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Devotions and Emotions

As we approach the end of Lent, if we are worth our salt as catechists, we have the basics of the Catholic Faith, the 10 Commandments, the 7 Sacraments, the 3 theological and 4 cardinal virtues, the 7 capital sins, and the 8 Beatitudes all well taught. Our candidates and elect are accustomed to attending the Sunday liturgies. We need to take time now to make sure that hearts are touched, that habits of personal prayer are developing and strengthening, and that the walk with Jesus Christ becomes more internalized.

One candidate remarked to me that the Stations of the Cross (recited in our parish every Friday evening during Lent) are very emotional. I responded that, yes, they were designed to tug at our heartstrings. Our favorite Catholic devotions fit in the category of traditions (with a small t) and they are not a part of our liturgical prayer. Yet our most ancient and beloved devotions trace their history back through the life of the Church for centuries, and they play a strong role in developing our spirituality --- our unique, affective relationship with God. We listen attentively to the passion narratives on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, but when we travel around the church using one of the many excellent pamphlets on the Stations, we become one with the people who followed Jesus as he carried his cross up the hill of Calvary, and we make his suffering our own. Here again we are using all our senses, including our kinesthetic experience, as channels of grace.

I was in downtown San Antonio on Good Friday one year in the 1980s. That morning a live Stations of the Cross Procession had made its way through the downtown streets. Even shop owners took part. At precisely 12 noon, everything stopped, including traffic; everyone knelt down on the sidewalk, and the Archbishop led an outdoor prayer. Then the procession led the people into the Cathedral for the solemn Good Friday liturgy. It was an emotionally charged scene that touched both Catholics and non-Catholics. What a witness to the secular culture from Holy Mother the Church!

The holy Rosary which has been recited essentially in its present from the time of the high Middle Ages, (excepting the luminous mysteries and the Fatima prayer), actually has roots reaching deep into early Christianity. People used to say the Our Father repetitively, using stones they kept in their pockets to count their prayers. After the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. which affirmed that Mary is the Mother of God, the Hail Mary prayer gained popularity. Encourage frequent and possibly daily recitation of the Rosary: this prayer can be said at any time and in any place, with or without beads, and it strengthens a personal love for our Blessed Mother and Jesus, the Son she gave to the world. In Mary's apparitions at Fatima she pleaded with the world to say the rosary for the salvation of sinners.

Other devotions also attune our affective life to the life of grace. Approved Novenas add validity to our repeated prayers for help and to our prayers of intercession for others. Novenas to the Sacred Heart, to St. Joseph, to St. Jude, and many others are popular devotions. Our pictures, medals, statues, and other sacred objects are all intended to draw our minds and hearts to God throughout the day. The Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner" and many other variations of it, said briefly and frequently, increase our love for Jesus. Slow ponderous reading of Sacred Scripture also help us come to know Jesus both in his humanity and in his divinity. Please don't forget to encourage prayers of discernment in which we slowly and repeatedly pray to God about an upcoming decision or a situation, assess our strengths and abilities, read Scripture, and preferably journal about the thoughts that come to our mind. Many of our candidates and elect are actively engaged in making important life decisions. This practice will facilitate their making more conscientious, God centered choices.

Our liturgical life is vital to our Catholicism: attending Sunday Mass is both a privilege and a duty. Yet for a vibrant spiritual life, habits and practices of personal prayer are essential. Be sure to encourage and develop these habits as a vital aspect of your RCIA process.

Wanted: Volunteers to Get into Trouble!

By Joyce Stolberg

The leader of "Duck Dynasty" lost his job for calling gay sexual behavior a sin. He regained it only after his whole cast stood by him. The mainline news media commented only on the "shameful intolerance" that denies equal respect to gay couples and gay activities. No mention was ever made of an individual's right to free speech. Rather, apology and remediation was demanded of the actor for speaking his mind. A public school teacher can get fired for the "intolerance" of refusing to teach "gay marriage" as an option on a par with traditional marriage. What was recently considered immoral by society has, through the highly vocal efforts of an organized minority, become a protected right. How about the widespread acceptance of persons living together and having children without the bonds of marriage, or the acceptance and even expectation that our teenagers will engage in sexual behavior?

Likewise, the programmed "war on Christmas," is being imposed on society, not only by customs geared toward promoting tolerance but also by legal intervention. One school in Texas prohibited any religious symbols, Christmas trees, or even the wearing of the colors red and green during the pre-Christmas season. They held a "Winter" party at which all the decorations were designed in purple. (They clearly spaced out the Catholic preference for purple during Advent, or they would have chosen another color!) Before Christmas, I was shopping in Toys R. Us buying presents for my Godchildren. As the clerk finished, she handed me my package saving, "Happy Holiday!" I winced, then proclaimed cheerfully "Merry Christmas!" Why doesn't anyone speak up about being offended by the acknowledgment of the winter solstice (a pagan ritual) when their right to express themselves with the Christmas celebration is being crushed? I could go on and on here discussing the dilapidated state of our society's morals. But I have done that in previous newsletters. I strongly suggest that you review the following, especially as you proceed in your discernment prior to the Rite of Election.

Presenting Catholic Teachings on Morality
Unprecedented Challenges for Neophytes
Catholics Must Rise above Conventional Morality

Where is the silent, overly polite majority? Must we be so concerned about offending every raucous minority that speaks out on any issue that we suppress our own right to free speech? Or must we fear public reaction to our speaking out? Could we lose our job for teaching the immorality of sexual acts performed outside the bonds of holy matrimony, or for refusing to take part in an abortion? Yes we definitely could. But we are not likely to lose our heads or be mauled by savage beasts as the martyrs of other times were. What are we willing to risk in order to proclaim the truth of God? A little bullying or harassment? One courageous young eighth-grader who went through our RCIA process faced a situation where her school was rewarding students for completing a battery of standardized tests by preparing to host a barbecue on a Friday during Lent. She stood up boldly in class and said, "I'm a catechumen [elect] preparing to be baptized in the Catholic Church at Easter and I am not allowed to eat meat on Friday." That public school changed the date of the barbecue to a Thursday. The courageous owners of the Hobby Lobby chain are risking their huge business because they refuse to fund abortion on their health insurance policies. What if we were actually persecuted for teaching proper morality? In our time we need Catholic laypeople who are bold enough to stand up for what we believe even if it gets us in trouble with the law, even if it costs us our positions and our livelihood. Saints Peter and John, when commanded to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, replied, "Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4: 19, 20) If speaking out should end up costing us imprisonment or our very lives, we would be in excellent company! If more Catholics and Christians were willing to speak out, we could change society!

The Harvest of Souls

by Joyce Stolberg

Dear Readers,

At this time of year I am usually offering a checklist prior to the Rites of Acceptance and Welcome or sharing insights on the moral requirements of the Catholic Church. You can find these in previous newsletters. This month I would like to share something very different --- something that reaches into the very heart of why we are evangelizing and catechizing in the RCIA process. This past month one of our neophytes, a candidate who was confirmed last spring, died. He had already lost one lung to cancer four years ago.

A family man with one young adult and two teenage children, he had been married to a Catholic woman for well over 20 years. Although his children were raised Catholic by their mother, he himself had been wandering through a spiritual wilderness. In September of 2012, he decided that it would be the year he began preparations for entry into the Catholic Church. His interest and participation were exemplary: he attended sessions, retreats, and did everything else we asked, in spite of increasing pain levels and disability.

Although we as team members can identify interest level, responsiveness, and participation and note signs of growth, the spiritual depth that develops under the grace of the Holy Spirit can be hidden behind a quiet demeanor within a group experience.  I had no realization, until I was talking to his wife at the funeral dinner, how deeply the Holy Spirit had transformed the heart of our neophyte. She told me that at the time of his initial operation, he was filled with fear and felt nowhere near ready to die. However, this time as death approached, he felt very much at peace and ready to meet his Lord. She thanked me profusely for being such an influence on his life. I felt overwhelmed, perhaps embarrassed, because I was just doing the work I normally do. It wasn't me. It was God who opened his heart and flooded him with the grace that transformed his life and prepared him to meet the Lord at his death.

Along with St. Paul, we can identify our role as planting and watering; we try to soften the ground and make it fertile so that the grace of God can touch and increase the faith of those with whom we work, just as St. Paul affirmed in 1 Corinthians.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor.   For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. (1 Cor 3:6-14)

I was feeling discouraged last year, because the slow churning of the annulment process was keeping some of our catechumens and candidates out of the major rites and delaying their sacraments. I didn't keep in mind that my task is to plant and water; this is the task we all have. By the work we do we are preparing the way for God's grace to enter the souls of our candidates and catechumens. This grace will bear fruit in God's time, not ours. We never know when we will be preparing someone to receive the final gifts of grace that will prepare them for entry into eternal life.

One final personal note: I myself had cancer surgery in August of this year and I am currently taking less part in RCIA team work than I usually do. My chances of a cure from surgery are excellent and I am slowly recovering my strength. One of my greatest joys at this time is seeing our parish filled with people whom I have taught over the years. We are building up the body of Christ, a few living stones at a time. If they go out and build up the body of Christ, a few other living stones at a time, who knows what the ripple effect might be?  When we are all gathered together in that great harvest of souls at the end of time, we will finally see the full fruits of the planting and watering we have done in the Lord's fields.

 


 Referals

At this time of year I am usually offering a checklist prior to the Rites of Acceptance and Welcome or sharing insights on the moral requirements of the Catholic Church.  You can find these in previous newsletters.

Presenting Catholic Teachings on Morality 2010-11-18
Advent, Mary, and the Incarnation 2010-11-22  
When the Time Is Right for the Ritesof Acceptance and Welcome 2011-10-21
Consecration to a Life of Virginity: a Personal Reflection 2011-11-03
Christmas Themes 2012-12-06

Designing Your Calendar for 2013-2014

 The same Holy Spirit who inspired the design of the lectionary also inspired our catechetical system. Therefore, lectionary-based catechesis operates in synergy with systematic instruction when sound planning is applied. Before formally inaugurating your RCIA process, prepare a calendar specifically for the year and liturgical cycle in which you are teaching. Part Two of the supplement to the Catechist and Directors' Edition of God Calls You by Name provides a general guide for aligning topics with liturgical readings. Pages S-37 through S-52 help correlate the lessons for initial evangelization and catechesis in New Beginnings with the spring and summer liturgies. Pages S-53 through S-82 assist in correlating the lesson plans in God Calls You by Name with the fall, winter, and spring liturgies. Presented here is a sample calendar, which can be used for formal catechetical instruction from the fall of 2013 through Mystagogia of 2014. This calendar begins in Year C and moves to Year A on the first Sunday of Advent.

 

Summertime: Time out --- Time in

 

by Joyce Stolberg

 

Mystagogia is formally concluded with a celebration; neophytes are now fully members of the Church; you have been for the souls under your care what Jesus' disciples were for the early Church. Ah --- now --- good old summertime! Plan your getaway!

 

Yet, while it's time to relax and take that well-deserved vacation, the Church calls us to carry on with a full year RCIA process. New inquirers are calling your church secretary and speaking to your pastor all the time. For those with little or no Christian background, The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults Study Edition (Appendix 3, #6) (USCCB) prescribes a catechumenate lasting at least one full year (from at least the Easter season of one year until the following Easter). This time frame allows for the proclamation of the "good news of salvation," inaugural evangelization, renunciation of incompatible worship, movement toward conversion of heart, opportunity for faith to take root and the beginnings of a Christian life-orientation among those persons who have had no prior faith background.

 

This call to evangelize is expressed in the summer months, not by imparting a structured systematic catechesis as we do in the catechumenate, but rather by helping the seeds of faith to germinate in a welcoming environment. Lessons should be informal and comfortable, and need not necessarily be held each week. A good part of your session should be devoted to encouraging questions and answering them. Plan lessons, perhaps every other week or even once a month, supplemented by picnics or outings, which serve to nurture these tender seeds of faith. Look in the supplement in your catechetical edition of God Calls You by Name. The first part, New Beginnings, consists of a series of very simple lesson plans oriented toward facilitating simple growth in faith through an initial and informal catechesis. Fifteen lessons are designed; however you may group them or rearranged them to best suit your needs. In contrast with the main body of the text, these supplementary lessons are written for the catechist and offer suggestions for interacting with new inquirers.

 

These sessions need to be geared toward inquirers and designed for an open group --- that is --- inquirers will be welcome to come and go. At this early time, no expectation will be placed on them to continue and ultimately seek membership in the Catholic Church. That being said, some of them will be seriously seeking the Catholic sacraments and may have already made the decision to become Catholic. As soon as you discern a clear interest, or at least before September brings a more formal catechumenate process, begin to conduct interviews with those who express interest in continuing.

 

The purpose for beginning these interviews in a timely manner, in addition to getting to know your participants and assaying their intentions, is to establish the marital or engaged status, cohabitation status, or freedom from relationships in good time to both discern any need to obtain an annulment and to advise accordingly, to explain the marriage preparation requirements of the Church, and to clarify and affirm Catholic teaching in regard to intimate relationships and sexual activity. The increasing tolerance of secular society for sexual relationships, cohabitation, and homosexuality has framed our Catholic teaching in luminous contrast to the prevailing conventional morality in which your inquirers may be steeped. They deserve transparency in regard to our moral stance during this early inquiry phase because it will become part and parcel of their decision to proceed to the Rites of Acceptance and Welcome and to advance toward instruction in the catechumenate. Taking the time to conduct these interviews now will pay off tremendously in terms of imparting clear expectations throughout the subsequent formal catechumenate process. Please take this portion of the process seriously: you will greatly facilitate the work in your subsequent catechumenate.

 

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