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

Will there be fewer people at the Rite of Election this year?

I received an email newsletter just before Christmas which, with an apologetic tone, reminded me that it was only 5 and 1/2 weeks until the beginning of Lent. Easter is almost as early as it can be this year — it can only fall on 22 March before that and that won’t happen in our lifetimes (2285 if you really want to know!). An early Easter means an early Lent and the First Sunday, the normal date for the Rite of Election, will be on 10 February. Hence my question. Or at least the origin of my question. What’s behind is a question about whether the discernment which is proper before the Rite of Election might say we need a bit longer before we can answer the questions asked of us at the Rite with integrity.

  • Have they faithfully listened to God’s word proclaimed by the Church?
  • Have they responded to that word and begun to walk in God’s presence?
  • Have they shared the company of their Christian brothers and sisters and joined with them in prayer?

Before looking at what the Rite says about being prepared for the Rite of Election and the length of the catechumenate a story.

Last autumn I was in Tours, France and I took the opportunity of visiting the shrine of my patron saint — St Martin. The shrine is a 19th Century basilica and in the crypt is the tomb of St Martin (died 397). Nearby is a museum which tells the history of both the Basilica and of St Martin himself through fragments and art works. One of the most famous incidents in his life happened when he was 17 and a soldier in the Roman army at Amiens. On a cold winter’s night he met a beggar and though he had little he shared is cloak with him. That night he had a vision of Christ in the guise of the beggar. He heard Christ say to the surrounding angels:

Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.

Though I was familiar with the story and some of the many images associated with it I had not come across the last line before and it served as a reminder both that one time to be a Catechumen was a distinct stage in a person’s life and that God is working during this period. The Life of St Martin, written quite soon after Martin died, says that he became a Catechumen when he was 10 and shortly after his vision he sought to be baptised at the age of 18.

Looking at the Rite

In the introduction to the Rite of Election it states:

Before the rite of election is celebrated, the catechumens are expected to have undergone a conversion in mind and in action and to have developed a sufficient acquaintance with Christian teaching as well as a spirit of faith and charity.

RCIA 107

And the length of the catechumenate…

The time spent in the catechumenate should be long enough — several years if necessary — for the conversion and faith of the catechumens to become strong. By their formation in the entire Christian life and a sufficiently prolonged probation the catechumens are properly initiated into the mysteries of salvation and the practise of an evangelical way of life. By means of sacred rites celebrated at successive times they are led into the life of faith, worship, and charity belonging to the people of God.

RCIA 76

And why not?

The phrase ‘several years if necessary’ is probably one of those we pass over thinking, if at all, that it applies elsewhere. The challenge is how to faithfully respond the request that the catechumens made at the Rite of Acceptance and to recognise that it takes time.

It is perhaps worth articulating some of the reasons that we find this challenge difficult:

  • we see discernment as, at best, a one-way process by the catechumens not as a shared responsibility which is integral to the Rite
  • Seeing the process of Initiation as a single timetable for a whole group — for whom is such a timetable designed?
  • A year seems a long time to wait for next Easter. Our language can also seem negative: initiation can be delayed or put off.
  • All this pre-supposes a team and a process that can cope with people at different stages over the year.
  • There is also a need to make clear differences between the different periods particularly in terms of catechesis. The period of purification and enlightenment is not the time for a final catch-up on matters of doctrine but a time of spiritual preparation for Easter.

This would not be the time to suddenly decide that your Catechumens will not be going to the Rite of Election! Nor is it a proposal that, like Martin, the Catechumenate should take 7 years. It is an encouragement to continue to reflect on what the potential of Catechumenate is.

  • For further thoughts on these issues see recent postings in Team RCIA
  • The 11 March posting will be reflections on celebrating the Rite of Election – contributions welcome.

Martin F

07/01/08

When our Saviour appeared

Originally there was going to be a week’s break on Walking the Rite waybut when I was preparing the next 3 Year of St Paul leafletsI was struck by how in the middle of Christmas — at the Dawn Mass — there is baptism.

Here is the passage and the prayer from the leaflet (adapted from RCIA) for reflection.

When the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:4-7

All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life.

Send your Holy Spirit upon us to be our helper and guide.

Give us the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill us with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Martin F

31/12/07

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

What’s in a Family Tree?

Monday the 17th December marks a change in the journey towards Christmas or perhaps more correctly it marks a moment when the birth of Jesus comes to meet and remind us that we are all part of his family tree.

Matthew’s Gospel begins with the family tree of Jesus the Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. It is beautifully put together, neatly divided and very often missed out as the list of names has a tendency to confuse rather than inform. Yet it is worth looking at and reflecting on. Genealogies tell us where and who we come from, they give us a sense of identity and point us in a direction. Really good genealogies include even the skeletons we would like to keep in the cupboards of our lives. A bit like Harry Potter hidden away under the stairs.

The genealogy of Jesus goes a long way to telling us who he is, where he comes from and where he’s going. He is a carries in his genes the blood of Abraham and the blood of David. It is important to remember that when Abraham began his journey from the ancient city of Ur, near modern Basra, he was a gentile. As King Hussein of Jordan reminded us when he spoke at the funeral of his friend Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral “we are all the children of Abraham”. If only we could take on board the implications of that word. The radicalness of us all being children of Abraham is found in the words of John the Baptist when he says “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones”. See the world through inclusive rather than exclusive eyes.

Jesus also carries the blood of David, the great King,who reigned over the Israel at a time when they were at their most powerful, a kingdom that stretched from Dan to Beersheba. A Kingdom which didn’t last long, became divided and eventually became totally destroyed resulting in the deportation of the people to Babylon. The exile in Babylon makes a key moment in the history of Jesus’ people. When all is lost and there appears to be no future, how can we and even God stay faithful to us?

A truly terrible time. Akin in the gospel story to the disciples facing the crucifixion of Jesus. All is lost, there is no future. How can we go on? Should we give up?

The Exile and the Crucifixion of Jesus amazingly become the great moments of Hope rather than despair. A miracle indeed!

The family tree of Jesus tells us that he carries the whole story of his people and not just his people in a narrow way but the story of all of us. The skeletons in the cupboard come in the names of the women mentioned in the otherwise more normal list of men. They are to say the least foreign and to a greater or lesser extent involved in rather dubious behavior even though they are undoubtedly very strong women who despite the unquestioned difficulties which face them come out with great integrity and wholeness.

Tamar: Who uses all of her cunning and skill to get her rights: Genesis 38 Rahab:of the scarlet cord hanging from the window: Joshua 2 Ruth:The Moabitess who becomes the Great Grandmother of King David: Book of Ruth Uriah’s wife:The unnamed Bathsheba who is simply taken by David and whose husband, the honourable Uriah the Hittite is murdered on David’s orders. 2 Samuel 11 And finallyMarywho is found to be with child by the Holy Spirit and whom Joseph takes home as his wife and who is named Jesus but will be called “Emmanuel” a name which means ‘God is with us’.

The family tree of Jesus is definitely worth more than a glance or two. Also of course our own family tree whether that tree be biological or of our faith journey carries much that can enlighten, enrich and even challenge our lives. It is always good to remember that we are all in one way or another members of the family tree of Jesus.

Ken O

17/12/07

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

Welcome

Welcome to Walking the Rite Way, the blog for the RCIA Network. You will find here over the coming weeks: practical ideas and resources, reflections of scripture, the lectionary and the liturgical seasons, comment pieces on how we do the rite. As RCIA touches on so many aspects of the Church’s life the writers also have a broad remit.

We aim to have new piece posted on Monday every week. There is already a team of writers with their fingers poised over the keyboard ready to write but if you are a member of the Network and would like to contribute please contact Martin Foster.

One of the good things about a blog is that it allows you an opportunity to comment on what you have read, to join in the conversation – please do so. The writers are not a group of experts but people who are exploring the ‘Rite way’ and sharing what they find.

A few gentle guidelines for participating:

  • Think of your contribution as one you might make in your RCIA group.
  • Listen to what other people are saying.
  • If you disagree do so with courtesy.
  • Try to be brief and to the point.

The blog is setup so that the first comment you make is moderated — this is a way of avoiding spam.

Welcome to the journey.

Martin Foster

29/11/07