Tag Archives: spirituality

Lay People – Be Who You Are!

Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk

Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk

OK, I hope this is not going to shock you, people… I am a massive defender of lay identity, spirituality, apostolate because that is who I am – a lay person! I love the lay vocation. When I read what the Church teaches about laity (I’ve found Lumen Gentium and Christifidelis Laici particularly inspiring) I have wanted to take this into my heart and let it form who I am. (Please read these if you haven’t had a chance to – they are wonderful.)

I sometimes think though that we have forgotten this wonderful teaching. We forget that the lay vocation is one in its own right, not simple a negation of ‘not being a priest or religious’. It has its own distinct “secular character” (see CL). It has its own dignity and beauty. We are the ones who do what priests and religious cannot – carry Christ into the world, be co-redeemers with him in the temporal realm. We are the “authentic, secular dimension” to the Church “inherent in her nature and mission” (Pope Paul VI). When we are having a drink with friends and we respond to their questions about being a Catholic, or when we end up having a conversation with a taxi driver, or when (as a friend and I did recently) we ask at a restaurant what fish is on the menu as it’s Friday – then we are living in small ways our lay vocation in the secular realm. Clearly, when we exercise our vote in political debate, or contribute the Christian viewpoint, or fight against anti-Christian decisions in our workplace, our action in the secular world is more visible. But it doesn’t detract from the dignity of Christianising our workplaces, homes, friendships, with our more hidden witness.

Why do I say all this? Isn’t it obvious? Well, no… it doesn’t seem so. To me it seems that ‘to be a faithful Catholic’ is often equated with being on the reader’s rota or taking Holy Communion to the sick. Both are praiseworthy things – don’t get me wrong. But if, tomorrow, there were suddenly enough priests to take Holy Communion to all the sick – would we still go and visit them anyway? My point is that we have a tendency to beg our priests to ‘clericalise’ us. Somehow it seems easier to do the reading at Mass than speak with our next-door neighbour about God. If the focus of our Christian life becomes the reading we do at Mass, or the next Sunday we’re down to be a minister of Holy Communion, we are missing out on the beauty of our lay vocation!

Christifidelis Laici spells it out like this:

“the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world”

To be fair – I think priests sometimes love to ‘clericalise’ their laity just as much as lay people love to be clericalised. I think for decades now we’ve failed to form people for their specifically lay vocation which has left people thinking that to be holy, they must spend a lot of time around the sacristy, or hours a day praying.

Let’s pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood so that we can let lay people be lay people and priests be priests.


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


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

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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.


Consumerism vs Communion

It goes without saying that our outlook on life is generally consumeristic, because we have been conditioned to think in this way. And for much of our life it works: which option is best value for money? am I getting as much out of this service as I can / as I am paying for? getting something for nothing is always a bonus…even if you don’t really need it. We are consumers! Even with regards to time: we micro-manage our lives to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

I’ve noticed there can be (naturally perhaps) a tendency in us to approach the Church in this way, too. At the moment in out parish it is the time of year when school references need to be signed by the parish priest. In our parish, you only get a reference if you have signed in on the census at Sunday Mass over a certain percentage of the time. People have tried every trick in the book to get round it – trying to fill in a form and deliver it during the week; getting grandparents to fill it in for them. It reveals (to an extreme extent) the ‘consumerist’ attitude we can have towards the Church. What can I get out of the Church? Education is definitely up there on some people’s lists. Our parish priest referred to a mums’ online discussion forum for our local area which gave away tips for getting into Catholic schools – invite the priest round for dinner, say that you are a reader at Mass. Well, I’m afraid if you’re living around here, you’ll have a hard time getting past our parish priest…

This is obviously an extreme example. There are other, more subtle, examples though. It is something that is in our mentality. In London there are so many different Catholic activities and events to attend, we can approach the ‘Catholic scene’ in a consumeristic way: what can I get out of this? What does it offer me? If it no longer succeeds in satisfying me, I’ll stop going. We shop around a bit – different spiritualities, different groups, charisms…

Are we ever able to give ourselves to something completely?

Giving ourselves completely to something or someone is the opposite of consumerism: it is not like a mobile phone contract where you finish with one company when you get a better offer from another. Christianity invites us to something completely other and radical: to give ourselves completely to something. I’ve heard it said that, when you make your vows – either in marriage or as a religious or as a priest – you are gathering your whole self up – including your future which you don’t even know yet – and pledging yourself…completely. This is communion because it is the image of God’s own life. Eternal self-giving within the communion of Persons.

How much is our life in the Church determined by consumerism and how much by communion? This is a question I ask myself too. When sports come before children’s sacramental preparation, or when a parent has to decide whether their daughter does ballet or First Communion classes this year – I think we are acting like consumers. Similarly, when people ‘shop around’ attending every Catholic event in London but never manage to give themselves completely to something – this seems to me to be consumeristic too.

It is a big challenge for each of us because of how ‘infected’ our minds and hearts are with this outlook on life. But I know that, bit by bit, God is calling us to forego “keeping our options open” and to give ourselves wholeheartedly to Him.

“After I recognised that there is a God, it was impossible for me not to live for him alone.” Bl. Charles de Foucauld