of our modern mindset: we are part of a society that loves to bail out. I am sure we stick at things far less than previous generations would.

And so, to people saturated more in the mindset of the world than of the Church, perhaps it seems like this is what Pope Benedict has done. And let’s face it, the majority of ‘Catholics in the pews’ do have minds conformed to the world, not to the Word of God revealed in the Church.

Therefore, how we catechise on our Holy Father’s abdication is crucial.

Pope Benedict’s abdication could not be further from our flaky failure to turn up to something we said we’d be at, to do the thing we’d promised someone we’d do. No – Pope Benedict XVI has given us two great gifts:

  • He’s shown us, contrary to the encouragements of the world, not to go for the easy option, our own will; the measure of holiness – without exception – is to do the will of God (think of his beautiful words, “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God…” – these touched my heart enormously)
  • And he’s shown us a powerful witness of the true, authentic meaning of “letting go” (not because it’s too hard, or I can’t be bothered anymore, but because it is God’s will). A man with the most important job in the world is letting it go. As I read in an email a friend sent me this week: “In our modern age, that is almost unthinkable. We are used to climbing the ladder and enjoying the view. We’re taught to work for the best office in the building and the best seat at the table. We strive to get, to own, to possess, to control. We’re used to holding on.”

For those who struggle to understand, or whose understanding has been marred by a secular worldview, this event in the life of the Church calls us to a deeper spirituality, to think with the mind and heart of the Church about what Pope Benedict’s action means, and how it models for us authentic holiness, at odds with the ‘easy options’ presented us by the world.

Today, I stumbled across these words from Pope Benedict himself in Deus Caritas Est, which couldn’t explain it better:

“There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then are we helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keep the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor. 5:14)” Deus Caritas Est, 35


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.


5 Quick Takes!

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I was in Kent this weekend filming for a new course that will be produced especially for the Year of Faith… watch this space! It is geared towards someone who’s just walked in off the street – basic apologetics. Which is different from catechesis, so I had to put my apologetics head on… “Hmm, why do I believe in God?” I asked myself on the train on the way down. It’s good (and challenging) to get back to basics.

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Quick aside about… fashion. It has been raining SOLIDLY in London all week. It really is a drag. A good gentlemanly friend of mine walked me home last night as our umbrellas distorted wildly in the storm. I thought London was a civilised place to live. Fashion is a massive problem in weather like this. I remember reading the fashion editor in The Times deplore women who, otherwise dressing well, throw on a completely inelegant array of kagools and waterproofs as soon as it pours. I am one of these women. I don’t own an elegant Marc Jacobs raincoat, so I have looked like a fashion disaster when out and about, all week. Please, dear Spring, come to London!

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Christian Holden from St Anthony Communications asked me to watch and review one of their latest catechetical DVDs, The Last Things. I aim to do it this week so watch this space! I am looking forward to watching it, as we found in a recent ‘adult formation survey’ that one of the main topics of catechetical interest for Catholic adults is precisely these areas of death, judgement, heaven, and hell.

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Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and I am trying to pray especially for the Holy Father. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia – where Peter is, there is the Church. St John Chrysostom spoke of the early Christians: “Look at how the faithful feel for their pastors. They don’t resort to protest or rebellion, but to prayer as an unfailing remedy. They did not say: as we are powerless men, it is useless to pray for him. They never reasoned in this way, but prayed with love.” Let us have the same love for priests, and especially our Holy Father. Maybe we can offer an hour of work or study for them.

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Finally… If Starbucks insist on overfamiliarity by writing our first names on our take-out cups, they might at least get our names right. Yesterday, I was given coffee with “Ana” written on the side. I might try “Miss Vaughan-Spruce” next time and see how they get on with that… 😉