It can’t be Holy Week next week?!

And if it is – how on earth did we get here?

There are advantages to an early Lent – for many people this year, Lent will almost be over before they really get to grips with the fact that it started – far too soon after Christmas. Only two weeks now and we can get back to the chocolate – the alcohol – the things we have denied ourselves and life can get back to normal! But for our Elect and Candidates, two weeks time brings them to one of the most important events in their lives. There will be a certain amount of making their new status as a Catholic Christian part of normal life but just at present, we hope they are living with a heightened awareness of the call to which they are responding – looking back on the Rite of Election with joy and ahead to the Easter Vigil with eager anticipation (albeit tinged with a bit of 
anxiety).

This last week of Lent might be a good time to offer them the opportunity to look back on how they got to this point.

This week’s blog could be used as a guided reflection inspired by the Year A Gospels – as part of an RCIA session or individually over a coffee – or both!

Brew up – settle back – and relive the journey to this last week of Lent… it really IS Holy Week next week – how on earth did we get here!

It started somewhere… Jesus’ public ministry started with his baptism in the Jordan – spend a few moments building up the scene in your mind’s eye. Jesus emerging from a crowd … John’s reluctance … Jesus’ immersion in the river and the dove coming upon him… and the words from God: This is my beloved Son – listen to him.  When have I felt that love of God for me – sensing that I am God’s beloved son – beloved daughter?

Almost immediately, Jesus is sent into the wilderness – to be tempted – challenged? Where have my wildernesses been? … When have I faced challenges which have helped me to find God and God’s will for me?

And Jesus took three close friends to the top of a mountain and became transfigured – their friend but not their friend… divinity shining from him – majestic divinity in the air all around them … and that voice again: My Son – the Beloved – listen to him. What words of Jesus have spoken most powerfully to me over the last few months?

It hasn’t always been plain sailing – there have been times of weariness and uncertainty – when I’ve needed time and the faith of others to recharge my batteries. When have I come to the “well” – come to listen to Jesus and to other people – and found myself refreshed? When have people come to the “well” – and I have found myself like the Samaritan Woman – engaging in conversation and listening and helping myself and my companions to go deeper into the mystery of God? When have I taken my experience of encountering Jesus back to others?

….

And the Gospel of last week – the story of the person born blind … whose soul saw things hidden from the sight of others … who stuck to his story no matter what pressure he was put under ….  When have I had a sudden insight – a kind of dawning understanding of something that had been hidden from me before? Have there been things during my RCIA sessions that have been like a bolt from the blue – or shaft of lightning? When have others not seen the truth as I have… and how did I feel?

….

And what of Martha or Mary in the Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus? When have I been like Martha – heading down the road to meet Jesus … and telling him like it is: If you had been here this wouldn’t have happened. Where were you when ……..(name something that stretched your faith)? Or, when like Mary – overcome with sorrow and just unable to make the first move – but sensing the Lord somewhere out there … And how do I feel when I recall the shortest verse in Scripture: Jesus wept. Jesus’ own grief coming through … his own tears shed with those of Martha and Mary… his own tears shed with my own – his tears for my sorrow … His compassion which does not deny sadness but shares it – and seeks to transform it. When have I sensed the healing love of my Lord?

And here we are – months – years – into our Journey of Faith … And along the way – the company of Jesus – whether we recognised him at the time or not …

Next week, we will accompany him on the last fateful journey from the entry into Jerusalem – from euphoria to agony … from praise to condemnation … from hope to despair … from death to resurrection …

And I will respond to his invitation – for the first time as I enter the waters of baptism and die with him and rise to new life … or the fiftieth … I will respond to the invitation to be part of this story – of a death that changed the world because it did not end there …

It really IS Holy Week next week! How did I get here? And more importantly – where is the Lord leading me from here – from the waters of Baptism to….? from anointing and gifting with the Spirit to …? to the Lord’s Table … and from there…?

Kathryn T

09/03/08

Taking God’s love seriously

Yesterday in our parish Sunday Mass many will have experienced the first scrutiny – and allowed that gospel encounter of the woman with Jesus at the well to interpret our own lives and inner longings.  As we walk with Christ, our way, our truth, our life, along the lenten pathway towards Easter, we too meet the people he meets –  through wilderness, up and down mountains, thirsty woman, blind man, dead man, welcoming crowd, angry mob – we too enter into that sense of being ‘handed over’, and having to trust God that this is the right path.   And the scrutinies are moments of  self-searching, repentance, enlightenment.  They are described in RCIA 141 as having a spiritual purpose – to uncover and heal all that is weak, and to bring out and strengthen all that is good and strong.  Their aim is to ‘complete’ conversion and deepen our resolve to hold on to Christ.  Their focus is towards salvation and the resulting new life and freedom that brings.   As individuals and community, in reflecting on the experience of the scrutinies, may we become more and more consciously aware of being filled with Christ –  living water, light of the world, resurrection and life.  We are not diminished by the experience.. we are set free.

So, what was the experience like for you?  In what ways are you ‘thirsty’?    What does the encounter tell you about Christ?

Caroline D

25/02/08

Praying with Paint For Purification & Enlightenment?

One of the biggest challenges I found when working with my parish RCIA group was how to effectively shift the emphasis of the weekly session from the kind of intense catechetical activity of the catechumenate to the more reflective period of ‘intense spiritual preparation’ that this firmly time bound stage demands. In reality, the pressure builds at this time because of all the practical details in preparing for and reflecting afterwards on the Rite of Election and then preparing for and reflecting afterwards on the Scrutinies and then preparing for the Presentations and the Preparation Rites and …! If we’re not careful, the practicalities of so much to be dealt with in such a relatively short period can actually deflect our focus. As JD Crichton in his commentary on these period states:

“Lent has often been called a spiritual retreat and it is to this that both the elect and the local community are called during this period. For this reason it is to be marked by ‘interior reflection’ rather than ‘catechetical instruction’.”

[i]

So how, in an ordinary parish context might we attempt a slowing down and give space for the Spirit to both purify and enlighten. Well one way that we discovered not only worked but was really appreciated by all who shared the journey was a ‘Praying with Paint’ session during the first or second week of Lent.

It requires some advance organisation to ensure that there is sufficient space for all to be able to ‘paint’ and that there are sufficient supplies of poster paint or crayons or watercolours (the parish toddler group or primary school can often be most helpful if approached in good time). Otherwise it’s just a question of creating a reflective atmosphere with quiet music playing and perhaps dimmed lighting (but not too dimmed so that people can’t see their own creations). Obviously the basic principles of adult formation apply and people are free not to take part, but in over ten years of offering this I only ever encountered one person who chose not to participate. So:

  • Stress the reflective nature of the task, reassuring all those who had bad experiences of art at school that it’s not about creating works of art but rather allowing the Spirit of God to move within us in response to the gospel in a different way from those we may otherwise have experienced.
  • Proclaim the gospel and allow a period of silence
  • Proclaim it again but with a different voice
  • Invite people to respond using the materials provided, as they feel appropriate.
  • Quiet, reflective music will help and as people finish there should be no pressure to show the paintings, although most people will happily want to do so.
  • There should however be a time to come together and say a word or two about how the experience was received and an opportunity to end with shared prayer, perhaps hearing the gospel one more time

In this Year of Matthew (Cycle A) the story of the Transfiguration  affords a wonderful opportunity for a creative reflection. Happy painting!

Veronica M

04/02/08


[i]Rite of Christian Initiation of AdultsThe final Texts with CommentariesThe Columba Press 1986

Throwing fish to the penguins?

Like many others my understanding of the task of the adult catechumenate has developed over the years – or at least I think (and hope) it has.

I’m sure that when I was first involved in the process as a catechist my first instinct was to try to teach the faith, only. And the faith I tried to teach, or share, was largely to do with belief about this or that. Such beliefs are important. And we are instructed that one of the tasks of the process is that encounter with the tradition of the Church. Cf RCIA 75.

My first approach has been challenged by the experience that that there was often a world of difference between what I was trying to teach and what was being learnt. And often enough this gap existed because the ‘teacher’ hadn’t paid enough attention to those he wanted to teach/wanted to help learn!

RCIA 75 also requires that part of the work of the one charged with enabling the formation of catechumens is to help them to share in our life in common. If that is not being achieved in the catechumenal group – not just in terms of warm fuzziness, but in terms of careful attentiveness, and readiness to serve actual need then the effectiveness of other dimensions of the formation we offer is going to be compromised. Faith is also about relationship. Relationship with God and relationship in the Church.

So, over time, I’ve moved from process which is mostly about input, to process to which is more about engaged and mutual reflection. How are we finding God? How are we finding each other? This reflection is not empty of belief about this or that, or God or the Church. But it is about much more than that belief alone. It’s about how these things matter to us, and why. Not just why they could or should matter to ‘them’, but why they matter to me, and maybe will matter to ‘us’.

It’s quite challenging, is this. It leaves the catechist somewhat more vulnerable to the process because it requires more in the way of personal commitment and transparency to the group. It’s less like throwing fish to the penguins, and more like getting in the pool, joining with the others in the search for that food, the ICTHUS, the nourishment of life or heart and soul that only God can give.

In the past year I’ve returned to parish ministry – after some years doing other things. I find myself once more taking part in the work of the adult catechumenate in a particular parish community.

And I’ve inherited a format which is resiliently based on the school year, a six months all-in-one structure. And this brings a challenge. How best, within those present constraints, to equip those in the group for Christian living beyond their (relatively short) time in the RCIA group? Adult learning often goes quite slowly – even when people more, more or less, volunteer for it. Responding to people’s sometime active and passionate desire to learn and grow helps, of course; as does putting the effort into trying to discern what it is that the group experience can help people to learn helps that process along, but there are still very clear limits to what can be achieved in 6 months or so.

Given these circumstances, and my reading of them, I think my understanding of my role, during this year and over time, has shifted yet again. We try to focus on responding to what those searching for faith and those beginning to live more deliberate and consciously faithful lives are ‘ready for’. And we try to be aware of how the members of the group have a right to know what the Church believes about God and herself and the world – at least in the basics. But there’s been something more too, and that’s trying to remain ever conscious of how what we are doing and sharing in will give our catechumens and candidates skills to draw on the resources of the Church in the future.

What does this amount to – well, for example, not only teaching about the scriptures and making use of the scriptures in our gatherings, but again and again speaking of how in our prayer with scripture outside of these gatherings, and outside of Mass, we can meet with the Lord and deepen our knowledge of him. Or, another example, focusing on how we pray the Mass and the presences of Christ there, building up an expectation that, week on week, what we should expect to change at Mass is not just bread and wine, but us. And the other – answers on a postcard please, because I’ve really not made much progress on this one – is trying to see how we can continue to support the members of the group after the ‘given’ period of mystagogy.

One challenge in this, that our catholic parishes as a whole are really very a-mystagogical in the way we live, share in sacraments, and consider our faith. Maybe, just maybe, the way we resource our catechumens and candidates this year will help them to serve as a sort of leaven in the batch.

Allen M

28/1/08

The Word of God – blessing and task

A little late this week 3 members write from an international conference in Chile.

Martin writes

The International Forum on Adult Religious Education holds a consultation every two years. The theme of this year’s consultation is The Word of God: blessing and task for catechesis todayand it is being held in Santiago, Chile over this last week. The invitation to attends goes to Bishops’ Conferences around the world and It is a privilege to be part of a small group from England and Wales.

The Forum is 20 years old this year and it began as an initiative from England and Wales. The first meeting was organised by Paddy Purnell, Anne McDowell and Margaret Foley and held at St Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill. Each meeting takes a similar format: reflection and discussion on a theme, generally inspired by a Church document or initiative, and country sharing. What can be fascinating is the interplay between the familiar and the unknown — the similarities and difficulties we hold in common and differences that can be beyond our experience.

Two highlights for me have hearing about the meeting of Latin American bishops – CELAM – at Aparaceido in Brazil last year. Their reflections on catechesis, the need for bishops and their agencies to have an examination of conscience as to where they have failed to be the Church and the importance of the catechumenal model for all catechesis.

On Sunday morning we visited local parishes to look at family catechesis. We met families from the parish who spoke to us about their involvement. What was moving was the sense that the parish and the catechesis was responsibility of the community and that the involvement in family catechesis had strengthened relationships.

Paula writes

It has been a real privilege to take part in this international consultation. Throughout the process there have been opportunities to hear from countries around the world about the joys and challenges of adult religious education and also our hopes for this ministry in the future.

For me the most striking experience was the visit to a local parish for Sunday Eucharist and sharing with parish catechists. The welcome and hospitality was overwhelming and humbling at the same time. We were welcomed into two local parishes and met those involved in family catechesis. The parish and community structures are very different to those in the UK and the numbers of catechists quite astonishing. Catechists undertake formation provided by the archdiocese, and this is a serious undertaking for the catechists and the whole family of the catechist. Married couples are catechists together and as one man commented, although this interfered with his football team it was important for him and his wife to undertake this ministry together. The ministry of catechesis is described with great enthusiasm and commitment as a lifelong ministry in the parish community, catechists are called to live their lives as witnesses to the Word of God that they share. This was not undertaken lightly, and in the people we met, it was clear that their lives, in mind heart and action was shot through with the Word of God.

A last thing that struck me was the role of the godparent. In family catechesis, all families need a father in those instances where a woman may be widowed or divorced and Godfather becomes the father in the family. In our own situation in the RCIA and RCIC in England and Wales, maybe there is something to be learned from this idea.

Linda writes

A key moving experience for the group was the visit to the Sanctuary of Fr Alberto Hurtado.

Fr Hurtado was canonized by Pope Benedict in 2005 and is the third saint for Chile. Born in 1901 he died of cancer at the age of 51 in 1952.

His ministry as a priest focussed much on the young and the poor. The dvd clip we saw showed a warm and ever-present smile.

The Sanctuary includes a museum reflecting his life and work, a beautiful garden including a wall where people’s prayer petitions and thanksgiving for prayer are placed and a chapel where the saint’s tomb forms the altar. It is a place of grate peace which celebrates the life Fr Hurtado and which offers the opportunity for reflection and prayer.

15/01/08

Catechesis in Advent: Christ past, present and future

Most parish enquiry groups are a mixed bag, so I don’t think ours is unique in that we have two unbaptised teenagers and their uncatechised but baptised Mum; a person who was ‘received’ elsewhere two years ago through one-to-one instruction but has never felt she ‘belongs’ to the Catholic church, and although fully initiated, she comes along to share in the catechesis;  then we have a man whose first marriage has just been annulled, now engaged to a young widow parishioner; another is married to a Catholic whose children are now being prepared for Holy Communion and he wants to think about becoming a Catholic himself;  a woman from a Protestant background with a strong personal relationship with God, but no experience of ‘church practice’; and finally, a woman who met one of our neophytes in a cycling club and is interested in finding out more (about the Church, not cycling!)

When we first started using the Rites of Initiation of Adults we were worried about this sort of mix, and how to meet each person’s needs.  Now we have stopped worrying!  We see it as real ‘treasure’ for the parish.  Using the liturgical year, and the lectionary, as mainstays for our catechesis, we have found that over a period of between 1 and 3 years our catechumens come to a deep understanding and experience of the mysteries at the heart of our faith. We are no longer ‘driven’  by the time constraints of a more programmatic approach – and we would call this more of an ‘apprenticeship’  into the Catholic Christian way of life – the sort envisaged in the Rite itself.

All these people have knocked at our door at odd intervals since last January, and we have trained ourselves (!) to say ‘Come in’ rather than ‘Come back in September’.  We are muddling our way towards an all-year round ‘Come and See’ enquiry.  By about Advent most people have been with us for several months, and we offer the first opportunity for the Rite of Welcome (or Acceptance).  In looking at the Rite together, seeing what is required, it has been discerned (by us and them) that 3 of our 7 enquirers are ready for this step. And that hasn’t been difficult – people know when they are reay, and we can see the change in them over the months – there is an infectious enthusiasm, an openness to the Gospel, eagerness to learn to pray, to be part of community life.  Others are still a little cautious about what this commitment might mean, and want to carry on asking questions.

With the limited resources in our small rural community, the team decided to have the enquiry and catechumenal sessions on the same night.  This means a welcoming drink and chat, followed by prayer time and gospel sharing together, and then split into the two groups for the deepening catechesis, with two members of the team guiding the process in each group, with sponsors there to support.  The main ‘pillar’ of our catechesis in Advent for both groups continues to be the Sunday gathering, with opportunity to reflect afterwards on the experience of the Liturgy – the heady mix of signs and symbols, gestures and vestures, words and silence, is rich enough fayre for any apprentice to feast on! Leading up to Christmas we have some parish activities planned, and the enquirers and catechumens are actively encouraged to take part in community life – special advent liturgies, an outreach to the elderly housebound, a presentation on our Zimbabwe project – all of this is part of the apprenticeship in the Christian way of life, deepening the awareness of Christ in the season of Advent.  Yes, Christ in history, and Christ who will come again, but most importantly, the Christ who comes and is present is so many ways in our every-day C21 lives.

Resources:

  • Have a look at RCIA Network website [www.rcia.org.uk]  for Tool Box for discernment among other things;
  • The Liturgy Office  for info on lectionary based catechesis and lectio divina.
  • www.cliftondiocese.com produce some resources for year-round lectionary based catechesis
  • Shrewsbury (Paddy Rylands) and Brentwood (Nuala Gannon) produce weekly  ‘lectio divina’ leaflets.

Caroline D 

10/12/07