Tag Archives: prayer

Four Dimensions & Approaches to Catechesis


Time to bore you again with some of my dissertation research on this lovely sunny bank holiday weekend 😉 Haha, not really… PLEASE READ ON!

It’s good to remind ourselves every now and again of the ‘basics’ of catechesis, and to measure up our current practice against them. One of those basics (or maybe not if you’re new to this) is the four dimensions of the Christian life. Throughout the history of salvation, God has communicated himself to us not just through teaching us, but also in deeds, in giving his People liturgy, in giving them a way to live, and in forming them in prayer. This finds its culmination in the new Christian community we read about in Acts 2:42:

“These remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Therefore, all Christian formation needs to include these four dimensions in order to be “integral”, in order to be authentic Christian formation. Each catechetical session should include teaching, a liturgical dimension, experience of community, time of prayer.

What I’ve been researching is how approaches to catechesis can tend to emphasise one of these dimensions at the expense of the others. For example, a moral approach to catechesis focuses on the resulting moral action from the catechesis. We see this in the See-Judge-Act method of the Young Christian Workers movement, used by the Confirmation programme, Truth (Curtin, D. (2011) Truth – A Confirmation Course for Teenagers. Redemptorist Publications).

Another example of this approach is CAFOD, which has catechetical resources on its website in which topics are approached with regard to the resulting action, the outcome of the session: “When we make the choice to be confirmed, we are choosing to become active rather than passive members of God’s family.” These emphasise the third dimension – maybe at the expense of others – I will leave that to your analysis 😉

A further example is a doctrinal approach to catechesis. This is an interesting one. In some ways, we might say that this is ‘reactionary’ in that there has been such an emphasis on experience-based catechesis in the decades since Vatican II that some in the Church have (understandably) swung back in the opposite direction, stressing teaching of doctrine. I do not criticise this – knowing doctrine means we can build up a firm framework for understanding the whole of reality and our place within it. It means we have words to express the realities in which we believe. However, I think that some programmes emphasise this at the expense of the other three dimensions. Don’t get me wrong, they include teaching on these three dimensions (liturgy, life in Christ, prayer) but these dimensions are not included in the session themselves. There is no liturgical element to the session, or experience of community, or an opportunity for deeper prayer. You may be able to think of programmes which fall into this category.

Do you find you or your parish emphasises one approach above others in your catechesis? How can you aim at something more integral which forms the whole person?

Faith that is New and Alive


I spent one of the most joyful weeks of my life last week in Rome, celebrating the mysteries of Holy Week with our Holy Father. We were seriously blessed. A few of our group greeted him during the Audience, and our week included many other wonderful moments: climbing the Scala Santa on Good Friday; being at the Easter Vigil in St Peter’s; a second-to-none cultural and spiritual itinerary, and being with an inspiring group of young people. 

I came back really loving the messages of Pope Francis so far. I wonder how many of us are already feeling challenged by his words? He is speaking to us constantly about the ‘newness’ of the Christian message, which, for us catechists, is our greatest challenge in handing on the faith. It means that we can never, ever allow ourselves to “get comfortable”, to allow our spiritual lives to slide into something habitual or stale. I have experienced, and I am sure we all have, the danger of becoming even a tiny bit complacent in handing on the faith.

We have a course or programme that “works fine” so we use it every year, without stopping to discern what these particular people need, what the Lord might want us to do differently. 

We’re used to structuring something in a certain way after many years, never questioning whether it produces the greatest fruit, the deepest conversions, for the Lord.

As soon as we get complacent or presumptuous, I find, we’re distanced from the Holy Spirit who is the Master evangelist and teacher, the One who teaches through us.

The Christian message, the Christian event of the Paschal Mystery, is new, fresh, every day, always able to convert and transform us more deeply, always there to make us new in our relationship with the Lord, renewed disciples, ready to go out and evangelise, catechise, again. 

Each morning we wake up, we never know when the Lord might need us to witness to Christ, to explain something to someone, to encourage, to present an alternative outlook, to evangelise, to catechise. Every day, as his disciples, we need to be spiritually “on our toes”, with hearts made new through our prayer and sacramental life, vigilant against sin that separates us from Christ. This is the way, through us, each day, Christ attracts new people to himself. How can we ever get tired of it!

Today, so many of us can see right in front of our eyes that there is an urgency within the Church to hand on the faith; we see the effects of a lack of catechesis for some decades. Precisely because of this urgency, the Church needs, first and foremost, for us to stay very close to Christ, being constantly renewed by prayer, Mass, Confession, by not losing the joy that comes from having our hearts united to Jesus. I heard a priest say recently that a Sister in his community knows when she’s sliding or coasting, because she “loses her joy”. Isn’t this so true? 

I love what Pope Francis, as Cardinal Bergoglio, said to his catechists in Buenos Aires in 2012 about remaining new and alive in our faith (you can read the full letter here): 

There is nothing more opposed to the Spirit than settling down and closing oneself in.  When one does not enter through the door of faith, the door shuts, the Church closes in on herself, the heart falls behind, and fear and the evil spirit “sour” the Good News.  When the Chrism of the Faith dries up and becomes rancid, the faith of the evangelist is no longer contagious but has lost its fragrance, many times becoming a cause of scandal and estrangement for many.  


Let’s promise ourselves: the day we stop praying, let’s also stop giving catechesis.

He who sings prays twice

Image Edward Morton

Up until this year, I never seriously thought about including singing in catechesis. I noticed in some of the resources we use that they recommended hymns or songs for the catechetical session, but I flipped past these suggestions. Organising a catechetical session is hard work enough without finding a musician, needless to mention the impossible , awkward task of actually getting people to sing. Let’s just say, British Catholics are not known for their singing.

In the back of my mind, though, I’ve always been aware of the power of singing, especially of praise. When we praise God, we forget for a moment our troubles and problems, and praise him because he is who he is. Regardless of what we ‘get’ from him. Praise takes us out of ourselves, and I’ve found, it’s one of the best things you can do when you’re saddened, discouraged or grumpy. Try it!

So, singing in catechesis this year kind of happened by accident. We’ve introduced it in Confirmation and in one of our First Communion classes, Come Follow Me. In Confirmation, one of our catechists this year just happens to be a great musician. We got the kids singing praise songs on the retreat, and this has continued into the programme each week. We begin with a song before the Liturgy of the Word, and we always have singing during the time of prayer at the end. It really adds a deeper dimension to the catechetical process… Music raises the heart to God and can therefore be a great instrument for conversion (which is the goal of catechesis!)

In the Come Follow Me sessions, you are instructed to sing with the children as you go into the ‘Holy Place of Meeting’, as you prepare your hearts to listen to the Word of God, and during the prayer time at the end. So I really had no choice. I had to sing! I am a very average singer, so this is not exactly my comfort-zone. But actually it has worked well, and I’ve discovered that when they’re a bit hyper, singing is a great way of calming kids down. It really does help them to pray. They love singing, and they love to learn new songs.

So, if you haven’t yet introduced singing into your catechesis… I encourage you to try!

As for adult catechesis – I haven’t branched out there just yet… This could be incredibly, as our young people say, ‘awkward turtle…’ Would love to hear from anyone who has incorporated this into RCIA or any other adult catechesis.

On Not Doing Anything


Very sorry for the big lull, readers; for the past week, I’ve been absorbed with doing not very much. Yes, that’s right: no Internet connection, not checking your phone for days on end, with my family hidden deep in a forest. Wildlife, sports, leisurely meals, lots of family time.

Since the gap, I also have a lot to share with you from our Triduum, but more on that later.

I’m not promoting idleness, but a break from schedules, early alarm clocks, planning and productivity can do wonders for being human, don’t you think?

When Blessed John Paul II was bishop of Kracow in 1962, he gave a retreat to university students. It is a deeply inspiring series of meditations. One of the first talks speaks of how, in life, there are things of relative importance and things of absolute importance. We ourselves can experience being of relative importance: we discover after doing something well in our work that we are esteemed one day, then passed over the next. When in the middle of an important project, it takes on the status of absolute importance only to be largely forgotten about a few months down the line.

Only in prayer do we discover the one thing that is of absolute importance. When we go on retreat, we engage in the one thing of absolute importance: ourselves in relation to God.

The then Karol Wojtyla put it like this:

“There is no gathering in which each one of us is more wholly himself and has a fuller sense of his own selfhood and his own absolute importance than he has here [on retreat].”

Holidays are similar, I find. Within our families, we are cherished for who we are, not what we can achieve. In relaxing, we rediscover our identity formed in relation with those we love. Being together with no rushing, no deadlines, no using of relationships for our own ends, in some way recreates us. After all, who are we but the relations that we have with others?

Holidays, as well as moments to be together, also need to give us moments of no rushing, no deadlines, with our Creator. He is the One who makes us new. I think sometimes that if I come back to London after a holiday feeling pampered and indulged, but no closer to Him, what’s the point?

Finally, GK Chesterton thought that doing nothing was a “rare and precious” thing. Here is what he writes in his Autobiography:

When given the gift of loneliness, which is the gift of liberty, [such men who do not appreciate the freedom of having nothing to do] will cast it away; they will destroy it deliberately with some dreadful game with cards or a little ball. I speak only for myself; I know it takes all sorts to make a world; but I cannot repress a shudder when I see them throwing away their hard-won holidays by doing something. For my own part, I never can get enough Nothing to do.

He probably wouldn’t have approved of our canoeing this week, but definitely sitting around the table after lunch Doing Nothing.

Sacrificial Effort

20120321-155448.jpgSome days, I get a teeny-weeny glimpse of the efforts God makes in seeking us out and drawing us to himself. Some days, you feel like you’re chasing after people all day long. “Sorry you couldn’t make it!” “We missed you last week – such a shame you couldn’t be there!” when inside you’re thinking, “Where were you?!” Now amidst everything, I need to squeeze in an extra hour somewhere to catch up. To be honest, this often works out for the best: it usually means a good chance for a one-on-one which is often very fruitful.

One of the tricky things about initiation catechesis is people’s lives. We can prepare everything beautifully, but the most important thing that needs preparation is people’s hearts – to receive the catechesis. And it helps if they’re actually there in the first place.

This means that, almost as important as our catechetical work with people, is our pastoral support. The one-on-one time. Ensuring that people are neither overburdened, or need more input to spur them on. I try to keep good contact with each adult in our initiation process (believe me, we’re talking a wide range of stages… from very early enquirer to very-nearly-almost-there). Some of them long to become Catholic like they have never longed for anything before, while others are resistant, slightly cynical, unsure. Some need more help than you can give them, and that’s why it’s helpful to know some good Catholic counsellors.

The sponsors, too, are engaged in this mission of “sacrificial effort”. The best effort that we make for others are the prayers and sacrifice we offer for them without them knowing. I know some incredible sponsors and others in our parish who I am certain – simply by seeing the fruitfulness of their lives – pray and offer sacrifice for those they sponsor or befriend, for their conversion. And who knows who has done this for us?

I wanted to write this post following the previous one on “Fruitfulness”, simply because God wants to see our desire for others’ conversions, he wants to see our passion and zeal for souls, and we show him our desire through our prayer and sacrifice. This is essential to being a lay apostle, a co-redeemer with Christ. How much do we want it?