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11 Halloween Children’s Activities to put the Holy back into Secular Halloween

halloween children's activities

What are your feelings about Halloween?

It’s been a dilemma for me to work out how to adjust to the relatively new and mostly secularised Halloween culture in Australia.  As kids we always went to Mass for All Saints and All Souls Days but here in Brisbane, Australia, in the 80s and 90s we never dressed up in costume, went trick or treating or made any scary decorations. In the last few years, I have resisted any involvement.  This week, however, I have been pushed to work out my new approach to Halloween. 

Cara, our 4-year-old daughter, attends a Kindergarten and the teachers have been really into Halloween costumes and decorations and so now she is too. Why early childhood centres are keen to have scary costumes and decorations without any context is beyond me.  See the bottom of this blog to see an example of the Halloween activities the Kindy children are doing.

Now, I’ve worked out my answer. Instead of it being an ‘either/or’ situation, I’m going to fill out this Halloween experience for Cara with faith and meaning through All Saints and All Souls children’s activities.  So my husband and I are creating new traditions for home to go along with her secular experience at Kindy.

Our Halloween Children’s Activities Bucket List

1) Explore the history of Halloween in conversation, explaining it’s context as the evening before the Church’s All Saints Day which is then followed by All Souls Day.

2) Go to Mass both days in person or virtually

3) Explore, make and wear Saint costumes.  Keep it simple and pick a colour robe, dress or outfit and a symbolic prop.  For ideas see google.

4) Have an All Saints Day Fancy Feast where the snacks link to different saints. See the list below with 15 of our family’s favourite Saints with symbolic snack ideas to start you off (including Woolies links)

5) Create a little prayer table with photos of family and friends who have passed away and light a candle and say a prayer for each one and pray a litany of the saints

6) Create glass cups candle holders for the All Souls and All Saints prayers.  Write (with colourful, permanent pens e.g. Sharpies) the names of loved ones who have passed away and favourite Saints on simple 75 cent glass tumblers from Kmart

7) “Souling” part 1**: Reach out to a couple of neighbours or friends and offer to pray for their loved ones who have passed away and any other intentions they have. If need be, take a special ‘prayer notebook’ to write the names and/or intentions in. 

8) “Souling” part 2**: Make “soul cakes” and share them with friends and neighbours. I found this easy traditional recipe online. However, using that traditional recipe for inspiration, my oldest daughter and I will make simple cookies with a cross cut into them

9) Visit a cemetery and pray for the dead

10) Watch Saint Videos on youtube or you can purchase Saint movies through Christian suppliers too

11) Watch Disney’s movie, “Coco” as a bridge between secular and faith world

** “Souling” – the original trick or treat – was when poor children would knock on their neighbour’s doors and offer to pray for the people’s family members who had passed away. In return, the neighbours would give the children ‘soul cakes’ with a cross marked on them, like hot cross buns at Easter.

Please note:
To celebrate All Saints and All Souls Days, from today through to Nov 30, all purchases of Rosary Beads will include free white organza bags!

All Saints Day Fancy Feast Ideas

I will print out this list, ideally with a pictures of each Saint and matching symbolic food included, and place it on the table for reference.

1) St Mary Mother of Jesus: heart-shaped biscuits as she shares the heart of Christ or make your own. Or Queen or mother-themed treats.

2) St Joseph: bake simple flat bread or buy barley bread as this what he would have eaten daily

3) St Peter: a ‘rock’ themed treat e.g. rockmelon or a fish-themed treat e.g. Fish Fingers

4) St Mary Magdalene: anything spiced-themed or Easter egg- themed e.g. hardboiled eggs and the kids can decorate the shells like Easter eggs

5) St Thomas:  hummus, cheese, olives, tomatoes and dried fruit – what the disciples would have eaten at gatherings

6) St Matthew: gold coin chocolates

7) St Francis of Assisi: Caramello Koalas (or any animal themed treat)

8) St Helena: carrot sticks and cucumber sticks (or anything) in the shape of crosses

9) St Anthony: anything brown to symbolise his robe or anything like a halo e.g. cinnamon donuts (brown coloured halos! – also, my daughter requested donuts)

10) St Teresa of Avila: I love her ‘interior castle’ made of crystal metaphor, so we’re simply going to serve ‘crystal ice cubes’ in water in ‘crystal castle’ cups

11) St Rita, anything brown or rose-themed e.g. Roses chocolates

12) St Gabriel the Archangel, anything white-themed or wing-themed e.g. Chicken wings

13) St Mary MacKillop, cups of tea

14) St Josephine Bakhita, rice or polenta dish

15) St Nicholas, the first Santa, anything red e.g. red strawberries

That is our family’s bucket list of Halloween children’s activities to bring the Holy back into Halloween… We will see which ones actually happen!  Although, we’ve got the whole month of November, really, thanks to the Church!  I’m sure teachers could take one or more of these children’s activities too!

What do you do for Halloween?  I’d love to hear about what you do and I can share it with our daughter!

Secular Halloween children’s activities from my daughter’s kindergarten

From the daily newsletter:

“This morning when we came into Kindy we discovered that our book ‘Room on the Broom’ had turned into a giant version! We think it was the witch who has moved into the Kindy room and into our new witch role play area. She cast a spell and we all came up with ideas about what other spells she can cast. After reading the story we decided to think of spooky things that we would add to our own witches brew. 

What next: Just a reminder that we are inviting the children to dress up for Halloween tomorrow. Come in your spookiest or prettiest costumes! “

secular halloween book

I had been kind of struggling with the scary and superficial nature of the secular Halloween stuff that has taken over my daughter’s kindergarten. Why early childhood places feel compelled to decorate with skulls, spiders, ghosts etc without any explanation of a loving, faith context is beyond me. To me, it seems consistent with the effects of a culture of death, hedonism and consumerism that I see in other areas of our society. I feel compelled to show her there’s way more to it.

And now, I’m grateful to the kindy because I had neglected this beautiful part of our faith and now I’ve embraced it more than ever. This Halloween, we’re going to have a fun and meaningful time and grow in faith and love as a family.

By the way, our daughter ended up going to Kindy as Glinda the Good Witch from Wizard of Oz after we talked about the good and wicked witches in that story.

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“O Death, Where is Your Sting?” Easter Sunday Homily by Deacon Peter McDade (my Dad)

easter sunday homily pic from the cistine chapel

EASTER Sunday (A)

April 12, 2020

Readings: Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Col 3:1-4, or 1 Cor 5:6B-8 ; John 20:1-9

Oh Death – Where is Your Sting?

We live in dark times. Dark – but not without hope. And in a strange way, almost as if by Divine Order, it comes at a time, Lent & Easter, which focuses us directly and intensely on the hope we have been given in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. We are often reminded of this throughout the year at many funerals where we read those supremely inspiring words from Paul (1 Cor 15:51-57), “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, Oh Death, is your victory? Where, Oh Death, is your sting?” This challenge, first made by Isaiah (25:8), is depicted graphically and beautifully in an image where part of a Michelangelo sculpture of the Risen Christ is engraved on a Sistine Chapel coin. Christ stands victorious over the Cross which He holds commandingly in His hands – in control of it having reduced it and its impact to a size much smaller than He. He is young and muscular, and He is victorious. He looks not at the cross but at life around Him.

Today we celebrate Christ’s victory over our sin, indeed, all sin of all ages. Jesus’ victory for life! God alone could do that – we could never overcome our sin and earn our salvation on our own accord. God’s infinite love for us leads us into the mystery of the Incarnation – God became human for the sole purpose of saving us to eternal life. All of creation is reconciled to God through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The scandal of the crucifixion is that a person such as Jesus should be subjected to it.

Over the last six weeks of Lent we have been preparing for this moment. A time for repentance and sacrifice now turns into fifty days of anticipation and rejoicing – anticipating the coming of the Holy Spirit and rejoicing for the love of our Saviour over Eastertide.

Do You Really Believe it?

Make no mistake about it. “Resurrection” is a mystery – in the truest sense of the word. It is not something we can prove scientifically. It is not something that we can witness here today. “Mystery” of course means by definition that we cannot prove it or understand it but we nevertheless believe it did happen – and that’s important. There are many things that happen that we didn’t see but we can see the consequences thereof. A classic example is the creation of the Universe, and life in it. We know it happened – we can see the consequences, planets, meteors, stars, black holes etc, etc. And we can see the myriad forms of life on earth. But what brought it all into existence in the first instance is a mystery. In fact, whilst there are theories offered for our digestion, creation theory, the Big Bang Theory, they are simply that, theories – not concrete proof. To accept either of them requires some level of faith.

But we know the Resurrection of Jesus happened – we have first-hand witnesses to it; a written record of events in the four Gospels; and all of its consequential history which is testament to its power and occurrence. Even so, for us to believe in the Resurrection requires an even larger jump of faith than choosing either creation theory or the big bang as an explanation of the beginning of the Universe’s existence. How can a man raise himself back to life after being dead for three days? Never been done before; hasn’t been done since.

Faith & Doubt – Opposite Sides of The Same Coin

Jesus knew how hard it would be for us to believe. You can’t have faith without some level of doubt. If there is no doubt, then it is no longer faith – but a law. If it is a law, then our ability to freely choose to believe is compromised; our ability to choose love and life is eliminated. God’s promise of free will is obliterated – an astounding heresy of predetermination. Two Sundays ago, on the 5th Sunday of Lent, we heard Jesus talking with Martha (a woman who had great faith in Jesus). Before raising Lazarus from the dead, He put a deeply probing question to her (He recognised the potential at least for doubt on Martha’s part):

“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die!

DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?” (Jn 1:25-26)

BUT THE RESURRECTION IS FUNDAMENTAL AND CENTRAL TO OUR FAITH IN JESUS AS GOD, OUR SAVIOUR. As Paul says, without it, we have nothing at all. (1 Cor 15-17)

So today we contemplate the mystery at the heart of the Christian faith, at a time when doubt raises its ugly head and tempts us towards non-belief. It is simple but extraordinary and powerful. It is so mind-blowing that even the disciples and the apostles who Jesus told it would happen didn’t believe it until they saw Him. They doubted. They were terrified at Jesus’ cruel death and ran for cover. Jesus’ resurrection shattered all their concepts and understanding of life. In the history of humanity death was and still is today the greatest fear, the curse to wish or inflict on your worst enemies. But Jesus conquered it. “Christ is Risen,” says it all. We can no longer live the same way now that death has been defeated in Christ.

Our God is a God of revelation – of revealing Godself to us. But St. Peter reminds us in the First Reading (Acts 10:34A, 37-43) that the Risen Christ revealed Himself to those who believed in Him or wanted to believe in Him.

• He reminds us that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name”.

• An encounter with the Risen Christ in faith is always a salvific and transforming experience.

In today’s Second Reading (Col 3:1-4) St. Paul reminds us that seeing our world through the eyes of faith keeps us focussed on “…what is above”. That our faith is based in the hope of Christ’s resurrection bringing joy to our lives here and now.

• When we gaze above in faith, we know the Risen Christ stands at the right hand of His Father and intercedes for us.

• If we don’t see Him it is because our faith is not strong enough and we need to pray for more.

• Pope Francis describes a certain class of Christians in Evangelii Gaudium who seem to live a permanent Lent: they have not had an experience of the Lord and His love, and, therefore, the Gospel brings them no joy.

• The Resurrection banishes vanity from our lives and changes our perspective.

We Can Only Be Witnesses to the Resurrection If We Believe It and In It!

In today’s Gospel (Jn 20:1-9), we see that the Resurrection didn’t sink in for the disciples until they witnessed the results themselves. It leaves us in hopeful suspense because death no longer had the last word. If the Disciples, especially Peter, had seen so many extraordinary signs of Christ’s power and had been told by Jesus what would happen, yet they still ran for cover from overwhelming fear, then there is great hope for us as we struggle daily with our own faith. For Peter and the others struggled in faith. To struggle in the face of doubt is the strongest sign of faith. It’s worth reflecting on the following:

• The disciples had all the facts. Christ could raise the dead (Lazarus; Jairus’ daughter).

• Even Mary thought today that the body had been stolen (the empty tomb).

• The disciples walking to Emmaus had all the facts (hearts yearning to believe).

• After the Transfiguration, he told Peter not to tell anyone until he was raised from the dead and kept repeating that he would be raised from the dead on the third day (hearing but not understanding or believing).

They had much evidence which they themselves witnessed, but still doubted. But we have many more signs than they did: the Church has testified to the Resurrection for over two thousand years, and many of Christ’s devotees have gone to their graves in history & in our own lifetime believing that someday they would rise, just as Our Lord did.

The resurrection is the source of all hope in our lives – hope in eternal salvation no matter the pain suffered in this life. That we will be raised to glorify Jesus if we believe.

Today’s coronal source of darkness is not “sin” per se, not a sign of punishment by God, but a microscopic organism invisible to the naked eye. It is undeniably a source of deep grief in many ways – financial stress, isolation, sickness, and ultimately, death. This little bug has pushed us into a dark place – one where only hope can survive. Just as Christ went into a dark place in his tomb 2000-odd years ago for three days, His resurrection gives light to all our dark places today, no matter how long they are to endure.

The life-giving power of the Risen Lord has overwhelmed the deathly power of the cross.
• That is what Easter Sunday does for us.
• That is what the Resurrection does for us.
• It makes the light of hope shine so brightly in our lives that it cuts our crosses and suffering down to size.
We can bear them now, and with joy, because we know that they are leading us towards the glorious victory of the Resurrection. We may well come out of our isolation and desolation somewhat changed people. But we will come out of it.

The Resurrection is our hope. Oh Death, where is your sting?

Happy Easter!

Dcn Peter

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Palm Sunday Homily by Deacon Peter (my Dad)

Palm Sunday cartoon by free bible images. palm sunday homily during covid19 picture.

April 05, 2020

Readings:  Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalms 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14–27:66 or 27:11-54  

Where is My Donkey? Where are My People?

In many ways, it is hard for us to come to grips with staying home this Sunday, probably THE one Sunday when we start to make a special effort to go to Church and give thinks and praise to Christ our Saviour – Easter time starting with Palm (or Passion) Sunday. To wave palms on Palm Sunday with smiles and joy to celebrate Jesus’ victorious ride into Jerusalem – victory over sin; victory over evil; victory that saved us! It’s in our DNA to get excited about it! So, it is with heavy hearts that we are confined by a micro-organism to become temporary “home hermits”, being called to reflect on Easter 2020 from afar and on how good we have had it.

We start this most profound week of reflection, prayer, and sacrifice alone at home. No liturgy. Feeling abandoned – no family gatherings, public cheering, or even going to Church. It is certainly spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically challenging. It tears at our hearts. We suffer. And it’s real. Tuning in to on-line Mass can help but it’s just not the same.

But if we think like that for too long, we turn in on ourselves and lose sight of the real message of Easter! Palm Sunday is a time of exceptional hope and love. We stand at the threshold of Holy Week, of Jesus’ last supper, His agony in Gethsemane, His trial and passion, and death on Good Friday, followed by His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Just as we are being challenged today, albeit in new ways for us, Jesus was challenged to His very core. Despite riding into Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey with people praising Him and waving palms along the way, He then suffered and died mercilessly, virtually alone. Throughout it all He felt abandoned – but never lost sight of His Father’s love or the victory to be achieved for us. The victory over original sin. He rode on a donkey, a lowly beast of burden – not a strong, flashy warhorse or chariot, but a humble donkey. Greeted and cheered by His people along the way – waving the sign of victory, palms.

In some ways, our current crisis is a blessing. It is forcing us as individuals to re-prioritise our lives; to realise just how dependent on God’s love we are; just how vulnerable we are to that silken thread of life that can be so easily broken. But as a community we are called to be lovers – they will know we are Christians by the way we love, treat, and respect each other!

And so the questions Jesus might ask today could be, “Where is My Donkey? Where are My People?”

We as members of a loving Christian community are Christ’s donkey in the world today. The humble, obedient donkey can be seen as a symbol of us as individual disciples of Christ and the broader Church.  We carry Him in society through our love and understanding for each other, especially to the most vulnerable; through the innovative ways we remain community by our prayer and distant contact (email, telephone, visits where allowed, etc). We remain connected at least spiritually by joining in prayer with each other – where possible at the same time. And we know it will end – it might even have beneficial legacy changes to our lifestyle and prayer life – but the current pain will end.

So in our time of temporary challenge, we should spare a thought and pray especially for those forgotten ones amongst us. Those isolated by homelessness, illness, old age, loneliness, poverty – who live this challenge each and every day of their lives. Feeling abandoned and unloved. They who can’t get to Mass but may search out the internet to do so. They too are Christ’s people; and we are His donkey in bringing Him to them and to our families and friends – with humility and hope, just a Jesus showed us 2000 years ago.

God is Faithful: You can trust Him

Imagine if you can, Jesus on the back of that donkey, a docile, obedient, humble pack animal. Loaded on that donkey’s back is not just the physical weight of Jesus Himself, but the weight of all sins of all ages. To those present who believed Jesus to be their Messiah, it is a victorious parade of God’s faithfulness in love for us despite our lack of trust in God. A humble, docile, obedient animal carries Jesus, the humble, docile, obedient servant of God, triumphantly into Jerusalem.

It can be seen as a direct contrast to the triumphal processions of victorious Roman generals who would usually ride a four-horse-drawn chariot triumphantly into Rome displaying their captives and trophies of war for all to see. It was a tumultuous event and aggressive with captives in chains being mocked and mistreated along the way. The procession was slow, cruel, and galling to the locals. It usually ended at the temple Capitoline where oxen were offered as sacrifice to their pagan gods. It was an extravagant affair which could last several days.

In direct contrast, Jesus’ procession was humble but victorious; gentle but assertive; peaceful but provocative. No parading of captives and trophies but rather being led by crowds placing their cloaks and palm leaves in His path, cheering Him on as their King, their Saviour! Emphatically claiming His victory over sin, sealed with His death and resurrection one week later (a victory that no Roman General could ever claim!) He won the hearts of the people. The Romans and the High Priests and Pharisees were sent into a frenzy. Thus was triggered Christ’s passion with His death to follow very soon thereafter.

Jesus was anything but naïve. He knew what lay ahead and pleaded that God might free Him from it. He trusted God. So today’s celebration is a paradox – joy versus sorrow: trust (the joy of not losing sight of Jesus’ salvific love) versus doubt (the sorrow in our loss of trust as we focus on temporal pain here and now).  How do we celebrate both joy and sorrow at the same time? How do we stay faithful to a God if we don’t or can’t trust Him?

The answer of course stares us right in the face – how did Jesus do it? He was human like us – He was tempted and tested on a grand scale. As suggested earlier, He was tested and shaken to the core. Consider this:

  • Judas, one of His Apostles, betrayed Him at the Last Supper. Jesus was saddened;
  • He pleaded with God the Father for it to pass Him and sweated blood in fear – but stayed true to the Father – not Jesus’ will be done, but the Father’s. Jesus trusted God;
  • The Apostles fell asleep and abandoned Him. Peter denied even knowing Him. Jesus was saddened;
  • He was subjected to false accusations of treason and blasphemy – by His own. Jesus was saddened;
  • He was humiliated beyond description and tortured – with a crown of thorns and cruel scourging all the way to Calvary. Jesus was saddened;
  • He died agonisingly on a cross – naked, bloodied, mocked, and alone, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus trusted God.

Above all else, and as demonstrated throughout the Scriptures, Jesus knew Yahweh is faithful to God’s covenant of love with Jesus and all of creation, especially with us, the great sinners! He knew He could trust God if He was obedient to God’s will and that God would honour Him. And so He was faithful and obedient to God’s will, even unto death.

Therein lies the paradox of celebrating joy and sorrow – the transcendent joy of being faithful to God in trying times versus the sorrow of the pain and suffering in the here and now.

Be Humble, Gentle & Peaceful

Jesus, over the coming Holy Week, demonstrates humility, gentleness, and peace in obedience to God’s will, in the most extreme circumstances of His personal suffering and death. As we confront and accept our challenges with the constraints imposed by a micro-organism and all the other challenges in our lives, we could do likewise.

  • Humility:   Pray frequently and more deeply – acknowledging our total dependency on God for all things; thankful for God’s gift of our salvation. Choose a passage of the Passion scripture and contemplate it.
  • Gentleness: Accept the wisdom of the constraints being imposed and the difficulty of the situation and resist complaining about the pain that follows. Smile and say gidday to those you happen to see or meet;
  • Peace:         Help someone. Contact them; seek someone out in your immediate neighbourhood and talk with them, especially if they are alone. Greet them with “Peace, my friend” or something similar. Try to stay actively connected spiritually with each other. Get in touch with your Parish Community Facebook page (if they have one) and stay connected to your community.

Easter is a time for us to re-prioritise our lives – to get our spiritual, emotional, and psychological lives into better balance. Jesus shows us how to do just that.

We are His donkey. We are His people. He died and rose for us. Let us also die to His love by the way we show humility, gentleness, and peace to all in these awful times and rise to new life in the Holy Spirit, here and now.

Trust Jesus and be His donkey. Have a blessed Holy Week.

Dcn Peter

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Homily from Deacon Peter (my Dad): Fifth Sunday of Lent (A)

praying the rosary with children with this picture of the holy spirit. rosary beads bulk, buy rosary beads for class, rosaries for school, rosary beads large quantities

Mar 29, 2020

Readings:
Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalms 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-2

Do you hear the Christians sing? Life!

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday – the final Sunday of Lent for 2020. We will move from John’s Gospel back to Matthew’s in our Gospel readings. But today, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we have the final reading from John for Lent. There has been an emerging theme throughout the Lenten readings thus far, particularly in John’s Gospel. Have you felt or noticed it – the increasing tension or movement in our readings? The building up to a tremendous crescendo as we move inexorably towards Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus?
Let’s quickly recap the Gospel readings for Lent This Year:

Week 1 – Matthew 4:1-11:
Jesus is tempted and He overcomes them, showing His humanness but hinting at His Divinity;

Week 2 – Matthew 17:1-9:
Peter, James, and John witness the transfiguration of Jesus – a spiritual manifestation of His Divinity;

Then comes the three famous “I am…” statements by Jesus:

Week 3 – John 4:5-42:
“I am the living water” – Jesus is the Living Water – the One who sustains eternal hope;

Week 4 – John 4:1-41
“I am the Light of the World” – heals the blind man; Opens the eyes of the spiritually blind;

Week 5 – John 11:1-45
“I am the resurrection and life” – Jesus is the Giver of Life raising Lazarus from the dead and freeing us from death;

Week 6 – Matthew: 26:11-54
Jesus Hailed as the Redeemer on Palm Sunday;

Easter Sunday
Jesus rises from the dead as Saviour.

The three “I am” statements from John’s Gospel underline with increasing emphasis the Divinity of Jesus. You can feel the tension rising. We could parody that throbbing theme song and beat from Les Miserables, “Can you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men!” to “Can you hear the Christians sing? Singing the song of hopeful men”.

Just as the people of France in the time of Les Mis were confronted with injustice, death, and fear, so too were the people of Jesus’ time with the Roman occupying forces and the repressive enforcement of religious law and condemnation by the Jewish authorities. The Pharisees and the High Priests were inflexible and relentless. Both the Romans and the religious leaders tortured and killed the people without compunction. The people eagerly awaited redemption through the coming of their Messiah. They eagerly awaited freedom and life. And so their growing awareness and acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah is almost palpable as we move through the readings. From Jesus being seen as just another wise Rabbi to a King who was worthy of cheer and celebration – who would redeem and free them. The Romans, Pharisees et al were equally trenchant in their brutal opposition to it.

So today, as we move towards Palm Sunday and the glory of Christ’s resurrection, Jesus puts His stamp of Divinity on His life by living out the saving power of God alone – to bring Lazarus who is dead back to life – the Giver of Life. Only God can do that!

It’s an emphatic statement and example of God’s love for life and freedom. US Bishop Robert Baron, from “Word on Fire”, often quotes St Irenaeus (born circa 120CE; Died 202CE and regarded as one of the early Fathers of the Church) who professed that, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!” Our God, Jesus Christ, loves one thing more than anything else, LIFE!

When we are open to life in Christ, we glorify God and God glorifies us. But as sinful people, we are not always open to life in Christ.

Jesus Can Take Care of Tragedies – Don’t Lose Hope

When we are surrounded by pain, misery, and poverty, life gets tough and gloomy (as it did for Martha and Mary on Lazarus’ death). We tend to focus on the here and now and sometimes lose sight of the ultimate salvation promised to us. We can easily be overcome and despair of success. Probably nothing has a more profound impact on us than the death or threatened death of a loved one. That’s almost a truism! But we are human – as Jesus was human; and we suffer – as Jesus suffered.

But despite being surrounded by death and gloominess in today’s world, there is hope. Hope in the resurrection. Hope in new life. Why? Because we know and believe from Scripture that our God loves life, more than anything else. So despite all the corona virus’ nasty impacts – its imposition on our freedom in ways we have never experienced before including severe curtailment of free association even with loved ones, or worse still its foreboding threat of death; despite all the evil in the world; despite our own inability to sometimes cope with our own challenges, there is still hope. Hope that comes from Jesus’ resurrection. Nevertheless, we struggle sometimes to see it.

It’s particularly exciting therefore that in today’s Scripture readings, hope is two-fold.

Firstly, God loves life, not death. The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, is a prelude to Jesus’ action with Lazarus. Ezekiel lived about 600BCE. The Lord asserts to Ezekiel that He loves life & people so perfectly that He will “…open your graves and have you rise from them…”. He will overcome death and we will all rise to new life after death as God desires.

Secondly, in the Gospel reading from John, Jesus demonstrates His divinity unequivocally by raising Lazarus back to life after his death – He has Lazarus rise from his open grave – almost in accord with Yahweh’s promise to Ezekiel. Only God could do that! Thus, Jesus in turn preludes His own resurrection. The difference being, of course, that

• Lazarus was brought back to life by Jesus as a human being destined to die a second time;
• Jesus resurrected Himself as the Messiah never to die again but to be fully and perfectly reconciled to God as our Saviour.

In both instances, Jesus acted as and is God!

But Jesus is still human – He is “..human like us in all things except sin” (Catechism: 467) as the Church teaches and professes in our Creed. He still felt compassion and sorrow for Martha & Mary. He loved Mary, Martha, & Lazarus; he was wrought with sadness; and He wept. His own personal feelings of grief and empathy for Martha & Mary guided His response to their sorrow. He was not distracted by the situation but responded to it with love.

When we are confronted with life’s challenges, we can become distracted. Lose sight of our salvation. But Christ is there always, showing us the way. We only need to open our eyes to it and;
• Call on Jesus for hope when we are urged to despair;
• Allow Christ’s spirit to transfigure & strengthen us in hope that we can continue
on;
• Be open to receive and drink of the Living Water, Christ’s spirit, to sustain us in
hope;
• Let Christ light our way through the darkness of despair by healing our
blindness; and
• Allow Christ to raise us above the constraints and limitations we impose on
ourselves or are imposed on us – whether they be ill health, poverty, stress,
death, and envy.

The Lazarus experience, in being freed from our current despair, is and can be a profound personal experience, physically and spiritually – if like Mary & Martha we humbly open our hearts to Jesus, the Christ, in trust and acceptance of Him as Lord. He will respond every time.

It is tough in these times of the corona virus – which is denying us the ability to be physically present to receive the Eucharist at Mass. But it’s an invitation from the Holy Spirit for us to reflect on just how good we usually have it in life, in our little part of the world. To focus on and reflect in more depth on how we respond to life’s challenges and the power of hope in Jesus – the resurrection and life. And so, to quote Jesus from today’s Gospel, one must ask, how would I answer His probing question?

“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die!

DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?”

Do you hear the Christians sing? Singing the song of hopeful people?

God Bless
Dcn Peter

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“Bringing the Light of Christ” Homily March 22 2020 by Deacon Peter (my Dad)

Deacon Peter McDade (my Dad)

Fourth Sunday of Lent (A)
Readings: First Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

On this, the Fourth Sunday of Lent 2020, our preparation for Easter, the primordial and most important liturgical celebration of the Church’s liturgical year, is being thrown into disarray by a small virus which has devastating potential to wreak havoc on our health, wellbeing, and lives.

For the first time in our contemporary history, celebration of Sunday masses has been suspended until further notice. Archbishop Mark has granted a dispensation to all from their obligation to attend Sunday Mass. It is expected to continue well past Easter!


These are indeed, dark times. We are being denied “the summit and source” of our spiritual journey, the Mass (lumen Gentium 11, Vatican II, & Catechism: 1324) at a time when more than ever we need the light of Christ in our lives. It is in these times we are particularly called, through our Baptism, to be the Light of Christ in our world. To shine our light through understanding, love, and support of those in need. It is particularly challenging for our outreach ministries like St Vincent de Paul, Hospital Chaplaincy, ministering to the sick, to name a few where social distancing strategies can have their greatest negative impact.


It is a time for us to demonstrate enhanced alertness, sensitivity and patience in all we do. As some say, “We are on a wartime footing” – maybe being a little dramatic but it gets the point across. More than ever before, we are being called to be dedicated Disciples of Christ. It can be our personal transfiguration as we struggle to climb the mountain of life.


How fortuitous then, that our Readings today focus on “light”. Today we recall Our Lord’s healing of a blind man that brought many more things to light than just one man’s eyesight. It teaches us how blind we can be to what’s going on. The Lord wants to cure us of the worst blindness: a spiritual one. Through faith in the Son of man, we receive a deeper interior vision beyond our physical sight thanks to Christ, the light of the world.


In today’s First Reading the prophet Samuel has been sent to the house of Jesse to identify and anoint the new king of Israel, a replacement for King Saul, who was a tall, golden-haired, powerful man. Samuel thought Jesse’s son Eliab and any of the other five sons presented would be a good replacement. The Lord puts paid to that idea: “man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.”


David, the youngest son was not considered important enough to even invite to the feast. His father sent him to go do something “useful” while the rest went to the feast. But it was David who Samuel chose! We all know how the story of King David goes from there.


In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that the Lord has brought us from darkness to light, and that light has exposed the good and the bad. Humanity was in darkness until the light of Christ came to lead us out of it. It seems paradoxical that light is needed to recognize darkness, but before the coming of Christ, the darkness of sin did an admirable job of presenting itself as very enlightened. Paul puts Christians who’ve now received the light of Christ on guard against a worldly outlook that seems enlightened, but actually is darkness and fruitless.


In today’s Gospel, the Lord heals a blind man and helps him and others to see with an entirely new level of light, the light of truth. This light shines on everyone involved in the story, and that light is Christ.


The man born blind received an opportunity to see that Jesus had been sent by the Father and had the power of God to heal. He saw a miracle happen. The disciples thought his blindness was due to either his sin or the sin of his parents. Our Lord corrected them. His healing was to show God at work.

Much the same way as we can see today the power of God’s healing in the medical research and studies being undertaken to overcome the virus. It is much more than mere intellectual grunt. It is in how we respond as Christians to the challenge, the man born blind could not deny what was right in front of his face. At this point, the Pharisees had decided to cast out anyone who said Jesus was the Messiah. He didn’t claim Jesus was the Messiah, but when he presented irrefutable logic to the Pharisees: “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him … If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”


Our Lord had not just restored his sight; he’d given him the light to see salvation at his doorstep and the need to give witness to it. Christ showed the Pharisees that they weren’t blind, a motive for innocence for their attitude. They chose not to accept what they saw.


Vision/insight Needs True Light
No matter how good our eyesight is, we cannot see in the dark. The Catechism teaches us that “human nature has not been totally corrupted [due to Original Sin]: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin” (Catechism: 405).


Christ restores our vision to its fullest spiritual potential through his light and his perfect vision. And that is precisely what we need in these dark and challenging times – prayer, faith, and trust – that we might be the light of Christ. Not in any platitudinal or euphemistic way – but in displaying hope and love in our response to the challenges as we prepare for the ultimate – Christ’s resurrection. In how we react and treat each other and strangers at this and all times.


Let Christ light up your life
We’re so used to living in spiritual darkness as a consequence of original sin that we grow accustomed to living in the dark. We need to consciously step out of it. Whilst a worldly outlook on the world may seem the logical result of bad experiences, it is truly a gloomy one.


Lent is a time of penance and sorrow for our sins, but it is also a preparation to celebrate the light of the Resurrection. Let’s pray that Jesus’ resurrection light will guide us in our response to the darkness and gloominess of our world today as we respond to the call to be the real Light of Christ.


God Bless
Dcn Peter

Artwork by Suzanne Ley, Ohio, used with permission. See her beautiful art at https://www.suzanneleyart.com/works

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Rosary Exhales Hold Key to Health – Research Finds Vagus Nerve Most Calm when Praying Hail Marys

praying the rosary stimulates the vagus nerve to relax the body

This is fascinating to those of us who love empowering others with evidence-based wellbeing strategies. It turns out that when we pray the Hail Mary with our long, slow exhales, we are actually breathing at the most ideal rate for calming our nervous system, major organs, heart rate and brain activity. Incredible! We finally have scientific evidence to show why we FEEL so grounded, relaxed and calmer when we pray the Rosary.

What great news for your students, staff and/or families! Often, the Rosary gets boxed in as an outdated, boring or overly-traditional and those of us who love it and want to share it are at times scrambling for modern ways to explain its benefits. A scientific, biological explanation of how praying the Rosary can switch us from the sympathetic system of ‘fight or flight’ to the parasympathetic system of ‘rest and digest’ is a very useful tool for your faith formation toolkit. For more positive wellbeing reasons, including neuroscience evidence, to encourage participation in the Rosary see 10 Reasons the Rosary is a Great Prayer for School and Home

‘ “Norcliffe-Kaufmann confirmed: “Vagal activity is highest, and heart rate lowest, when you’re exhaling.” She mentioned that the ideal, most calming way to breathe is six times a minute: five seconds in, five seconds out. She also noted that in the study that determined this rate, researchers found that this style of slow breathing is also what practitioners naturally lapse into during meditation with mantras, and during the Ave Maria prayer with rosaries. “Each time you do either the rosary prayer or a meditation mantra,” Norcliffe-Kaufmann said, “it naturally synchronizes your breathing at six times per minute.” 

“Stimulating the vagus nerve to the heart has a really powerful effect on slowing the heart rate,” said Lucy Norcliffe-Kaufmann, associate professor of neurology at NYU-Langone. And this, specifically, is what relaxes us. The vagus nerve is basically listening to the way we breathe, and it sends the brain and the heart whatever message our breath indicates. Breathing slowly, for instance, reduces the oxygen demands of the heart muscle (the myocardium), and our heart rate drops.

The vagus nerve is essentially the queen of the parasympathetic nervous systema.k.a. the “rest and digest,” or the “chill out” one — so the more we do things that “stimulate” or activate it, like deep breathing, the more we banish the effects of the sympathetic nervous system — a.k.a. the “fight or flight,” or the “do something!” stress-releasing adrenaline/cortisol one. When we breathe slowly, the heart slows, and we relax. Conversely, when we breathe quickly, our heart speeds up, and we feel amped, or anxious.’

For the full article go to: https://www.thecut.com/amp/2019/05/i-now-suspect-the-vagus-nerve-is-the-key-to-well-being.html

For study that determined that the Rosary breathing enhances your heart health go to: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC61046/

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Leading the Mission: To Be One Who Casts Light and Confronts Shadows in Leadership

leading the mission in catholic schools religious life of the school faith development essay lonergan ACU shadows of leadership

This is one of my final assignments for the ACU course in Leading Mission in Catholic Organisations. It gives you some insight into my ongoing development as an authentic person, retreat facilitator and follower of Jesus. I share this to offer you some fellowship and confidence as we all grow in understanding and skills as leaders of the mission.

One who Casts Light

The most important thing I learnt from this unit is how to cast more light as a leader through cultivating the skills to be a more authentic, self-transcending learner and leader, a more courageous confronter of shadows and a more grateful, creative follower of Jesus’ mission.  Firstly, I will discuss how helpful I found Lonergan’s explanation of how a person truly learns, leads and loves to be for my retreats ministry.  Secondly, I will discuss my experience of stepping into the vulnerable space of confronting shadows privately and in the Catholic culture of today help me to become a healthier and more whole-hearted facilitator.  Finally, I will share with you my first mission statement which is a very helpful take-away for me from this unit.

“Human authenticity is a matter of following the built-in law of the human spirit.” [1]   

Lonergan’s explanation of self, moral and religious transcendence was very helpful for me to learn.  As a retreat facilitator I am fascinated to learn how a person can most authentically learn, decide, act, lead and love. His work will inform my approach to retreats in general to bring out the best in the participants, to explain the importance of moving from selfish or pleasure/pain motives to motives of living by worthwhile, good values and to inspire them to fall more in love with the world and with God.   I got a lot out of the group process of asking questions about a work issue through being attentive, intelligent, reflective, responsible and I am sure that retreat participants would benefit greatly, too.  Specifically, my reflection questions for the participants will be influenced by these questions when appropriate, to encourage them to reach for their potential in understanding their own stories and leading authentic lives.  

I particularly enjoyed his inclusive and beautiful explanation of religious conversion, especially how he says that being in love is a stabiliser for living noble values amidst challenges.  I will incorporate that content into some of my retreat presentations.  It fills in some gaps for me between living by values and where to get the power to be able to live a self-transcendent life.  Cognitive identification of values to live by is a great first step, but retreat participants will be doubly empowered if they are also encouraged to fill up the deep well within by falling in love with the world, humanity, nature, God, family, community, the poor and thereby unleash their full capacity to give of themselves for the other, as God does.

“Religious love is the basic fulfilment of our conscious intentionality, of our questions for intelligence, for reflection, for deliberation. It is a fulfilment that brings a deep-set joy that can remain despite humiliation, failure, privation, pain, betrayal, desertion. That fulfilment brings a radical peace, the peace that the world cannot give. That fulfilment bears fruit in a love of one’s neighbor that strives mightily to bring about the kingdom of God on this earth.” [2]  

In a different part of my ‘Experience Wellbeing’ ministry/business, Lonergan’s questions help me navigate challenging experiences with clients (those staff members who book me to facilitate a retreat).  As a sole operator, I feel a particular vulnerability when my client gives negative feedback and this theory will help me reach a better, whole-picture understanding more accurately.   My goal is to find a small group of sole operators to share the commitment to Lonergan’s authentic learning, leading and loving with.  It would be fantastic to apply the process we enjoyed in class to our small business challenges so we can develop our skills for attentiveness, intelligence, responsibility and understanding as professionals and benefit from each other’s questioning and insights.

“This includes a willingness to address forthrightly whatever hinders the process of understanding in oneself and in one’s organisation.” [3]  

Building on Lonergan’s theory, Stebbins challenges me to be an effective leader by pursuing the correct understanding of myself and those I lead by attentively cultivating an authentic way of knowing, acting and loving and I find Brene Brown’s work echoes these ideas.[4]  To be an authentic retreat facilitator, I must have the courage to ask sensitive, scary questions and overcome challenges that hold me back in my private life.  Otherwise, I at least prevent an abundance of light to nourish my relationships with clients and retreat participants due to a lack of energy, clarity, confidence and peace and at worst I start casting shadows.  This has been difficult, tiring work but it is very helpful and fortifying as I have become more peace-filled and resilient through discovering and putting into practice the resources I found and I look forward to how much freer I will be in my retreats as a result. 

Johnson’s prompt to investigate and deal with the shadows of leadership extended this reflection process for me.  We cannot become light-giving leaders if we never talk about the shadows of leadership. I have journaled on my own power and privilege as a facilitator, and its risk of shadows and potential for light, using some prompting questions from the lectures.  I want to use my power to create conditions for retreat participants to grow and to recognise that my spirituality is at the core of my work and effects the outcome for the students and staff I work for.  For example, I will be conscious of offering small and big affirmations and invitations to ensure the participants feel safe, respected and involved and that the conditions of the retreat allow them to flourish as a result[5].   

Johnson and the ‘Spotlight’ movie also prodded me to think about the systemic shadows in the Catholic church.  The movie was confronting for me and made me feel re-sensitised to the gravity of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.  I will endeavour to use more creative, agency-affirming, all-encompassing language when encouraging participants to connect with the mission of Jesus, together with the rest of the Church.  For example, I became aware that the way I had been referring to connecting retreat participants to ‘the Church’ unintentionally prescribed a passive relationship between them and the traditional capital ‘C’ Church.  This missed a crucial opportunity to welcome, include and encourage participants and decision-makers to be change agents in our Church as well as to shine a light on God’s bigger mission beyond the confines of the Catholic community.  A specific example to demonstrate is that I changed a few sentences in my drafting of my guiding principles in my mission statement.

From: “Connection to Church builds resilience for participants”

To: “Finding new ways to follow Jesus personally and communally builds resilience as participants are strengthened by growing in God’s love and by joining our large, diverse and creative pilgrim Church community.” 

This unit has been such a valuable experience as I was guided to write a mission statement, vision, values and guiding principles for my ministry.  The concept that my retreat ministry does not have a mission, but Jesus’ mission has my retreat ministry is very reassuring and grounding for me. 

“The church does not so much have a mission as that the mission has a church. The church is not about itself; it is about the Reign of God that it preaches, serves and witnesses to, and this makes all the difference.” [6]

I am struggling to find a way to balance a confident, professional voice and a humble, grace-dependent voice, considering that I am only doing this ministry as a grateful response to God’s grace but I want to instil confidence in faith formation for staff.  I am still to work out how to make that clear.  This is now on my ‘About’ page on my website. 

The journey to become a whole-hearted, authentic retreat facilitator is a lifelong process of learning, leading and loving, confronting shadows and seeking out the leadership of Jesus and the creative, pilgrim Church.  This unit has offered me such deeply rich resources for my ongoing professional and personal development and I am very grateful.  The profound and practical teachings from the course have empowered me as a leader, facilitator, business-woman, family member and Christian.  I look forward to implementing the lessons and growing as an authentic leader who allows more light into her own self so she can cast more light for others.

Bibliography

Lonergan, Bernard J.F. “Self-Transcendence: Intellectual, Moral, Religious,” in Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, vol. 17. Edited by Robert C. Croken and Robert M. Doran. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

Bevans, Stephen. “The Mission Has A Church, The Mission Has Ministers.” Compass 43 (2009): 3-14

Stebbins, J. Michael. ‘Leadership, Discernment, and the Elusiveness of Understanding.’ In Business as a Calling: Interdisciplinary Essays on the Meaning of Business from the Catholic Social Tradition. Edited by Michael Naughton and Stephanie Rumpza, ch 13. 2004.

Johnson, Craig E. Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow.  Los Angeles: Sage: 2012.

Jacobs-Vandegeer, Dr Christiaan.  THCT505: Leading the Mission in Catholic Organisations Lecture Notes.  Sydney:  ACU:  2019.


1.   Bernard J.F. Lonergan, “Self-Transcendence: Intellectual, Moral, Religious,” in Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, vol. 17. ed. Robert C. Croken and Robert M. Doran. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 318-325.

2.  Lonergan, “Self-Transcendence,” 326.

3.  Michael J. Stebbins, ‘Leadership, Discernment, and the Elusiveness of Understanding,’ in Business as a Calling: Interdisciplinary Essays on the Meaning of Business from the Catholic Social Tradition, ed. Michael Naughton and Stephanie Rumpza, ch 13. (2004), 7.

4.  Dr Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer,  THCT505: Leading the Mission in Catholic Organisations Lecture Notes.  (Sydney:  ACU:  2019).

5.  Craig E. Johnson, Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow.  (Los Angeles: Sage: 2012). 4-12.

6.  Stephen Bevans, “The Mission Has A Church, The Mission Has Ministers.” Compass 43 (2009): 3.

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Free Animation for Faith Formation

Below is one of my original ‘Videoscribe’ animations. Please feel free to share it with your students, staff and families. Videos make great prayer resources to add to your faith formation tool kit as you build a Catholic Ethos in your community.

“Jesus Brings Those on the Outside to the Inside”

In just over 4 minutes, it covers a few stories of Jesus as the ultimate relationship builder who brings all sorts of people into a personal experience of God’s life-giving, empowering love. Originally created for Year 7s (as mentioned at the end), this video has a message that is relevant to all age groups.

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Guided Meditations

Noble Gospel Values Meditation

(8 minutes 32 seconds)

This guided meditation for whole-person wellbeing takes the listener through the following 4 steps:

  1. Bringing to mind your Noble Gospel value that you have prioritised for yourself 
  2. Cultivate a practice of gratitude
  3. Pray for others with compassion
  4. Visualise yourself living out your immediate goals in line with your value

Relax into the meditation and make space for the cultivation of a healthy, powerful spirituality.  This is a great resource for yourself, staff, students and/or your family.

Beforehand, invite your group to contemplate the list of Noble Gospel Values included on the page or your own school’s or family’s focus values. Invite them to identify which one resonates as an antidote to a struggle they currently face. 

Neuroscience experts encourage us to pick something that will make us stronger, and help us affect change in a place of difficulty in our lives, not a strength we already have.  Enjoy the feeling of being grounded, positive and strengthened.

Please feel free to download this to your device by clicking the 3 dots followed by the download arrow.

Joyful Mysteries with Space to Contemplate

10 minutes or so each in length, these audio files are my own voice taking listeners through the Scriptural Rosary Joyful Mysteries, one decade at a time.  It’s a modified version that aims to invite people to experience a simpler version of the Rosary and so open up a pathway to this spiritual practice.  

  • Begin with the Sign of the Cross and a moment to bring to mind God’s love
  • Pray the Our Father
  • Listen to one sentence of Scripture
  • Pause for contemplation or spontaneous prayers of the faithful
  • Pray the Hail Mary
  • Repeat through one decade
  • Pray the Glory Be
  • Finish with the Sign of the Cross

If you need some scientific, evidence-based, spirituality and wellbeing reasons to encourage others to try the Rosary please see here (Vagas Nerve) and here (10 Wellbeing Reasons)

Feel free to share these guided meditations and/or download one or more to your device.

The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation
The Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation
The Third Joyful Mystery: The Nativity
The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation
The Fifth Joyful Mystery: The Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple
Introduction to the Rosary (not a guided meditation)

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How the 4 Main Principles of Catholic Social Teaching are Demonstrated by Project Kindy

This article can be used as a teaching resource over 4 lessons.

Project Kindy is my small, grassroots charity which raises funds in Australia to provide for kindergartens in rural Malawi, Africa.  Please see www.projectkindy.com to get acquainted with our work.  The kindergartens are initiated and run by the local communities and overseen and managed by the Canossian Daughters of Charity.  The partnership between the local village communities, the Canossian Sisters and Project Kindy demonstrates the Catholic Social Teaching principles of Human Dignity, the Common Good, Solidarity and Subsidiarity.

Human Dignity

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

Genesis 1:27 proclaims a very powerful message, that humans are made in the image and likeness of God.  This is powerful because it bestows immeasurable value onto every single person no matter who they are, where they are, what they have got or what they have done.[1]  It affirms that each person is created for relationship with God and with other people, just as the Trinity models unity of one God in three persons.  

The human person flourishes when he/she loves and is loved by God and other people because he/she is created for relationship with God and other people and one relationship fulfils and strengthens the other.  In every area of society we are called to create environments where each person’s inherent dignity is protected and upheld and each person is able to flourish into who God intended him/her to become.[2] 

The children’s dignity is honoured in several ways through Project Kindy.  Firstly, the provision of access to early years education empowers them to develop as a whole person with a special focus on literacy, numeracy, life skills and social skills.  There is much research that confirms kindergarten experience improves the child’s school readiness which is a key indicator for improved and sustained success through primary, secondary and tertiary school and as an employee, leader and active adult citizenship in society.  This research also indicates that not only does the individual have an improved chance to flourish, but so does the local community and the country at large.

“Giving children a good start through kindergarten not only counters the worst effects of poverty, but may also be the most effective means of halting cross-generational poverty. When equity in access to early education and learning is improved, greater economic benefits accrue to individuals themselves and collectively to society.”     United Nations Children’s Fund:  New York, Updated in April 2012

Another way we honour the dignity of the children and the village communities is in the way we present them to donors and supporters on our Project Kindy website, in our emails, social media and public speaking presentations.  The photos and videos we use of the children, teachers, village leaders and mothers are natural, strengths-focused and elicit a feeling of equality and respect.  The stories we tell emphasise their noble efforts to work, learn and flourish amongst such difficult circumstances of pervasive poverty and that only luck of birth separates us from them.  We invite people to stand in their shoes and imagine that if we were born there, we might hope to be the same leaders, teachers and mothers trying to improve the standard of living for our children.

Our support is offered to each of the children in each of the kindergartens regardless of their family background, religion, family finances or location.  They each have immeasurable worth in our eyes due to being children of God. Some are Christian, some are Muslim and some are not religiously affiliated. Some are orphans living with extended family and some are children still living with one or two of their parents.  We love them all.

Reflection and Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is the idea that every person is created by a loving God with inherent dignity is sometimes so challenging to accept?
  2. If it is true that every person has God-given worth and love, what are the consequences for society?
  3. Are there times in my life when I struggle to see the image of God in other people? When? How could I reframe how I see those people and improve my response to challenging situations?

Common Good

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

The common good is the goal of creating social conditions where people are able to develop more fully and flourish more easily.  The right to the common use of the earth’s resources is fundamental to this goal.  God gives the earth and her resources to all of humankind and He does not exclude or favour any person.  It is imperative that societies with more resources share them with societies that are in need.  The single-minded materialistic pursuit of collecting goods while our neighbours suffer stifles the flourishing of both the poor and the wealthy.  We were made to be in relationship with each other and our destinies are entwined so that we are liberated only when we are ALL liberated.[3]

The national annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of Australia is around $50 000 whereas it is less than $500 in Malawi.  By luck of birth, we Australians have access to a great deal of resources and according to Catholic Social Teaching we must work to share these resources with other countries that are struggling to flourish.  Project Kindy strives for the common good and aims to contribute to the common access to the earth’s resources mainly through helping to provide short term help in the form of food security as well as long term empowerment through early years education.  Our donors share their resources with the kindergarten communities and in doing so they contribute to sharing the excesses of the Australian society with the poverty-stricken rural communities in Malawi.

In Malawi, people live a subsistence lifestyle, where they are reliant on the land and the weather for the small amount of food they grow for themselves and struggle to make an income. In 2016, the United Nations World Food Programme declared Malawi, Africa, a “Level 3” which is their highest level of emergency, identifying that 6.5 million (just over a third of the population of 18 million) Malawians needed immediate food aid.  The families Project Kindy supports only harvest their food once each year, roughly from April to July. For two thirds of the year, they cannot harvest anymore crops or access new food for their family. If their one harvest is bad, they are in very real danger of food crisis. 

Project Kindy funds daily lunch of ‘nsima’ (ground up corn or rice kernels cooked in water over a campfire) for the 700 children, Monday to Friday, for the 9 months of the year that they attend kindergarten.  In Malawi, the people eat ‘nsima’ for breakfast, lunch and dinner (or less frequently if they are running low in supplies).  The Sisters purchase 400 x 50kg bags of rice and corn kernels and store them in sheds for the year.  They mill the kernels each Monday morning and give representatives from each of the 11 kindergartens their week’s ration of flour.  This provides a much-needed safety net for these children and protects them from hunger and famine. 

Reflection and Discussion Questions:

  1. What have you observed about the relationship between poor people and rich people across the world?
  2. How does working for the Common Good differ from working for material gain alone?
  3. What would the world look like if each society was built upon the idea of the Common Good?

Solidarity

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:40

Solidarity is an attitude of brotherly and sisterly love for our global family, believing that God is our common Creator and so we are inextricably linked through His love.  It is the right way to see our relationships as we receive, the love from our common Heavenly Father and reflect and channel it to each other which then further strengthens our relationship with God and so on.  Whenever we reach out to love, support or empower another person we are expressing our desire to work toward our common good and build unifying, right relationships with each other.  Those of us who are in well-resourced societies are called to share material support within the context of a kind of Christian sibling love with those of us who are in under-resourced societies.[4]  The most fulfilling life is found through empowering, serving and loving others, not just accumulation of material goods.[5]

When the Sisters talk to the leaders, teachers, mothers and village communities on behalf of Project Kindy, they tell them that we are not a big NGO, but a small number of their brothers and sisters in God across the seas.  Some of the village communities are Christian, some of them are Muslim and some are of no religion.  We extend our love and material support to all 11 village groups no matter what religion and culture they are.  When I was there in 2017 it was profoundly beautiful for me to see the children contentedly eating their lunches, playing their games, singing their songs, playing together and smiling away.  Not one of them is excluded from our love because we are all one family in God’s house.

We do not see the children, teachers and mothers as lower in status to us.  Instead we see them as equal partners in a mutually beneficial project, working together to achieve a common goal.  We benefit in many ways from being connected to them and working together towards their liberty which is tied up with ours.  We are wired for this connection and it simply feels good to be serving a noble purpose bigger than ourselves.  The direct relationship we enjoy with the communities through the Sisters is truly a source of wholesome nourishment for our own souls.  The gift of knowing we are making a real and tangible difference in partnership with the locals is a very special antidote to the frustration many donors have expressed to me as they search for deeper relevance in their day to day lives.

Reflection and Discussion Questions:

  1. Who is left behind in the world?
  2. Who is left behind in our own communities?
  3. How can we show solidarity with them?

Subsidiarity

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. ” 1 Corinthians 12:12

Subsidiarity refers to the rights and responsibilities of different levels of society and how they should relate to each other for the common good.  The smaller, more local groups should be empowered to participate fully, have their voices heard and cooperate in the creation of that which affects their lives.  Higher structures such as managing bodies and governments must do for the smaller groups what they are unable to do for themselves and to respond to injustices appropriately.[6]

The smallest, most local group in our network is the teachers, parents and committee of each of the kindergartens.  They are in charge of running the lessons, cooking the lunches and solving the everyday problems of the kindies.  The Canossian Sisters sit above them as the overall managers and they educate, mentor and provide support for the local teachers, parents and children. Project Kindy is further removed from the project and so we listen carefully to and respect the advice from the Sisters as to the best course of action for how our funds are to be spent.  Above Project Kindy is the Australian Government who impose strict standards on the charity and the Canossian Sisters and local staff in Malawi to ensure their standards are met.

Each kindergarten is managed by a Parents and Community Committee with the approval from the village chief and each has a representative that meets with the Sisters and the other representatives regularly.  It is an empowering model of partnership and participation where the local people are truly active agents of change in their own communities.  It was clear during my visit that the local volunteers are very energized by this opportunity to work and provide early years education for the little children in their communities.  I cannot overstate the passion with which they spoke as they addressed the villages gathered for our visit.  I observed their great enthusiasm as they taught the children songs, literacy and numeracy.  This energy is very impressive given the oppressive nature of poverty in all aspects of life.

At times there are matters that are inappropriate for the local teachers, mothers, parents and community committee and village chiefs to decide upon.  In these cases, the Sisters manage the situation.  This is clearly seen in the problem of how to give incentives and thank the volunteer teachers.  At first, it was agreed upon between the Sister and myself that Project Kindy funds would be used to provide a small wage to the teachers as this is in line with the principle of the dignity of work.  Later, another Sister corrected this and pointed out that providing monetary wages would create a social injustice in the community.  She said the village volunteers are not equipped to deal with such an influx of money and it would cause conflict.  The Sisters resolved the matter with their solution to provide each volunteer teacher with bags of grain instead of wages.  In this instance, the Sisters had a superior view of the social dynamics of the 11 villages and how introducing wages would cause unnecessary difficulties.  Their decision-making enabled the smaller groups, the teachers, to continue to do their work unhindered and with appropriate reimbursement for their time and energy.

Reflection and Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it important that the local people participate in the decision-making and running of the kindergartens?
  2. Why is it important that the Sisters make decisions from their perspective?
  3. How do small community groups in your own area strengthen your society?

For extra research into the lifestyles of families in Malawi and how they compare to Western lifestyles in America, visit the real photos of people and their homes at https://www.gapminder.org/dollar-street/matrix?countries=Malawi,United%20States

The Catholic Social Justice principles of Human Dignity, Common Good, Solidarity and Subsidiarity underpin the work of the local teachers and representatives, the Canossian Daughters of Charity and Project Kindy, whether the individual people involved are aware of that or not.  It is a mutually beneficial project which proves the point that true fulfillment comes when we empower others to flourish and in doing so, we too develop more fully.  Ultimately, we are blessed to be in relationship with our siblings in a faraway land and we will continue to strive for our common good.

Bibliography

Massaro, Thomas. Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action. The Classroom, Edition. Plymouth, UK: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008.

Pope Paul VI.  Populorum Progressio. Vatican: 1967.

http://w2.vatican.va/content/paulvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_pvi_enc_26031967_populorum.html, visited 18 August 2019.

 Benedict XVI.  Caritas in Veritate. Vatican: 2009

http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate.html,   visited 18 August 2019.

1. Thomas Massaro, Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action. The Classroom Edition,  (Plymouth, UK: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), 83.

2. Benedict XVI.  Caritas in Veritate. (Vatican: 2009

http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate.html),   visited 18 August 2019. #45 & #53

3. Pope Paul VI,  Populorum Progressio, (Vatican: 1967,  http://w2.vatican.va/content/paulvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_pvi_enc_26031967_populorum.html) visited 18 August 2019, #19, 22 & 23.

4. Pope Paul VI,  Populorum Progressio, #49.

5. Benedict XVI.  Caritas in Veritate. #5 & 7.

6. Thomas Massaro, Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action, 93.

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10 Reasons the Rosary is a Great Prayer for School or Home

Why Pray the Rosary

1) Praying the Rosary is a chance to slow down, appreciate, find your anchor point and become aware of God’s love for you.  This is a particularly powerful prayer for individuals, families and communities during hard times. It is one way to build an integrative spirituality, where our soul is energised and well-directed.  The Rosary engages our senses and is excellent and engaging classroom prayer activity.

2) Praying the Rosary helps us move out of pain and shame and redirects us back to our noble mission, as neuroscience, virtue ethics and Dr Brene Brown suggests. As we aim to cultivate gospel values in our lives, the stories, emotions and experiences of the Rosary help us to understand the values more deeply, to soak up the feeling of their positive effects in our bodies and to change our minds, hearts and lives.

3) In a unique way, the Rosary engages several senses which have a centring effect on the person and the community. Holding the Rosary beads helps your mind to focus and keeps you on track through the ancient prayer. The beads keep our ‘monkey brains’ from running off track. The auditory experience of praying the Hail Mary in halves and listening to individuals read and pray throughout brings the group closer together.

4) The slow, meditative exhales of the Rosary cause us to stimulate the Vagas Nerve, shifting us out of ‘fight or flight’ and into ‘rest and digest’, or the parasympathetic nervous system.

5) The Scriptural Rosary with modern pictures is a powerful invitation to experience ‘Visio Divina’ and ‘Lectio Divina’ contemplation simultaneously by gazing at meaningful pictures and listening to one line at a time of the scriptural stories.

6) Meditating on Scripture stories invites us to get to know Jesus and His family as a close friend does through visualising ourselves within the stories as Ignatian spirituality suggests. The pattern allows us to slowly imagine the scenes, find deeper insights and listen to God speak to us. It is a doorway into experiencing and cultivating a two-way relationship with God.

7) The Holy Rosary is a meditation on important stories in Scripture and Church tradition that teach the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the life and love of Mary.  It is a safe way to align with the Church’s faith formation guidelines and to create a life-giving Catholic Ethos for people of all backgrounds and abilities.

8) The Rosary also connects us with the ancient and modern, global pilgrim church, with many of our religious congregations and with every person in God’s family. Even by just praying this reverently with your class, staff or family opens up a sacred way to be together and pay respect to the human dignity in each person.

9) The prayer experience itself is a gift from God so you can receive the love and peace of Jesus and Mary for your journey. More than just a rote learning exercise, the Rosary is an experience that lifts the heart and connects us with God in a sacred way.

10) God promises to forgive, refresh, free, help, defend, reform, instruct, humble and connect to us through the Rosary and any time we come to Him in prayer. The more we pray the Rosary, the more we will notice small and/or significant blessings or positive changes.

“When people love and recite the Rosary they find it makes them better.” – St. Anthony Mary Claret

 “There is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families…that cannot be solved by the Rosary.” – Sister Lucia dos Santos of Fatima

“The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you’ll be amazed at the results.”– St. Josemaria Escriva

“The Rosary is the most beautiful and the most rich in graces of all prayers; it is the prayer that touches most the Heart of the Mother of God…and if you wish peace to reign in your homes, recite the family Rosary.” – Pope Saint Pius X

“The Rosary is a prayer that always accompanies me; it is also the prayer of the ordinary people and the saints… it is a prayer from my heart.” – Pope Francis

“The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.” – Saint Francis de Sales

 “The Rosary is a prayer both so humble and simple and a theologically rich in Biblical content. I beg you to pray it.” St. John Paul II

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Cultivating a Catholic Ethos in Retreats

how to know your retreat is catholic for your catholic school students or staff

3 Signs of Catholic Ethos in School and Staff Retreats

“No area of school life received such strong approval from students as their retreats…  Retreats help students to understand their relationship with God. For many, retreats are the most important religious experience of their lives.”  Marcellin Flynn, “The Culture of Catholic Schools”

Retreats in Catholic schools and organisations must be life-giving for the participants.  Faith formation of staff and students in Catholic education and staff of health care, aged care and social services has become a key strategic priority for delivering a differentiated and authentically Catholic service.  In my work as an independent, external facilitator of faith formation retreats in Catholic schools, I have seen that it is important to be aligned with this key strategic priority, for the good of the sector but also for the good of the participants.  I encourage external and internal facilitators to provide explicitly Catholic spiritual development experiences that are life-giving for their broad range of participants and communities.

Catholic Faith formation is a beautiful and exciting way to contribute to and facilitate the re-membering, reimagining and rebuilding of the Catholic mission at this time and we can offer retreats with confidence because they will benefit our participants greatly.  Elements of positive psychology, neuroscience, sociology or other sciences, yoga, Buddhism and general relaxation techniques can be useful tools in a retreat if they serve and illuminate the Gospel, not replace it.   Pope Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium that when we use modern research for the benefit of evangelisation is ‘like turning water into wine’.  

You know your retreat is Catholic when it offers life-giving, empowering Catholic faith formation for a broad range of participants.  In this article, I will discuss three overarching hallmarks of the Catholic ethos of faith formation, “Catholic Theological Anthropology”, “Whole-Person Engagement” and “Formation Capacities” and how faith formation retreats can be developed and evaluated accordingly by either internal or external facilitators.  By the way, this article serves to inform and develop me as much as those I am hoping to encourage as I am still learning the art of faith formation facilitation.

Firstly, I will describe the hallmarks of Catholic faith formation as laid out by the National Catholic Education Commission and Brisbane Catholic Education.  Secondly, for each hallmark I will reflect on the key priorities for faith formation ministry as I see them.  Finally, for I will share my evaluative questions for each hallmark to assist in the preparation and review of retreats.   My hope is that internal and external faith formation facilitators will have a renewed confidence in offering lifegiving Catholic spiritual retreats to a broad range of participants.

Two of the most instructive documents regarding the hallmark of the Catholic ethos of faith formation for mission in Catholic schools are A Framework for Formation for Mission In Catholic Education” by the National Catholic Education Commission and “Catching Fire Spiritual Formation Framework” in the Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE) document.[1]

Even though my focus is education, these frameworks and implications can be applied to and modified for other Catholic organisations, too.  The authors emphasise that faith formation is of urgent, strategic importance for the people and the mission of the Catholic school and that the standard of formation offered must be excellent, intentional, systematic, developmental and well-resourced.

The first hallmark, “Catholic Theological Anthropology”, must ground and give the orientation for Catholic faith formation in schools (indeed, the whole life of the Catholic school).  The NCEC summarises the theological mysteries that explain how we see the human person’s bestowed dignity from God, the person’s position in relationship with God and the call to love and serve others with the below points:

  • The Trinity reveals the relational, creative and loving nature of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit,
  • The human person has innate dignity and goodness due to being made in the image of God and animated by God (Gen 1:26, 1:31 and 2:7) and that human nature is essentially good,
  • God gives the human person free agency and moral responsibility,
  • Sin is separation from God’s love and the human person has the capability of repentance and ongoing conversion in response to God’s mercy,
  • The human person’s goodness is preserved by God and salvation is given through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus,
  • Life is seen as a gift from God to be affirmed and defended,
  • The human person is relational, mirroring the Trinity, is never self-sufficient and is always in need of God’s grace and the fruit of that grace is faith, hope and charity,
  • The ongoing journey of discipleship and mission of individuals and the Church with the ultimate hope of living with God for all eternity.[2]

The first priority, as I see it, for increasing the engagement in faith formation retreats ministry is to find ways to welcome and affirm the broad range of participants effectively.  To acknowledge and welcome all participants to the table, the conversation, the experience, no matter their world view has a powerful effect on their willingness to open up.  Without this foundation, any further development, discovery or discussion of theology will not be as well-received or delved into as deeply.

Find language that connects in with the participants about theology such as the Trinity, sin and suffering, salvation, the soul, grace, spirituality and the Church .  For instance, see my article on using broader language to explain the soul and spirituality that engages theists, agnostics and atheists in meaningful reflection.

A helpful definition of the Church is that it is a conversation, even a fight at times, and the more people at the table there are, the richer the dialogue becomes.  Therefore, all participants are welcome to this experience. Intentionally create space for participants to feel free to be themselves, to feel safe to explore their own stories, to feel that their lives are sacred and their relationships matter.  God is already at work in their lives, loving and redeeming them.

I have found it is empowering to unapologetically and explicitly offer the Catholic view of the human person, which is a radical stance in this world, as a way of affirming the goodness in the participants and offering them a route to deepen the resilience of their identity.  It is important for faith formators to have a firm grasp on the scriptural basis of this Catholic perspective of the human person.

 “Then God said, “Let us make humankind[a] in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen 1:26 NRSV).

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

“then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7).

According to the Genesis creation stories, we come alive by the very life, love and breath of God which is a beautiful affirmation of our value and our goodness is never lost.[3]  The two narratives, one from the Yahwist tradition and one from the Priestly tradition, explain that the unity and meaning of ourselves, all other people, nature and the whole cosmos is found in relationship with God.[4]

Even though God is radically different to humans, we are made in God’s likeness, in the way that we are essentially relational, loving and creative.[5]  We find growth through relationship with others, creation and God and the pinnacle of our human potential is to love and be loved.[6]

The Priestly account offers us confidence in life itself and the world because God created and sustains everything and that the finite world is good.[7]  God is lovingly creative and inspires and empowers us to be lovingly creative and preserve the good in others and ourselves.

The second hallmark of the Catholic ethos of faith formation programs, “Whole-Person Engagement”, relates to the process of engaging the head, heart and hands of the participants.  The NCEC and BCE frameworks explain that facilitators must incorporate all the below aspects in order to provide contextualised, experiential, transformative and affective formation experience for participants:

  • (head) The Christian orientation of the program must be made explicit and substantive theological knowledge and understanding in the Catholic tradition must be provided to educate the mind,
  • (heart) Personal ‘heart’ connections with God are to be offered through reflection on personal stories and experiences of a variety of prayer styles derived from the Catholic tradition,
  • (heart) An affective experience of sacramentality, incarnation, liturgy and the Eucharist is to be offered,
  • (hand) Learning and application of life-giving spirituality practices for daily life is to be offered, e.g. see my article on Virtue Ethics in Retreats 
  • (hand) Opportunities to grow in communion with the school and wider Catholic Church are to be offered,
  • (hand) Personal confidence and commitment to be a disciple of Jesus and play a role in His mission is to be developed.[8]

The area of priority here, by my assessment, is the reflection on and sharing of personal stories and how they connect to the Christian story.  The NCEC and BCE emphasise that God is already at work in the participant’s sacred life and the facilitator’s role is to offer a process to build on their experiences and the participant’s role is to find their answers with the help of the Holy Spirit.[9]

There is great importance given to sharing, reflecting upon and discovering deeper life-giving perspectives of the participants’ personal stories.  This element is an time-honoured gateway to the heart and faith in Jesus.  Sharing and reflecting on our stories increase our capacity for empathy with ourselves and others and help us reframe our experiences and challenges in life-giving ways.[10]

Pope Francis writes that the first step in a respectful and gentle dialogue in a pastoral, faith formation conversation is for the other person to share his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones or other heartfelt needs.  Only then is it possible to bring up God’s word and share the beautiful and essential message of God’s love through Jesus.  The essential Gospel message has to be shared with a humble heart, acknowledging that we, too, are learning and the mystery of God’s love is so rich and deep we never fully grasp it ourselves.  Then it is good for the person receiving the message to know that they have been listened to and understood and their particular situation has been placed before God and God’s word is meaningful to their lives[11].

The third overarching hallmark, “Formation Capacities”, are the discernible marks of a catholic educational community growing in holistic, connective, respectful way towards God.[12]  According to BCE, the participant and school are growing in the capacities of “presence, prayer, principle, welcome, ritual, journey, purpose, commitment and fidelity”.[13]  These capacities have their source in Scripture and early Christian communities.

Both documents stress the importance of affirming the participant as she or he finds a place in the journey of discipleship with Jesus and mission in the world shared by their school, the Church and the many pilgrims who have gone before us.  The two formation capacities I prioritise are ‘journey’ and ‘presence’.

The journey of the pilgrim is a searching for meaning, truth, identity and direction.  The Catholic perspective is that we are a part of living tradition, an ancient conversation, an ancient and current pilgrimage of more than 2000 years of reflection on human experience.[14]  The Catholic experience is an ongoing, living, ever-expanding conversation of people just like us trying to figure out what it means to be Christian in their day and age.  I find that to be very empowering language that appeals to and includes a broad range of people.

Whatever a Catholic perspective is, it should be life-giving and if it’s not, it should be evaluated, hammered out and creatively reimagined by as many people as possible.[15]

The faith capacity of ‘presence’ is one that is able to sit calmly amidst the good times and the bad, through times of certainty and times of the ‘dark night of the soul’.  As Pope Francis says, it is important to approach pastoral dialogue with others from a perspective of being humble, acknowledging I am a fellow pilgrim who will never fully grasp the depth and mystery of God’s ways and love.  Whatever image, story or explanation shared with participants will never completely explain the whole truth of the mysteries we grapple with. This can be both a source of frustration and liberation at times.  To be truly present is to let go of my imperfect images of God and to allow myself and the participants to be more comfortable with the mysteries of faith and in the world.  As you are “more aware of the oddity, the uncontrollable quality of the truth at the heart of all things… you can honestly confront whatever comes to you without fear of the unknown.”[16]

The success of a Catholic retreat can be evaluated by measuring how life-giving it is for the participants individually and as a community. 

These three overarching hallmarks of Catholic ethos can be used to audit and develop faith formation programs.  In the planning and reviewing of retreats, for example, the below questions can be answered by the facilitator, the leadership staff and the participants:

Catholic Theological Anthropology:

  1. Are the underlying beliefs, orientation, content and activities of the retreat consistent with the Catholic perspective of the human person in relationship with the Trinity and the world?
    1. Is there any way it could be more fine-tuned or made explicitly known?
    2. Is there any area of confusion or blind spots observed by the staff or participants?
  2. Do the participants feel affirmed in their goodness and invited to step deeper into their loving, ongoing relationships with God and others in a way that is life-giving for them?
    1. Is there any way the language or activities could be more fine-tuned to gain more buy in from more people?
    2. How can the retreat be more life-giving for the participants?

Whole-person Engagement:

  1. (Head) Is the input explicitly Christian and are the participants offered substantive Catholic theology that is relevant to their lives and appropriate for their developmental level?
    1. What were the strengths and what were areas for improvement of the language used and activities for this group of participants?
  2. (Heart) Are the participants invited and given enough time to experience a heart connection with Jesus through reflecting on personal stories and a variety of immersive Catholic-based prayer experiences?
    1. What worked and didn’t work for the participants and how can the heart connections be extended?
  3. (Hand) Are the participants given appropriate input and time to practice positive strategies, grounded in the Catholic tradition, to build their personal healthy spirituality?
    1. What did these participants value and what are ways to improve?
  4. (Hand) Are the participants welcomed into closer relationship with the local and wider Catholic Church and more deeply committed to their own way following Jesus and contributing to His mission?
    1. What are the strengths and weaknesses in this area and how can it be improved for these participants?

Formation Capacities

  1. Presence, prayer, principle, welcome, ritual, journey, purpose, commitment and fidelity. Are these markers discernible in the participants and the school community during and after the retreat?
    1. How can the encouragement of these capacities be better balanced throughout the retreat? Does any capacity need more attention?
    2. Do these participants have a particular pastoral need for some capacities above others? How can this need be met more readily?

The exploration of the life-giving Catholic ethos of faith formation invites us to reinvigorate our commitment to faith formation ministry.  We can feel confident that we are aligned with the national and local governing bodies as we design, deliver and evaluate retreats with Catholic theological anthropology, engagement of the whole person through theology, personal stories and commitment and prayer experiences and to contribute to the development of formation capacities in the individuals and communities.

It is liberating to view oneself as a pilgrim on the journey with many others both ancient and present, to be free to rest in the oddity of mystery without needing to fully grasp it and to be called to empower others to find life-giving spiritualities to help them find fulfilment through loving relationships with God, themselves and others.  I hope other internal and external faith formation facilitators feel encouraged by the NCEC and BCE frameworks and ask the question, “How can the retreat be more life-giving for the participants?”

Copyright  Donna Power 2019

References:

[1] The National Catholic Education Commission.  A Framework for Formation for Mission In Catholic Education (Sydney: The National Catholic Education Commission, 2017), 1-28.    Brisbane Catholic Education Archdiocese of Brisbane. Spiritual Formation and Evangelisation. Catching Fire Spiritual Formation Framework for the Mission of Catholic Education, 2nd ed. (Brisbane: Brisbane Catholic Education Archdiocese of Brisbane, 2009), 1-50.

[2] A Framework for Formation for Mission, 6-7.

[3] Groome, T. H. What Makes Us Catholic? Eight Gifts for Life, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2002), 50.

[4] Sachs, John R. The Christian Vision of Humanity: Basic Christian Anthropology (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991), 12-16.

[5] Sachs, Christian Vision of Humanity  12-16.

[6] Groome, What Makes Us Catholic?  50.

[7] Sachs, Christian Vision of Humanity  12-16.

[8] Catching Fire Spiritual Formation Framework, 16-20. A Framework for Formation for Mission, 12-18.

[9] A Framework for Formation for Mission, 18. Catching Fire Spiritual Formation Framework, 22, 30-31.

[10] Jacobs-Vandegeer, Dr Christiaan.  Lecture Notes at THCT504: Catholic Ethos and Care of the Person in Grad Cert in Leadership and Catholic Culture(Melbourne: ACU, 2019) Tuesday March 19.

[11] Francis (2013). Evangelii Gaudium (#128), see www.va.com.au , (accessed March 22 2019)

[12] Catching Fire Spiritual Formation Framework, 25-29.

[13] Catching Fire Spiritual Formation Framework, 25-29.

[14] Jacobs-Vandegeer, Lecture Notes ACU.

[15] Jacobs-Vandegeer, Lecture Notes ACU.

[16] Rolheiser, R, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 6.

Extra Readings

Resilient by Dr Rick Hanson

Lessons in Spiritual Development: Learning from Leading Christian-ethos Schools by Dr Ann Casson, Trevor Cooling and Lesley Francis

The Culture of Catholic Schools: A Study of Catholic Schools 1972-1993 by Marcellin Flynn

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead   By Brene Brown

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization   By Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright

Psychological Impacts of Singing Together Without Performance Pressure  By Christopher Bergland

Building on Prior Knowledge: How does the student brain learn?  By Marlieke van Kesteren

Scientific Benefits of Meditation (summary of research articles in categories)  By Giovanni Dienstmann

The Gifts Of Imperfection  By Brene Brown

Brene Brown’s Videos

Raising Girls  By Steve Biddulph

Raising Boys in the 21st Century  By Steve Biddulph

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t   By James Collins

Kholberg’s Stages of Moral Development 

Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness  By Sara W. Lazar et al

Sing Your Heart Out (Research)  By Tom Shakespeare and Alice Whieldon

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