The Challenge of Adult Faith Formation (part 2)
When considering catechesis, the U.S. Bishops call parishes to focus on adults, rather than children. They also suggest using the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) as a model for adult catechesis. If we take this seriously, we discover that the first, and often forgotten, step, in adult faith formation is conversion to Christ.
Summer Workshop for Parish Leaders
Escape to the cool breezes of Colorado Springs and catch fire with exciting ideas on how to transform your parish into a center of evangelization, formation and discernment! Attend the third annual Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles workshop July 30 - August 3, 2006.
Can You Tell Me What a Parish Is?
If not, then consider joining Sherry Weddell, Cardinal George of Chicago, Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P., and canon lawyers, attorneys and theologians to discuss this timely and essential question at Loyola University, July 17-20.
Mark Shea is an enormously witty lay Catholic with a great site for apologetics, on of the most widely read Catholic blogs on the internet, and nary a thought that is not written down and uploaded to his Sheavings page. Oh, and he happens to be a good friend of Sherry's.
Screwtape on the Da Vinci Code
Eric Metaxas fills in for C.S. Lewis to let the tempter named Screwtape review the Da Vinci Code - "a book and movie filled with such a precariously towering heap of our very best non-thinking that it is quite dizzying! It has the potential to mislead, confuse, and vex millions!" This constitutes high praise from Down Below!
Unleashing the Laity (or, how to revive a Catholic parish)
Harold Fickett, author of ‘The Living Christ; ‘The Holy Fool’, and other books, writes that it's been forty years since Vatican II and we're still waiting for lay Catholics to get energized. But a priest in Boston (yes, Boston) may have found the key to church renewal at the parish level: Let the laity loose.
Paul Camarata leads you in a weekly podcast through an exploration of all things saintly. A great way to learn about particular saints who are great examples to the saints-in-training living today.
Drinking in the Word
Fr. Paul Murray, O.P., of the English Province examines the image of drinking or of being made drunk, which early Dominicans used to describe not only the overwhelming impact the Word of God had on their interior lives, but also the effect of that encounter on almost every other aspect of their lives.
Daily liturgy of the hours that you can download to your computer, or even your Palm Pilot!
July 30 - August 3
Colorado Springs, CO
Sunday evening through Thursday noon. This is a workshop for pastors, parish staff, or leaders who would like to explore how to make their parish a house of formation where adults are effectively challenged to become disciples and empowered to discern and live their mission as apostles.
Location: The Franciscan Retreat Center, nestled in the foothills of the Rockies just north of Colorado Springs at 6500 ft elevation. The Retreat Center provides panoramic views of the Rampart Range and the Pikes Peak region.
CONTACT: Mike Dillon at the Institute Office (888) 878-6789 (toll free) or e-mail Mike.
June 2-3, 2006
(Archdiocese of Seattle)
Blessed Sacrament Parish
CONTACT: Marilyn Thornton, Director of Religious Education, or the Parish office at (206) 547-3020
(Archdiocese of Los Angeles)
St. John Eudes Catholic Church
CONTACT: Katie Dawson, Director of Evangelization, or the Parish office at (818) 341-3680
August 9, 2006
(Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston)
A special, one-day Called & Gifted Workshop at St. Thomas More Catholic Church;
CONTACT: Suzie Hamilton, Pastoral Associate, or the Parish office at (713) 729-0221.
July 7-9, 2006
Colorado Springs, CO
(Diocese of Colorado Springs)
A training workshop to prepare teachers to present the Called & Gifted workshop for the Catherine of Siena Institute.
CONTACT: Mike Dillon at the Institute Office (719) 219-0056 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
June 9-10, 2006
(Diocese of Charleston, SC)
St. Mary Catholic Church
CONTACT: Kate Tierney or David Tiede Hottinger, Assistant to the Pastor for Discipleship and Evangelization, at St Mary Catholic Church (864) 271-8422 ext 11
or Mike Dillon at the Institute Office (719) 219-0056 or e-mail Mike
The Call to Christian Happiness
Do you experience tension between being Christian and being Happy? Explore the meaning and method of Christian happiness in a refreshingly original four hour audiotape presentation. Discover why guilt has no place in the Christian heart, the virtues and vices of happiness, and how happiness and the secular life go hand in hand. Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P. and Sherry Weddell bring to this presentation the same dynanism they have shown coast to coast in the Called and Gifted workshop. Only $20.00!
St. Catherine of Siena, a fourteenth century lay Dominican describes the movement of love as having three stages in the growth of a person in holiness. It begins as what she calls servile love (a love accompanied by fear of punishment for one’s sins), becomes mercenary love (a love accompanied by hope of eternal reward) and comes to full fruition in filial love (the love of God for his own sake, which is the perfection of charity). In this final state of filial love, the individual’s will is entirely united and abandoned to the divine will. The image she uses is of God as a “deep sea” and just as a person dives into the depths of the sea, so “the soul who plunges totally into God is so transformed into God that all her thoughts, understanding, love and memory are taken up exclusively with God and are busy with God alone.”
The Institute derives over 90% of its revenues from goods and services, which is highly unusual for a non-profit. Unfortunately, our work is somewhat seasonal, as parish life tends to slow down in the summer, and operate at warp speed around Holy Week and Easter. No one wants a workshop around Christmas, either. Thus our monthly donors are incredibly important. Please consider making a monthly donation to the Institute, either via check, automatic funds transfer, or through scheduled deductions on your credit card.
Monthly donors are remembered in a Mass said by Fr. Mike on the first Tuesday of the month, receive a monthly "insider's" newsletter from one of the co-Directors, and are twice as likely to be in a state of grace than non donors.
O.K., we just made that last one up.
If you have questions about becoming a monthly donor, or would like to become one, please contact George via e-mail or at 303.847.7502
Mike gratefully acknowledges the hospitality shown to him by Fr. Paul Wicker, of Holy Apostles Church. Fr. Paul opens his home to Fr. Mike when Institute business calls him to Colorado Springs. Thanks, too, to Col. Liz Anderson of Colorado Springs, who provides Fr. Mike with a vehicle for transportation during his visits.
Thanks also to Anna Elias-Cesnik and Patricia Mees Armstrong for their help in editing this edition of the e-Scribe. They both compile a list of errata, and each list is completely different from the other!
The Challenge of Adult Faith Formation (part 2)
by Fr. Michael Fones, O.P., co-Director, Catherine of Siena Institute
In the March issue of the Siena e-Scribe, I wrote of how the U.S. Catholic Bishops in their 1999 pastoral, Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, had commented on the suitability of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) as "the most appropriate model for adult faith formation.…" Although it is not to be considered the only model for the formation of adults, whatever model is used "should always actively challenge participants to get involved with their own faith journey – passive listening is never enough; the goal is always conversion." Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, 81. The Bishops also outlined the goals of adult faith formation: conversion to the Lord, active membership in the Church, and the preparation of adults to act as disciples in mission to the world. In this brief article I would like to outline some of the aspects of the RCIA that might give parishes some direction in designing models of adult faith formation with regard to the first goal of conversion.
The RCIA begins with the admission to the catechumenate, during which the faith of the catechumen preparing for baptism is nurtured and his or her conversion is deepened. The Rite, however, presumes that some initial evangelization of the individual has already occurred. "Faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ whom he has sent for the salvation of all." Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults #36 The expectation is that the proclamation of the Gospel changes the way individuals see themselves, the world, and their relation to God. Crucial to this period, called the precatechumenate are "faith and initial conversion that cause a person to feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God's love. The whole period of the precatechumenate is set aside for this evangelization, so that the genuine will to follow Christ and seek baptism may mature." #37 This evangelization consists in the faithful and constant proclamation of the Father whose love is demonstrated in the sending of Jesus, his Son, and with the expectation that the Holy Spirit will be at work in the hearts of those who hear this proclamation.
The challenge for many parishes is to realize, as Sherry mentioned in her article in the last e-Scribe, that many Catholics, even those who attend Mass regularly, may not as yet have experienced this initial conversion. They may have been more powerfully formed by secular values than by the Gospel. Generally we presume the members of our parishes have undergone this conversion of heart, but is that presumption justified?
For example, a nationwide survey of 2006 adults conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press between October 12-24, 2005 asked, "Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?" Fifty-six percent of the Catholic respondents said either often (21%) or sometimes (35%). This is surprising, given the Church's clear teaching on the matter. The Catechism states that, "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity." Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2297. While sadly admitting that in the past the Church might have condoned torture, "in recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors." CCC, 2298. What is even more surprising is that people unaffiliated with a faith tradition were less likely to find torture justified than those who identified themselves as Catholic, with 10% calling torture often justified and another 25% calling it sometimes justified.
The fact that many people attend Mass regularly and are not in a state of mortal sin does not necessarily mean that they have a significant relationship with Christ that shapes their daily thoughts, decisions and actions.
The Importance of Conversion
So how does a parish community help its members undergo the conversion that allows individuals to "feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God's love"? #37. Every time I talk to my friend, Fr. Scott Steinkerchner, O.P., about my Macintosh PowerBook, I discover that it is capable of doing things I never dreamed of. I do not look for options or capabilities that I don't know exist! In a similar way, it is necessary for individuals to realize that they are in need of conversion! Usually when we compare our spiritual life with someone else's (and we all do this to some extent), we instinctively choose someone whom we judge to be less holy. I hear this in confession when people say things like, "Well, Father, I'm not a saint, but I'm no Hitler, either." Talk about aiming low! The point is, our goal is to be saints.
We cannot become saints on our own effort or by our own merits. So prayer is the first step in developing an adult faith formation process on the parish level. The work of conversion is the Holy Spirit's, not ours. A parish community must consciously pray for the spiritual renewal of its members. This can be done through regular intercessions to that effect at Mass, through reminders in the bulletin that call individuals to pray for their own conversion and that of others, and most especially through concentrated, organized prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. The daily Mass community might be invited to focus their intentions on the deepening of conversion to Christ for all the members of the parish. Finally, we must not forget that some people have been spiritually empowered by God to pray with special effectiveness. Sherry Weddell often encourages pastors to gather together parishioners with the charism of intercessory prayer to pray for the spiritual renewal of the parish.
The heart of an adult faith formation modeled on the RCIA process is the proclamation of the Gospel with honesty and insight that shows its countercultural challenge. God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts." Is. 55:9. The rite indicates that this proclamation and explanation of the Gospel is the role of "priests and deacons, catechists and other laypersons." #38. Jesus confronts us with a choice, always: whom are you going to follow? Catholic Christians are no longer the impoverished immigrants who banded together to face an often hostile, Protestant culture.
Today, instead, we are confronted by a rational-sounding secularism that we are encouraged to embrace; a secularism that reduces human beings to objects, that places individual desire over the common good, and that denies the transcendent. A genuine proclamation of the Gospel must always challenge our complacency and name our desire to fit in with the world. This can be a real challenge for pastors who are fearful of a decrease in the collection if they should speak a prophetic word. I know. I've been there myself. Whether in bible studies, short courses on contemporary issues like the Da Vinci Code or the Gospel of Judas, or explorations of the lives of contemporary and historical saints, the Word must be proclaimed for what it is, "living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword…[judging] the reflections and thoughts of the heart." Heb. 4:12
We need to take the Scriptures more seriously, and likewise take our faith more seriously. Mary, Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind and numerous other scriptural figures should be presented as people whose lives were radically changed by an encounter with Christ, and the expectation offered that our lives can be similarly changed if we truly desire it.
An important part of proclamation goes beyond reflecting on scripture to point out how God is at work in the world today, in the lives of ordinary lay people, and in the lives of clergy and religious. It is not enough to explain the scriptures, we must proclaim how they have transformed our lives. Last month I attended an Evangelization Retreat hosted by Sacred Heart Church of Boise, ID, for the Catholic community in St. Marie's, ID. The Evangelization Retreat relies heavily on lay people who have the courage to stand before their peers and honestly share how God's grace, mercy and love have changed their lives. People yearn to hear of answered prayers, of lives turned around, of lived experiences of God's saving power. Not every parish will develop such intense weekend experiences. Still, there are opportunities for people to give short testimonies of what God has done for them. Holy Apostles Church in Colorado Springs has a monthly men's breakfast that includes one fellow giving a short testimony about his conversion experience. Small faith sharing groups are other natural venues for this kind of personal sharing. But those who have undergone a powerful conversion to the Lord do not need a special venue. We naturally talk about wonderful experiences with others, and we speak freely of those we love. Hearing of someone else's conversion experience naturally challenges the listener to consider their own relationship with God, and to give it more attention if it has grown cold.
Again, I know this from experience. Last summer at daily Mass in Colorado Springs I met Daniel, a 34-year old man who had undergone a powerful conversion on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2005. He has been freed from an addiction to drugs, is living a chaste life, attending daily Mass, reading the scriptures for up to an hour a day, helping out with the homeless outreach in his parish, and is passionately in love with God. Prayer suffuses his day. His testimony to God's love and power to save awakened in me a realization of how I had let my own relationship with Jesus wane.
Nowhere was this more clear than when I gently offered to him the observation that it was common for those who have had a conversion to be enthusiastic about their newfound relationship, but that, like ordinary human infatuation, it would level off and become more "ordinary." I was surprised when he challenged my "pastoral wisdom" and asked, with a small amount of indignation, "Why? Why should my love and enthusiasm for Jesus simmer down?" And I realized I had no explanation, other than that my own had. Then I reread St. Paul's letters, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Gospels, and realized that a "simmered-down faith" could hardly explain the words or actions of the first Christians.
Part of the task of adult faith formation based on the RCIA process will be the slow changing of the expectations of Catholic Christians, including clergy, regarding what it means to be a practicing Catholic. Rather than consider Daniel to be an oddity, we should expect and look for radical transformation in our lives. A genuine, sustained encounter with Christ and his Spirit cannot leave us unchanged. Our response, our own deepening conversion, may look different from Daniel's, but we must expect our values, priorities, and the things that bring us joy to change. Moreover, we must begin to believe that the fruits of the Spirit of which St. Paul wrote, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, goodness, self-control will begin to manifest in our lives. Whatever shape our conversion takes, our "new life in Christ" will be more satisfying and fulfilling than anything else we've ever experienced.
The precatechumenate ends and the catechumenate commences with a ritual in which those entering that stage accept the Gospel, commit themselves to following Christ and his teaching, and, as one form of the rite says, "learn to make the mind of Christ Jesus your own." #52c The catechumens are signed with the cross on their ears, eyes, lips, heart, shoulders, hands and feet as a sign of Christ's protection, as well as a willingness to become Christ in the world. Perhaps parish staff and parishioners might come together to celebrate and affirm what God has done in the lives of baptized Catholics who have undergone a powerful conversion. The point would not be to praise the individual, but to praise the God who has worked marvels in their life, and who is bringing to fruition the promise of their baptism. Many of our regular parish gatherings, including social events, meetings, and catechetical gatherings, could provide opportunities for people to share their stories, and allow the whole community to give thanks to God. If one of the goals of adult faith formation is intentional discipleship, we need to see and hear examples! Then with enthusiasm and joy we will be able to say with the psalmist, "The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad indeed." Ps. 126:3
Summer Workshop for Parish Leaders
Disciples, apostles, and vocations are the result of an intentional plan and effort of a Christian community: a community that knows that if you build people first, they will create and sustainour institutions; and, a community that dares to ask, “Are we doing what Christ commanded us to do? How can we help every baptized Catholic experience a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ? Are we challenging our parishioners to become intentional disciples of Jesus Christ? Are we helping them to become well-formed apostles who are effectively discerning and answering God’s call?"
If you would like to wrestle with these sorts of questions in an enjoyable, high-energy community of like-minded parish and diocesan leaders, make plans to attend Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles:Growing Extraordinary Catholics in Our Own Backyard. The venue for the workshop is the beautiful Mount St. Francis retreat center in the shadow of Pike's Peak, Colorado Springs, July 30 - August 3, 2006.
Can You Tell Me What a Parish Is?
Sherry Weddell, co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, will be participating in a colloquium on the parish at Loyola University, Chicago, July 17-20. The parish is the most basic institution of the Roman Catholic Church, the point of most direct contact among her members, and yet it is hardly examined theologically or understood from a pastoral or legal perspective. A conversation about the parish is critical, moreover, to respond to litigation surrounding clergy sexual abuse. This interdisciplinary colloquium will bring experts and authorities from the fields of constitutional, corporate and canon law, as well as experts in ecclesiology and the theology of the laity, to begin a dialogue on the nature and mission of the parish. Seven speakers will present the perspectives from their expertise; all participants who attend the conference will engage the question through Q&A with the speakers and in small-group breakout sessions.
This colloquium is designed to be of particular interest to:
- lawyers, especially those working with parishes or dioceses
- laity involved at the parish or diocesan level
- pastoral or diocesan financial officers
- pastoral council members interested in the relationship of the parish to the diocese
The speakers will include:
- Most Rev. Francis Cardinal George, OMI –Archbishop of Chicago - keynote
- Mark Chopko, Esq., General Counsel for the USCCB
- Robert Christian, OP, Asst. Dean - University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome
- Joseph Fox, OP, Professor - Canon Law - Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit
- Rev. Anthony Oelrich, Director - Continuing Education, Diocese of St. Cloud
- Mark Sargent, Esq., Dean - Villanova University School of Law
- Michael Sweeney, OP, President - Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology
- Sherry Weddell, co-Director - Catherine of Siena Institute
Download a registration form today!