In your dreams

In the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear that Joseph had learned the news of Mary’s pregnancy. What would have been going through his mind as he tried to work out what to do? The desire to keep his honour wrestling with his desire to protect this young woman from any more disgrace than she was already facing…How many nights had he tossed and turned – before a fateful night on which, it could be said, the history of salvation depended. The Word had become Flesh but was infinitely vulnerable – and would be for many years. How was the Child to be protected in the long years of childhood if this good man rejected the woman who he thought had so seriously betrayed him?

And God sends a messenger to speak to this man in a dream… to enter his troubled sleep with words of comfort – of reassurance.But words that made no sense -what on earth does a child having been conceived by the Holy Spirit mean?

Joseph – like his namesake hundreds of years before – was a dreamer. Like the earlier Joseph, he trusted the dreams – and would have known that dreams are not always sweet – and their interpretation not always comfortable.Hadn’t the first Joseph ended up in Egypt because of his dreams? But then, hadn’t he ended up as Pharaoh’s right-hand man because of his skill in dream interpretation?

And don’t we now know that this Joseph’s dreams were not prophesying a quiet life?

Yet he took Mary into his home and brought up the Child with such love that when Jesus came to try to express something of what God was like, he used the childhood word he would have used for Joseph: Abba.

What was in that dream that led a Jewish carpenter to stake the rest of his life on it?

An angel told him not to be afraid – that all these strange circumstances fall within God’s plan – within God’s great Dream for humanity. For a short time the dreamer catches a privileged glimpse into the Dream and for the rest of his life will play his part in its unfolding.

Those we accompany of their journey come with their own dreams – those glimpses that draw them to God – to enquire ‘what does this mean?’ – to question ‘is it real?’ Perhaps our role as catechists is to act as angels – as messengers of God. We listen to their stories – to their dreams – and we say “don’t be afraid. God is with you.” And we share from our experience of living out our part in the Dream. We speak of other players in the Dream – the great and the small – the ones who sought to interpret and the ones who simply gazed in rapt awe upon the mysteries within it. We tell of those who also staked their lives on the Dream – who gave and give their lives for love of it.  We lead them into rites which earth the Dream in sight and sound and touch and taste and smell – for it is the Dream of the Word Incarnate – en-fleshed – a Dream to be lived out in human bodies. We feed the mind – the imagination – for it is here that the Dream takes root and heart.

Like Joseph, we are keepers of the Dream – but not its owners. We have heard our own angels calming our fears and encouraging us to faith – to hope and to love. Joseph’s charge was the protection of the Child Jesus and his mother – ours to retell their stories. His privilege, it is said, to die with Jesus and Mary at his side – ours to know that his adopted son broke the barriers of death and made real the yearning dream of eternal life. His faith was to face the shattered dream of conventional marriage and family life and to trust the greater Dream through long journeys and exile. Ours is to stand with others in their broken dreams and to brave the journeys and the exiles that form our part of the Dream.

For we have glimpsed the Dream. We have sensed that before we were formed in the wombs of our mothers, God was dreaming of us and of the part we would play in the unfolding of his Great Dream. Our parts may be small – but are no less important for that – for without them the Dream is incomplete.In witnessing our faith, others learn to trust the dream planted in them and to let God’s Dream take root – and grow closer to its fulfilment through those who, like Joseph, dare to dream their dreams and to stake their lives on the truth of the greater and eternal Dream.

Kathryn T

24/12/07

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

All Are Welcome In This Place!

We all know that our parish community is a warm and welcoming community – its just that sometimes we hide it quite well!

I have three distinct experiences of moving to new areas and finding a new parish. When I left college and took my first job in a completely alien city, I found a warm, welcoming and vibrant parish community – people introduced themselves, told me what kind of things were happening in the parish and invited me to join in with certain groups and activities. When I moved to a new city with a new teaching post, I moved to a very active and lively parish – who didn’t need anyone else. They were quite happy with themselves, thankyou very much. After a couple of months, I gave up. I felt quite invisible. It was a frustrating and isolating experience and for a time, I didn’t go to Church at all until I moved house and thought I’d try again. It was a relief to find a parish where I met families I knew and children I taught. In my present parish (another city), there was a gradual initiation into the community in several stages. Week 1 – nothing. After a couple of weeks, when people began to realise that I was still there, there were a couple of nods of the head. After a month, there were greetings exchanged and finally conversation.

Stepping into a new place, meeting a new community can be very intimidating. Parish communities are no longer as stable and established as they once were – people move for work and a whole variety of reasons. Perhaps in larger parishes, new faces are lost in the crowd. So how do we welcome new people into our communities?

Our readings for the first Sunday of Advent asked us to ‘Stay Awake’. Maybe during Advent and the Christmas season, we can stay awake and watch for the new faces and families who join our communities and perhaps old ones we haven’t seen for a while. We may only meet them once or twice, and how we welcome them on those occasions makes an impression and might well make a difference. Take a special care to notice those who come to Mass on their own. How do we welcome those for whom English isn’t a first language? Do we have information in Polish, Portuguese etc?

Take a parish audit:

  • When you walk through the doors of the Church, what is your immediate impression?
  • Is the word “Welcome” obvious?
  • Is information regarding mass times, facilities and contact numbers (e.g. Children’s Liturgy leaders) immediately noticeable?
  • Before Mass, who is there to welcome people?

As the new Church year starts, clear out the clutter of old notices and papers and create a fresh and welcoming space.

The First Sunday of Advent is one of the times, through the year, when many parishes  celebrate the Rite of Acceptance into the Catechumenate. The continuing welcome we extend to those journeying towards initiation or reception into the Church makes a difference to their experience and the experience of the parish journeying with them. What opportunities are there for the two journeys to interact? Celebrate the liturgies of the RCIA publicly during the Sunday liturgy, pray for the Candidates and Catechumens during the General Intercessions, introduce the parish community to the candidates and catechumens and the candidates and catechumens to the parish community. Evidence suggests the welcome of the community both during the journey towards initiation and afterwards makes a difference to whether the newly received stay with the Church or disappear off the radar.

There is information available on the internet.

  • Visit Portsmouth diocesan website and for downloads on the Ministry of Welcome, Tips for Being a Welcoming Parish and Keeping in Touch.
  • Also CASE Resources which has suggestions for welcoming people back to Church this Advent and Christmas.

Stay awake. Keep watch.

Paula B

29/11/07