Tag Archives: sacraments

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!


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!


Faith that is New and Alive

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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.


Catechesis and Sacramental Grace

Amid the boxes and moving arrangements this week and last, I have led a couple of sessions at the seminary on catechetics. Do you know what? This is one of my favourite things to do in my work. It is such a privilege to talk with seminarians about catechesis because we all know it is one of the Church’s greatest tasks in the coming decades, and it is great to impassion each other in this task.

Everything I’ve presented in these first two sessions has been rooted in the universal Church’s vision for the New Evangelisation – especially this year, the Year of Faith, with the establishment of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, the Synod, and everything that the Holy Father has encouraged us in. We have been exploring the catechetical documents’ guidance, but also looking especially at this fabulous new book you are going to get bored at me raving about: Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples. A reader of this blog told me I would absolutely LOVE it and he is absolutely RIGHT. I love it. I’ve been quoting it all over the place. I would love to stick a copy in the post to all my priest and seminarian friends. Maybe that’s exactly what I’ll do once all this Move Stuff is out of the way…

So, last week, we looked at the reality of the new situation which calls for a new evangelisation, in its ardour, methods and expression. We faced up to the fact that the vast majority of Catholics in our parishes are sacramentalised but not evangelised. And we looked at the role of catechesis in this new situation. This week, we talked about moving from an “infant paradigm” to an “adult paradigm” of catechesis in our parishes.

One thing I talk about a lot to our catechists, and have even spoken about at a parents’ meeting, is the levels of a sacrament. The outward sign of the sacrament effects the character of the sacrament, but the grace of that character only flourishes if there is a heart disposed to receive it. (If you want the “theology bit”, the three levels are: the sacramentum tantum, the res et sacramentum, and the res tantum.) This is the point of evangelisation and catechesis – without personal conversion, people are receiving buckets of sacramental grace without it having much effect in their lives. Anyway, I spoke about this – the connection between catechesis and the sacraments – with the seminarians, then, lo and behold, on the train journey home, there it was in chapter 4 of Sherry Weddell’s book. Much more articulately than I have explained here. She even says: “Whenever I have spoken of this possibility [of receiving the character of the sacrament without the grace] in public, any clergy present – even those passionate about evangelisation – seem stunned and bewildered. I have yet to meet a priest or deacon who has told me that this possibility was made explicit during his formation. No wonder we so seldom discuss the possibility that the graces objectively received may not manifest in the lives of individuals and in the midst of our communities.” There you have it. I think I may have found my soul sister.