True Fellowship

A real Catholic Community

 

"the work of evangelization is an urgent necessity."

Pope Benedict, June 2007

 

As 21st Century Catholics in Britain we seek to live out our vocation to embrace and proclaim Gospel values in the context of an increasingly hostile society.

Things have rarely been easy for Catholics in this country (or indeed anywhere), but the challenges of living our Faith have increased over the last few years as society has become as a whole more and more hostile to the reality of absolute truth and to the fact of the existence of an authority outside of  the individual. Over the last year, the pace of change has speeded up alarmingly. Who would have thought it 5 years ago, that we would now face a government committee calling for it to be made illegal to teach the Catholic Faith in schools as truth?

However, despite the government's hostility to the Faith and the opposition of various pressure groups, there are two factors which are potentially much more destructive of our Faith and of the birth-right of our children to grow up understanding and practising it.

My friend Conchita's mother, Anita, was a girl during the time of the Cristeros in
Mexico and remembered her brothers going out risking death to advertise the Mass and to help others in their community see off the attacks
of the
Communist State. The Catholic community at that time was under terrible attack, yet the Faith of many remained strong, as community ties were good, children had many friends both of the same age and older with
whom they could discuss the Faith and parents passed on their Faith as a matter of life and death priority to their children. This is not today the situation we find ourselves in, in this country.

The two greatest enemies of the Church today are internal ones; apathy and something which C. S Lewis called "The Inner Ring" .These are distinct, yet intimately related and together they are deadly to the growth of individual faith and to the existence of the Catholic community itself. Apathy is the very common tendency to give in to the prevailing tide, to fall in line with what others are doing as we feel the effort to do anything else is just too much. The mentality of The Inner Ring leads us to seek out those people who smooth the path of life for us, to ally ourselves with them and to spend our time and energy largely with these people. But the effects of falling into this habit, are very negative both for those on the inside and also those who are excluded. ( click here for an excerpt from “The Inner Ring”; You can read the full text if you are interested at;http://www.geocities.com/bigcslewisfan.)

We have a duty to evangelise. Yet we cannot as a community reach out to others if we have no solid basis of catechesis and fellowship on which to build our own understanding and experience of the Faith. English people are not, by and large, malicious or desirous of excluding others. Due to the prevailing English culture of exclusivity however, and a general apathetic response in countering it, such cliquequishness as Lewis describes is widespread within Catholic Parishes in this country. If we treat members of our own community in this way, how are we meeting the challenge as a Catholic community to "go out and preach the Gospel to all nations"?

Cliques of Catholics are no substitute for genuine Catholic fellowship; indeed the existence of them actively undermines the ability of Catholics to form a Christian community. What crucially distinguishes a real Catholic community from a clique of people who happen to be Catholics is the willingness of the particular group to go out and actively seek to involve people who are not yet involved, to advertise its activities as open to all comers and also just as crucially the activity which unites the group must be centered on prayer, not on fundraising or some other secular social cement. For fellowship to grow up, the group generally needs to meet at a Church (not in someone's house) both to provide a socially neutral territory and also to place the Eucharist at the physical centre of the group's activities.

We each of us have a lot to contribute to the Catholic community in the way of ideas, love and fellowship. We each need continually to give some thought as to how we personally can help counter the prevailing English tendency to cliqueishness and to build up a real Catholic community in our local area, based on fellowship, inclusivity and other Gospel values.

 

We also each day need to fight the often overwhelming urge to just fall in line; to stick on another DVD rather than to make the effort to go out and meet other Catholics, to leave that statement in the newspaper that is so clearly wrong, unchallenged; to smile and nod when someone we know does something for which they want affirmation while they (and you ) know, that what they are doing is wrong; to carry on voting for the same party regardless of its changing and increasingly hostile agenda, just because we have always done so..

 

So what can we do to open out our Parishes and to foster a true sense of fellowship?

 

Mexico and Korea have thriving Catholic communities in which children grow in the Faith and by and large embrace it in an adult way when they come of age. Observing in Mexican parishes and talking to Korean Catholics it seems to me that these communities have various effective strategies for fostering fellowship including;

  • Social activities for children and families on a regular basis at the Church and also crucially in which prayer plays a part.
  • Children of all ages included in and genuinely welcome at Mass
  • Newcomers welcomed and invited along to social activities ( I well remember the welcome I received as a young student in Mexico from the Priest and from the community)
  • The Parish Priest a respected and integral part of the social life of the Parish; the children grow up knowing him and regarding him as a kind of uncle. I shall always remember the young boys in the poor little village of Soria in Guanajuato and how they loved Chevy their Parish Priest. They would come bowling up to him and hug him round the stomach (which was as far as they could reach!) eager to tell him about their lives, their hopes , fears and joys. There us a danger in English Parishes for our many wonderful Priests to be relegated to the role of technician, to be called upon to perform those functions that a lay person is not ordained to carry out. But a Priest is so much more than a technician; he is the living witness of Christ among us; children in Mexico know this without it ever having to be explained to them.
  • Regular prayer groups in addition to social activities at which all are welcome of whatever age e,g rosary groups, legion of Mary, occasional Novenas after a death

 

Additional strategies you may want to consider for your Parish are;

  • A monthly family afternoon (the National Association of Catholic Families has some good ideas for these) It doesn’t have to be complicated; just some toys for the children, some tea for the parents, maybe a seasonal craft activity and a couple of prayers to start or finish with.
  • Setting up a local Catholic Families mailing list and inviting all newcomers to join it. If you would like to join the Cambridge Catholic Families mailing list, drop me a line on Karen@catholicparenting.org.uk
  • A parents’ discussion group meeting say once a month with the various themes that families find challenging (e.g children at Mass and how to include them, celebrating Easter etc)
  • Special seasonal events such as family parties at Easter, Christmas and in the summer, a Night of Light on 31st October, a crowning of Our Lady in May etc.
  • Effective notice boards; I have spoken to several new mothers over the last 5 years who have gone to our local Church during the week, found it shut with no very helpful information on the outside notice board and gone away never to return. Notice boards need to be attractive to look at, easy to read, up to date, give information on the various Parish groups including contact details and give a clear impression that newcomers are very much welcomed. If your Church is lucky enough to face onto a main road, you could consider putting up a large board with just brief details of the two next Parish events, readable by motorists as they pass.
  • A Parish forum meeting a few times a year, at which all are welcome, at which anyone may raise a topic for discussion. To avoid the danger of the Inner Ring, this needs to be under the authority of the Parish Priest, have an effective chairman and to take decisions corporately and in public after due discussion.

 

 It is only if we renew each day our vocation to be Good Samaritans and to be salt and light to the world, that our children will have the chance to grow up with a true understanding of and engagement with our Faith.