I love this image of joy, from new life in Christ! Apparently, St Seraphim of Sarov said, “The Holy Spirit turns into joy whatever he touches”. I know I have experienced this – I have felt discouraged or upset, then, after prayer, my joy has returned. Or a moment when something during the day ‘wakes you up’ and you remember the joy of salvation. What a beautiful thing that we can turn to the Holy Spirit and ask for his joy…
By now, you must have seen the wonderful Made for Glory Advent reflections. (And if you haven’t, where have you been?!) Why do I love these so much? They are so Christ-centred. They announce the Gospel message, through and though, and invite a response to it. The young people presenting radiate joy, stemming from a real relationship with Christ and an experience of being transformed. I think that Made for Glory is a powerful initiative for helping young people become disciples, and I hope that, following this project, it goes from strength to strength.
Did I mention that Made for Glory and Transformed in Christ are joining forces on February 21st?! Made for Glory will give input on the day for catechists and youth leaders in London which introduces the Transformed in Christ Confirmation programme. Have you booked your place yet? Only £5 for a fab day of inspiring and uplifting teaching on evangelising and discipling young people… you don’t want to miss it 😉 Follow the link to book your place.
Is it Christmas yet?! I can’t quite decide whether it’s Christmas yet or not. Someone recently said to me, “This basically is Christmas” – the Christmas markets, the decorated homes, the chocolate, the booze…right now! No need to wait till the 25th. It’s Christmas now. I love the season so much, it is hard to wait to celebrate it for the twelve days after the 25th, when everyone else’s Christmas trees are on the roadside. What’s a Christian to do?! Somehow, we really need to go for it in Advent – let’s celebrate Advent joy – a joy that’s more exciting because it involves anticipation… And anticipating something you know is just going to be wonderful, is such a rich joy!
Having said all this, friends of mine hosted a day retreat for our RCIA enquirers recently, and their home was beautifully decorated for Christmas, complete with Christmas scents pervading the house, and it was really lovely – I have to say. It made a beautiful atmosphere for our retreat. The people who came have all been through a series of enquiry and evangelisation sessions. We have used a great series of videos to proclaim the Gospel message, and announce the possibility of entering into a lifelong, life-giving personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This retreat day was to prepare those who will go forward for the Rite of Acceptance. We have got to know these people really well now; we have heard their stories, and we have shared our testimonies of how God has transformed us. We have seen change take place, even over the space of three months. So, this day was a real blessing.
After Sunday Mass together, we spent some time reflecting on the thresholds of conversion. (I’ve written more about this here.) I have spoken about the thresholds with both catechists and sponsors, but I thought it was worth doing with the enquirers, to give them a framework for their journey, a sense of where they might be, and to reflect on their desire for discipleship. I was surprised at how fruitful it was. After explaining each threshold carefully with examples, we had a period of quiet reflection where people could go off to reflect, write, pray… Then, we came back together, with the option for them to share their reflection. Each person chose to do this, with complete freedom, and their own reflections were moving and illuminating. What a powerful exercise! It helped us gain insight, and it was helpful to the enquirers too.
In the lead up to the retreat day and the Rite of Acceptance, each enquirer who had been attending regularly had a ‘discernment’ with one of the priests. (I’ve written before about these here.) Why have these? The RCIA says that, before celebrating the Rite of Acceptance, the enquirer should show signs of “first faith” and the “first stirrings of repentance”… There must be a desire to enter into relationship with God and to change everything in their life not in keeping with God’s will. This can’t be discerned without a one-to-one meeting, and the priest is the best person to undertake this. They follow guidelines which include asking about their prayer life, how their life has changed since they started coming along, how relationships have changed, what they have struggled with, etc. For those who have been used to a status quo “September-to-Easter” approach, this new approach has turned things upside down a little. People wonder why it’s necessary. The problem is, as I discussed here, when the ‘norm’ in your parish is not discipleship, it can be confusing when it becomes the standard for RCIA. My heartfelt prayer is that this will gradually seep into the parish and, perhaps in small ways, influence parish culture. We will see…
One of the beautiful moments on the enquiry retreat was a conversation which stemmed from the thresholds of conversion exercise. The enquirers – completely on their own initiative – began discussing what kind of ‘changes’ a new Christian life might mean… Discussion ranged from practices at work, evangelisation of friends and colleagues, relationships… without too much input from us. (We will cover in depth the conversion of life in Christ and moral implications within the Catechumenate.) It was a wonderful discussion, and it showed the threshold of openness within many of our enquirers, a willing desire to change, and wondering what this might mean. It reminded me of the crowd’s response to Peter in Acts 2:37: “What shall we do?” They heard the Gospel, they believed, and they wanted to know how to respond. I love Peter’s response: “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, receive the grace of God himself in the sacraments, and change your life in conformity with it.
That’s all, friends! Have a great week.