Tag Archives: Pope Francis

The Spiritual Art of Planning

(This photo is not to do with planning… We had the Frassati Society a couple of days ago – a fantastic evening which seems to be going from strength to strength.)

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Nowadays, a lot of my life involves scheduling, planning, organising, juggling. Doodle polls are becoming a very dear friend in the uphill struggle of conquering multiple jam-packed diaries to schedule a meeting. Maybe (although I’m not too sure) I have a charism for administration – (is it possible to have a charism for something you don’t enjoy all that much?!) I admit, though, that drawing order out of chaos is satisfying. When days are ordered well and events are well-organised so that their fruit-bearing potential is maximised, you come to appreciate the art of planning. I call it an ‘art’ because it requires creativity, flexibility, dynamism. At the same time, it requires us not to micro-manage so as to suffocate life. I wouldn’t say that I am that great at it, but I am learning more every day.

Why would I say it is a ‘spiritual’ art? Well, I think it flows from Baptism. We know that we have a priestly, prophetic, and kingly aspect to our Christian lives.

In the priestly aspect, we offer up our sacrifices, the small sufferings of our day.

In the prophetic aspect, we speak words of encouragement or teaching to others.

In the kingly aspect, we order our lives towards God’s will.

I think each of these is an art. But the third aspect is what I’m interested in here. We each have a little ‘kingdom’ which is our own life. (And if you are a mum or a dad, the ‘kingdoms’ of your children’s lives overlap with yours, too.) Governing our kingdom most importantly involves governing our hearts – learning wisdom, growing in virtue, being aware of and mastering our passions, deepening our interior life, increasing our self-control.

Governing our outward lives is part of this. How we spend and order our time, how we order our homes and our lives, is intimately linked with virtue and interior life. Who doesn’t feel more at peace when there is order in their life – both exterior and interior? Pope Francis has recently called for us all on the ‘digital continent’ to “slow down!” and in my own life I find it easier to live with “deliberateness and calm” as he puts it, when everything is ordered, when there is space to think, and time to rest. Much of this comes down to planning, in today’s frenetic world.

I’ve found that catechists are among the busiest people I know. I know some absolutely brilliant catechists who are forever saying ‘yes’. They are able to because, thanks to a strong prayer life, their spiritual reserves run deep, and, coupled with the art of planning, they squeeze a lot into their lives.

And yet, we must not forget that our task to order our lives flows from our Baptism. Only someone who is truly rooted in God, knows that, but for Him who is the Source of all this new spiritual life gushing forth, nothing would be possible. The best organisational skills in the world could not produce fruit from a life that was not deeply sunk into Christ. Living from the grace of our Baptism, however, we can learn these skills to make the most of the created goods God has given us – not least, our time.

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Warming Hearts in the Family of the Church

family love

Pope Francis spoke recently on priestly formation. This is off-topic for this blog, but a lot of what he said has meaning for all of us in the Church. Pope Francis painted a picture of a seminary that has become a cold, loveless place. Instead, the Holy Father said, the task should be to “form hearts”. 

Hearts cannot be formed without love, without warmth, without family spirit. How important this is for the whole Church. At times, the Church – our parishes – can be cold places. Any place that is merely a service-provider will inevitably be cold. Only when a church is a place where people want to be, not to get something, but to be themselves and with others, will the heart of the parish be love, a place that can start “forming hearts”.

This Christmas, I spent quite a long time at home with my family. A lot of us were there for several days together, and it was an extremely joyful time. Long hours were spent in front of the fire, not doing very much, simply being together. There was lots of laughter, jokes about each of our own weirdnesses, funny games, endless chatting and sharing our thoughts, and love and forgiveness. I found myself asking, “Why isn’t the Church more like this?” It seems obvious – the Church is the “gathering together” of everyone into the Father’s house. It should be the place, par excellence, where we want to hang out, rejuvenate ourselves, before going back out into the mission. It should be the place where we joyfully spend time together, not out of duty, but because we love and energise each other. This seems to be a reality within new movements (e.g. Youth 2000, Communion & Liberation, Neo-Catechumenal Way) and in good university chaplaincies (I feel blessed that my own faith was nourished in a brilliant chaplaincy). Our joyful family life (where we are blessed to experience this) should be a reflection of the warmth and joy in the heart of the communion of the Church. But often this community in the Church is a rare exception rather than the rule.

Then I asked myself, “How can the Church be more like this?” Clearly, it is down to each of us. Pope Francis has been asking us endlessly to “warm hearts”, and there are a million ways we can each do this, according to our own charisms. One thing we can do is encourage “family spirit” especially among our peers in our parish communities. Make time to meet someone for a coffee if they are going through a hard time. Be interested in people’s lives, pray for their worries, go out of our way to tend to their concerns.

Above all, we need to care for our priests. I am sure crisis in the priesthood is down to loneliness. How can it be good if one of our “Fathers” spends most of his days alone? Who can exist without love, let alone give of themselves? (Blessed John Paul II said in Redemptor Hominis, 10, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”) Priests especially should be surrounded by love, drawn into our families, have a special place in our daily prayers. 

The renewal of the Church will come from “raising the spiritual temperature” of our parishes with acts of love. As we know, St John the Apostle repeated often, “Little children, love one another.”

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.” (1 Jn 4:7-11)


Happy New … Evangelisation

A Happy New Year, 2014, to all my readers!

Occasionally, I hear someone speak – in a homily or a talk – about evangelising, and I get the feeling that all my efforts at evangelising up to now have been pitiful, but that, starting NOW, things are going to be different. These are people I know who have such a charism for evangelisation that every taxi ride or hair appointment or chance encounter becomes an evangelising moment. People who are not only in love with Jesus but who are also so forgetful of self and so focussed on the other in front of them that they will engage and attract them. We’re all called to be evangelists by our Baptism. It comes more naturally to some people, though. So we need to learn from them…

Right now, we have a Pope who is certainly one of these Christians. Pope Francis embodies evangelisation, as we have seen over the last few months, and Evangelii Gaudium is bursting with priceless wisdom we can learn from. He coaxes us out of our comfort zones, away from from the “idols” we have made for ourselves – personal space, self-imposed limitations – and invites us to discover the “delightful and comforting joy of evangelising” (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80). He calls us to leave our “security on the shore” and to receive new life precisely by giving it away.

If we are not challenged by this, either we are not letting it penetrate our hearts, or we have fallen into the trap of thinking that it is not written for us.

These words are so challenging because not one of us can deny that we surround ourselves with certain comforts and securities. We will give a certain amount when it comes to evangelisation – but this is our limit, we can’t give any more beyond this.

Pope Francis’s direct, no-excuses approach to evangelisation is precisely needed now for us in the Church in the West because the situation has got way beyond the point where we could pretend everything is well and good in the Church. If we as faithful Catholics don’t have a sense of urgency regarding souls, something is definitely wrong. The cure? We need to get out of our own concerns, and make the Lord’s concern for souls our own.

A friend I have once said that if we have constant concern for bringing souls to Jesus, we would go to bed each day “exhausted”. In the words of EG, we would be tireless in “patient expectation and apostolic endurance” (24). I am not saying that we need to stop taking any care of ourselves, because we do, in order to be attractive, joyful witnesses to the Lord. But perhaps this is what Pope Francis means when he says, “The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line…”

As we enter a new year, what better time could there be to make some new year’s resolutions about evangelisation? Here are just a few ideas… Leave any other ideas you have in the comments…

  • Intercessory Prayer: If I don’t already have one, perhaps I could begin an intercessory prayer list with all the names of those in my life who do not know the Lord, those who I would desire to have a living relationship with Him. We can keep this list in the place where we pray and try to pray for these people daily, if possible.
  • Family and Friends: How can my family or group of friends be more evangelistic? Can we draw people in, avoid being exclusive or cliquey? If my family or group of friends is a place where we encounter the Lord, how can we open ourselves more to others, where others may meet him too? How can we draw in the lost, the outsider, the lonely?
  • Workplace: How can I reach out more to people I work with? Can I develop friendships with my colleagues, show concern for their lives, remember their birthdays? As friendships grow, trust develops, and eventually, they may want to ask us more about our faith.
  • Strangers: Perhaps our parish could begin an evangelisation initiative such as Nightfever, or street evangelisation, or a service specifically dedicated to the poor, e.g. a soup run. Perhaps we could make a conscious effort to engage with those we have regular contact with, e.g. those who serve us in shops or pubs, people at our gym…

What other ideas do you have? What do you find particularly hard about evangelisation?


The Enquiry Phase

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith

We had an interesting exchange here about the point of the enquiry period of the RCIA. I know of few parishes who even do this, and I feel it is one of the most important parts to get right in RCIA.

I’ve been at RCIA sessions before that are sound and rich in doctrine, and yet because of a lack of affective, spiritual conversion within the participants, little impact is made. It’s like a puddle of water sitting on the surface of the earth without sinking in.

So, I thought it would be good to revisit the principles of this phase – which I believe should be part of a good Confirmation programme, too.

The RCIA tells us that, before they are ready to celebrate the Rite of Acceptance, “the beginnings of the spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teaching have taken root in the candidates” (RCIA, 42). What is meant by “beginnings of the spiritual life”? The rest of the paragraph gives more information: there “must be evidence of the first faith” and there “must also be evidence of the first stirrings of repentance”.

In other words, there must be an initial adherence to Jesus Christ, the beginnings of a relationship with Him, the initial desire to give our life over to Him.

“First faith” is someone’s spiritual awakening, the realisation that “Jesus is Lord.” This simultaneously causes the “first stirrings of repentance”. Part of the process of adhering to Jesus, is seeing our life in His light, and repenting of our sin.

In my understanding, I think this corresponds somewhere between the third threshold (openness) and fourth threshold (seeking) in Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples (see one of my posts on this great book here). It is the bridge between passive curiosity and active seeking. We encounter Christ, begin to ‘fall for Him’, and want to take things further. As one RCIA leader put it, the enquiry phase is the “dating” phase.

Everything in the enquiry phase, therefore, is introducing someone to Jesus, inviting them to “taste and see” his goodness, to lead them to an encounter with him. And to remove any obstacles that may be in the way of this encounter.

As RCIA 37 puts it –

“From evangelisation, completed with the help of God, come the faith and initial conversion that cause a person to feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God’s love. The whole period of the precatechumenate is set aside for this evangelisation, so that the genuine will to follow Christ and seek Baptism may mature”

My experience in the parish was that, once we established an enquiry phase and gave people time for this to happen, the fruits of the Catechumenate were far, far greater. It was like the earth was turned over and the water could sink in.

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In contrast, what do we typically see in parishes? (Here I’m thinking of parishes with a doctrinally solid RCIA.) I think sometimes we see adults receiving catechesis that is too advanced, too soon. They listen to a wonderfully rich exposition of the “four marks of the Church”. But, without a growing relationship with Christ, do they know what this means for their life? Or is it like water sitting on hard earth which will soon float away? All doctrine needs to nourish spiritual life. If the interior life is not yet there, teaching doctrine (unless in a deeply evangelistic way) will have little effect.

So, what do we need to do in the enquiry phase? In our precatechumenate, we started with some simple sessions: ‘What is faith? Why do we need it?’; ‘What is the purpose of my life?’; ‘How can we know God?’; ‘Why did God create?’ We focussed on getting to know people, building community (the first threshold is establishing trust), answering apologetics issues that arose (the child abuse scandal; the problem of evil), helping people to establish a prayer life (bringing them every week – even the first week – for a short time of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament). We can ask catechists or guest parishioners to share their testimony. We can read through one of the Gospels together. We need to try and stay utterly focussed on Christ.

Once again, I think Pope Francis’s words in Brazil speak powerfully to this phase of the RCIA:

We are impatient, anxious to see the whole picture, but God lets us see things slowly, quietly. The Church also has to learn how to wait.

Only the beauty of God can attract. God’s way is through enticement, allure. God lets himself be brought home. He awakens in us a desire to keep him and his life in our homes, in our hearts. He reawakens in us a desire to call our neighbours in order to make known his beauty.


Pope Francis Gold Dust II – Creativity and the Motherhood of the Church

Photo courtesy of tacticdesigns

Photo courtesy of tacticdesigns

Here’s some more ‘gold dust’ from Pope Francis’ address to the Brazilian bishops.

This weekend in the Catholic Herald, Bishop Philip speaks about how we do not need more ‘tradition’ to further the new evangelisation, but rather more creativity. We can get hung up on structures (something that Pope  John Paul II also warned against brilliantly in Novo Millenio Ineunte).

Getting hung up on structures happens at every point of the Catholic “spectrum”: those who think if we use a particular textbook or catechetical method it will solve all our problems; those who are wedded to bureaucracy because it makes everything easier to ‘control’ or manage; those who see ‘roles’ within the Church in terms of ecclesiological power, rather than in the context of vocation or following the Lord’s call. Structures gradually suck life out of our faith if we allow them to.

Pope Francis speaks about it brilliantly:

“Dear brothers, the results of our pastoral work do not depend on a wealth of resources, but on the creativity of love. To be sure, perseverance, effort, hard work, planning and organization all have their place, but first and foremost we need to realize that the Church’s power does not reside in herself; it is hidden in the deep waters of God, into which she is called to cast her nets.”

This has implications for all our pastoral work. I think it’s important we never get into the mindset of thinking that a pastoral need must be met because a box has been ticked, provision has been supplied in the words of a document. No – careful planning can never replace the love, compassion, mercy God awakes in our hearts to respond to the needs of another. Even if it falls outside our hours of work, outside our remit, on our day off. All of us who evangelise, who catechise, participate in the Church’s Motherhood – who is awake day and night bringing forth life…

“Concerning pastoral conversion, I would like to recall that “pastoral care” is nothing other than the exercise of the Church’s motherhood. She gives birth, suckles, gives growth, corrects, nourishes and leads by the hand … So we need a Church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy. Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of “wounded” persons in need of understanding, forgiveness, love.”


Pope Francis Gold Dust I – “Warming Hearts”

World Youth Day Rio

I almost felt like I was in Rio the past week, what with the unstoppable tweets, friends’ Facebook updates, and all of Pope Francis’ words being so readily available. From my experience of previous World Youth Days, you can almost follow better if you’re not there. (Let’s face it… the moment you hit 25 (and you’re not of a Latin American temperament) WYD gets tough! As one wonderful Sister (whose youth ministry is very fruitful) commented, any enthusiasm she had died in Madrid two years ago. I know the feeling…)

Back to Pope Francis. Just about everyone I know has been wow-ing and ahh-ing at his incredible words over the past week. For me, one of the highlights was his address to the Brazilian bishops. I’ve been through this absolutely remarkable speech a few times and have pulled out some truly genius gems. Each one of them needs its own post – so let’s see how I go.

To kick us off, I wanted to start with this:

I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts? A Church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles… Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?

“A Church capable of warming hearts…” It reminds me a little of a book I’ve written about here: Bill Hybels’ Courageous Leadership. In chapter 2, Hybels speaks of leaders having such a “white-hot” vision for what their church is about that they impassion and enflame the hearts of those who hear them. Remember that “enthuse” comes from “en-theos” – literally, to be possessed by a god. The passion in our hearts sparks a flame in another’s.

There is lots to reflect on with regard to how well we, the Church, “warm hearts”. Bishops and priests have responsibility for this in their ministry and communication to the faithful, those who work with the poor “warm hearts” through their love and charity; contemplative religious “warm hearts” through their earnest and profound intercession; those who visit the sick or those who are in prison have a special apostolate of compassion to “warm the hearts” of the suffering and the lost.

However, as this blog is especially for catechists, let’s think about how as catechists we need to “warm hearts”. Here are some questions that may help:

  • Before we teach, do we pray fervently to the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of those we’re teaching? It is He who will stir hearts as we speak (or even in spite of us!)
  • When we teach, do we speak with passion? Not a contrived liveliness or excitement, but with a profound love for the Lord which naturally spills out in impassioned words?
  • If we struggle to feel passion about our topic, have we spent enough time in silent prayer before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament? Have we asked earnestly enough for the Holy Spirit?
  • Do we love not only Christ who we’re teaching, but also the people receiving the teaching? Our authentic love for these people – that they know Christ, experience life in him, receive the joy of the Holy Spirit in their hearts – will also come across.

As I’ve said countless times before, let’s promise ourselves: the day we stop praying must also be the day we stop giving catechesis.


Lumen Fidei

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Photo courtesy of Charles Clegg

What a wonderful new encyclical from our Holy Father! It came on the last day of the retreat I was on in France, the title of which was, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) – an amazing climax to be graced with this encyclical.

I plan to read a little bit in depth each day, but for now, I’d love to draw out a few quotations which are relevant for transmission of the faith. Here are my highlights… Please share yours!

First, I love this from the Introduction:

The Church never takes faith for granted, but knows that this gift of God needs to be nourished and reinforced so that it can continue to guide her pilgrim way. The Second Vatican Council enabled the light of faith to illumine our human experience from within, accompanying the men and women of our time on their journey. It clearly showed how faith enriches life in all its dimensions (LF, 6)

We can never be complacent – from cardinal down to brand new catechumen – our faith is a gift, given according to the measure to which we open our hearts (cf. para 22, Romans 12:3). And the faith lights up our experience from within – there is not one moment of my daily experience that God does not wish to light up, to transform. There’s a danger when our lived daily experience is separate from, not touched by the light of faith in our hearts.

Second,

Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. (LF, 22)

Wow! So straightforward, so simple… We so need to hear this. How dangerous when our faith is strongly knowledgeable, we know the right answers to everything, but our hearts are not softened, opened, docile, tender…

Third, chapter three of the encyclical goes to the heart of my dissertation thesis (submitted last Saturday!). Here are my favourite bits…

The Apostle goes on to say that Christians have been entrusted to a “standard of teaching” (týpos didachés), which they now obey from the heart (cf. Rom 6:17). In baptism we receive both a teaching to be professed and a specific way of life which demands the engagement of the whole person and sets us on the path to goodness. (LF, 40)

The believer who professes his or her faith is taken up, as it were, into the truth being professed. He or she cannot truthfully recite the words of the creed without being changed, without becoming part of that history of love which embraces us and expands our being, making it part of a great fellowship, the ultimate subject which recites the creed, namely, the Church. (LF, 45)

In other words, the whole baptismal structure of the faith means that the faith that we profess (first dimension of Christian life), the sacramental life into which we’re baptised (second dimension) and the response of faith we live (third dimension) are inextricably united.

So, too, is the fourth dimension, prayer:

…the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father”. Here Christians learn to share in Christ’s own spiritual experience and to see all things through his eyes. (LF, 46)

And then Pope Francis sums this up… woo hoo!

These, then, are the four elements which comprise the storehouse of memory which the Church hands down: the profession of faith, the celebration of the sacraments, the path of the ten commandments, and prayer. The Church’s catechesis has traditionally been structured around these four elements; this includes the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a fundamental aid for that unitary act with which the Church communicates the entire content of her faith: “all that she herself is, and all that she believes” (Dei Verbum, 8) (LF, 46)

That’s enough for today… I recommend getting yourself the Pope app so you can read a little bit the next time you’re on a train / standing in a queue / waiting for your nails to dry 🙂 Enjoy!